New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up various challenges, chief among them to the economy. While some sectors such as hospitality and tourism took the worst hit, others like pharma saw an unprecedented boost.
The pandemic also altered consumption patterns as the country was under a lockdown for a good chunk of the year.
As a result, masks, sanitisers, immunity boosters saw massive sales, and so did liquor, given that consumers were forced to spend much of the year indoors. This is likely to continue despite data suggesting that the Covid curve may finally be on a downward turn, with fewer daily cases being registered lately. This means normalcy, as we’ve known it before 2020, is unlikely to return any time in the near future.
ThePrint spoke to about 20 shopkeepers in Delhi-NCR and e-commerce firms such as Amazon and Flipkart, to find out which products were the most sought after during this pandemic year.
Sanitisers and masks
Since the coronavirus disease is one that spreads “primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks”, protocols across the world promote the use of masks and the washing or sanitising of hands as much as possible. While both these products were sold in India earlier, their sales skyrocketed from March onwards.
Sourabh Gupta, who runs a pharmacy store in Haryana’s Gurugram, said before the country went into a lockdown on 24 March, sanitisers and masks were in extremely high demand. “People started panic-buying sanitisers in February. The four most popular brands we had were Himalaya, 3M, Dettol, Lifebuoy,” Gupta said, adding that Lifebuoy’s supply was sketchy and couldn’t compete with demand. “As of now, there is a 100 per cent increase in sale of sanitisers. However, in March-April, it was 1,000 per cent,” he added.
With such an increase in demand, black-marketing of products is a natural consequence, Gupta believes. “The government capped the rate of sanitisers at Rs 250 after which black marketing stopped. This was a really good step on their behalf,” he said.
Manish Agarwal, who runs a pharmacy in New Delhi’s Malviya Nagar, echoed similar views. “When the initial news reports of Covid were out, people formed lines to buy sanitisers and masks. I ran out of stock very soon and since we also (began to) deliver orders; the refilled stock also got over very quickly. Throughout the year the sales have remained very high but of course now we have enough stock,” Agarwal said.
A BloombergQuint report notes that “new entrants and local brands now dominate India’s sanitiser market that swelled more than fourfold after the novel coronavirus outbreak”. In 2019, the sanitiser market was sized at Rs 10 crore but in March 2020, it expanded to Rs 43 crore.
Citing Nielsen India, which describes itself as the “most trusted source for complete consumer intelligence”, the BloombergQuint report notes that sanitiser demand “surged to 87 per cent in April 10-14 from 58 per cent between March 17 and 19.” Catering to this skyrocketed demand of sanitisers, 152 new manufacturers joined the sector since March and now account for 46 per cent of the total value share, according to BloombergQuint.
Unlike sanitisers, masks are in demand seasonally in the national capital since air quality plummets with the onset of stubble burning and bursting of firecrackers. This year, however, was different. Gupta notes that during the lockdown period, double the quantity of masks were sold as compared to its seasonal numbers. “As of now, there is a 10 per cent increase in the sale of masks,” he added.
Chyawanprash, fish oil and thermometers
While the fear of being infected with coronavirus still lingers, it was much starker a few months ago when little was known about the virus. In a bid to maintain immunity and avoid falling sick, people began buying immunity boosters and vitamins.
“About two months back, when we were still just about coming out of the strict lockdown phase, Vitamin C, Zinc and the Ayush kadha were sold a lot. There was at least a 100 per cent increase in demand,” Gupta said, adding that the sales have now returned to normal.
Data on online pharmacies only confirms what brick-and-mortar ones like Gupta’s witnessed. In April-May, the sales of multivitamins saw a 119 per cent increase as compared to February-March, according to Netmeds, an online pharmacy. Meanwhile, immunity boosters such as Chyawanprash and fish oil capsules saw a 47 per cent increase in the same time period. The demand was such that Netmeds even created a separate Covid-19 supplements page on its website.
Those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and various heart issues attempted to buy their prescription-based medicines in bulk, the pharmacists say. “Paracetamol and Azithromycin were also sold a lot more than usual, since they are used to treat ailments that fall in congruence with Covid-19 symptoms but only on prescription,” Gupta added.
Ashish Singh, a pharmacy owner in Connaught Place, Delhi, said that there was a “mad rush” of people buying paracetamol and azithromycin in March and April and then again during the onset of winters in November. Additionally, people also came in huge numbers to buy thermometers, ‘Vicks’ tablets and the nasal drop Otrivin.
“As temperatures dropped, people came rushing to pharmacies. I have never sold such a huge amount of thermometers and Otrivin ever in 30 years of my life as a pharmacist,” Singh added. “Apart from that, the sales of paracetamol and azithromycin have also skyrocketed due to panic buying.”
Another pharmacist in Delhi’s Saket, Gopal Krishnan, said that the demand for vitamins also increased. “Sales of vitamin C, D are very high this year. Iron tablet as well. Whatever people read about, they bought,” Krishnan said.
On 4 May, when liquor stores were finally allowed to be open for business after 45 days, images and videos of long queues were trending on social media. While the sudden implementation of restrictions on shops hampered business, what followed after more than made up for it.
“For the first time in 15 years, liquor contractors in Haryana have bought additional quota of country liquor. Last year, two lakh cases — the base quota — of imported liquor was sold. This year, that same amount was sold within four months after the lockdown,” a liquor contractor in Gurugram, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
With international travel down to minimum, a lot of people who would otherwise buy alcohol at the airport duty free, were now turning to L-2 stores (that sell to individuals), according to the contractor. “Moreover, alcohol is cheaper in Haryana, so people from neighbouring states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and even Mumbai are buying from here,” he said.
“Last year, everyone in the liquor business was facing a loss. In our Sonipat stores, we faced a loss of Rs 25 crore. But this year, everyone across the business has seen an increase in sales,” he added.
Another liquor seller in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area said that when the initial reports of Covid pandemic had broken out, people began stocking up on alcohol.
“The sales further increased when lockdown ended. It got very difficult to manage the long queues and specific brands of beer and whiskey got over. We have sold over 4 lakh cases of imported liquor this year,” he said. Other liquor shops in various other parts of the national capital also said the same, that the sales have increased manifold as people wanted to stock up more and more.
Laptops, gym equipment & BBQ grills
As people continue to spend a majority of their time at home, e-commerce websites such as Amazon and Flipkart saw an increase in the sale of products belonging to categories such as “work-from-home and online schooling enablers like laptops, smart devices, headphones, summer gadgets like ACs etc”.
“We also saw a significant demand for personal grooming products such as trimmers, shavers, hair removal products and as well as wellness products like weighing scales, BP monitors etc,” an Amazon spokesperson told ThePrint over email.
With more time to kill at hand, consumers were also looking for means to entertain themselves. Amazon saw an increase in the sale of treadmills, weights, auto tools, gardening equipment and barbecue grills among others.
A Flipkart spokesperson told ThePrint that the demand for in-house gym equipment soared. “After restrictions were lifted, and we were allowed to deliver, a lot of the orders were of weights, treadmills, yoga mats, gloves etc which is otherwise not the case. Moreover people also bought a lot of tables, laptop stands, earphones,” she said.
“Even now, we have a lot of orders for gym goods because people don’t feel safe enough to join gyms,” the spokesperson added. “Apart from these, people are also buying a lot of cooking utensils, barbeque grills as most have switched to cooking at home rather than getting their food delivered.”