Suneera Tandon & Vidhi Choudhary, MINT
Some items could possibly go off the shelves as importers stop
imports for a few months in the hope that the Indian currency
will become less volatile. The rupee has plunged to a record low
as investors have been exiting markets after US Federal Reserve
chairman Ben Bernanke signalled a possible end to stimulus spending.
“We have streamlined imports for the next three months. We will wait and watch,” said Amit Lohani, managing director at New Delhi-based Max Foods Pvt. Ltd, which distributes Doritos chips and Danish cookies and products from companies such as Kraft foods (UK) and Nestlé coffee through retailers across India. If the rupee weakens further, Lohani said prices could rise by a fifth.
Uday Chugh, who runs New Delhi-based Vriddhi Specialty Foods
Pvt. Ltd, has suspended imports. “The costs are just not
working out for us,” he said. “I have halted all my
shipments coming in from America as of Thursday.” The company
imports cooking oil, snacks and sauces from the US and Europe.
As most importers work on a shipment cycle of 35-40 days, the
impact of the depreciating rupee will be strongly felt in the
next few weeks and months, if not longer. Shop prices are determined
by factoring in the rupee value along with its impact on freight
and transport cost.
Chugh is wary of price increases that could hurt demand. “We
are very hesitant to take further price hikes,” he said,
adding that he will absorb as much as he can before passing higher
costs on to consumers.
Rakesh Banga, who runs Banyan Finefoods India Pvt. Ltd, a New
Delhi-based importer of cold cuts and packaged products such as
tuna and breakfast cereals, fears that customers could dry up.
“Demand for certain categories will completely erode if
things don’t improve,” he said, adding that he anticipates
price increases to the tune of 15-20%.
He’s still placing orders though. “I cannot afford
to stop shipments as business will get impacted,” he said.
Demand is already under stress because of the inflationary environment,
“Imported foods are a luxury for consumers, but when price
hikes like these take place alongside high costs of living, consumers
will see the pressure,” adds Lohani.
Arvind Singhal, chairman of retail consultancy Technopak Advisors
Pvt. Ltd, agreed. “The biggest cause for this is not just
a depreciating rupee but the general slowdown in the economy,
which has led to a decline in discretionary spends, especially
for products which have local substitutes available at cheaper
prices, with the exception of the very affluent consumers,”
Venkat Narayanan, chief merchandising officer at supermarket
chain Spencer’s Retail Ltd, which has 134 stores across India,
said the company hasn’t seen any erosion in demand as prices
have been constant.
“While we continue to monitor the value of the rupee, we
have not made any changes to the pricing of our imported product
range. As a result, there has been no appreciable change in consumer
demand either,” he said.
About 8% of the chain’s portfolio comprises imports—processed
food, staples and dairy products besides chilled and frozen items
“Of course, if the rupee continues to stay depressed in
the long term, it will definitely have an effect on pricing but
we do not foresee an immediate impact on demand unless the (rupee)
fall is dramatic,” Narayanan said.
Mohit Khattar, managing director at gourmet food chain Godrej
Nature’s Basket, is confident of being able to ride out the
“Even if there is a decline in this market, it will not
have such a great impact on our existing consumer base since they
are well insulated from such price hikes,” he said.
If the rupee doesn’t get back on even keel, however, store
footfalls may remain stagnant, he said.
Pramod Gupta, owner of New Delhi’s Defence Store that sells
imported confectionery and grocery items, said: “Since this
(rupee decline) might impact importers, it’s possible that
they stop purchases of stock for sometime, although, I feel this
is only a temporary glitch and it’s too early to say anything.”
The store, located in delhi’s defence colony and operating
since 1952, gets 30% of its sales from imported food categories.
Specialty gourmet stores have over the past few months found it difficult to sustain business because of sluggish demand, rising real estate costs and import duties. “Real estate cost as well as people cost are crucial deciding factors here,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at retail consultancy Third Eyesight. “With a price increase of 10-15%, the mass market demand for these products from consumers who were essentially occasional buyers will get hit,” he said.