Inflation impact: Pricey palm oil dents Manapparai murukku trade

Manufacturers are hit by shortage in supplies and increased cost

Updated - June 01, 2022 03:40 pm IST

Published - May 24, 2022 07:21 pm IST - MANAPPARAI

At present, Manapparai murukku makers are worried about surviving inflation than obtaining the GI tag

At present, Manapparai murukku makers are worried about surviving inflation than obtaining the GI tag | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy

Watch | How palm oil shortage has impacted the Manapparai murukku trade

So what if the Manapparai murukku is in the list of 24 unique products of the State, awaiting Geographical Indication (GI) tag? The murukku makers in the town, located on the Tiruchi-Dindigul highway, would rather talk about surviving inflation than getting the tag.

The crunchy, bite-sized delicacy, usually made with a hand-mixed rice flour dough seasoned with whole and powdered spices, is a popular enterprise here. Right now, however, no one knows for how long survival will be possible.

Many among the murukku makers stare at the ignominy of being edged out of the trade. The impact on the food sector caused by Indonesia’s ban on palm oil exports until a week ago due to domestic shortage, was felt rather strongly in Manapparai, where it is in great demand. The reverberations are still being felt.

Palm oil from Indonesia is considered to be both economical and storage-friendly as it can be stored for up to a month. Large-scale manufacturers are the worst-hit by the shortage in supplies. “A 15-litre tin of palm oil costs nearly ₹2,300 today, up from ₹900 just a few months ago,” said M. Muthupandi, of M.P.M. Murukku, in Annavi Nagar, Manapparai. “We could have coped with incremental price rises, but not an overnight inflation like this,” he said. His family-run factory, in business since 1951, supplies murukkus to 150 stores in a 40-km radius around the town.

Cottage industries are as much affected. The snack makers, having decades of experience, are keeping their fingers crossed. At one such unit, a worried Panchavarnam, 36, dips the edge of the soft rice flour dough lightly in oil before packing it into the ural and pressing out small circles on to a wooden paddle. When around 10 are ready, she tips them into the circular iron frying pan filled with up to 40 litres of heated oil, as a colleague turns them over regularly with the help of a hooked metal stick.

“I have been frying murukkus since the age of seven; my husband too is in the same line of work. I can press out up to 5,000 murukkus on a busy day. At least 500 families are engaged in the murukku business,” Ms. Panchavarnam told The Hindu.

“It is sad to see factories struggle with oil worries, while retailers and labourers in this sector have somehow managed to continue as before. Earlier, we were able to procure palm oil tins on credit, now dealers insist on down payments, which has affected our cash flow significantly,” said Mr. Muthupandi.

On the highway, a packet of 10 murukkus costs ₹25, up from ₹20 not so long ago. “The only way to stay in business is to pass on some of our costs to the customer. We have had to cut corners too, such as reducing labour and the working hours, because the market is still waiting to pick up after lockdown,” said I. James, proprietor of two murukku and tea stalls.

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