Despite official warnings to refrain from panic buying, city residents have been rushing to supermarkets and markets to hoard groceries for weeks on end.

Delve Consumer Rights Monday, March 23, 2020 - 17:30

Despite official warnings to refrain from panic buying, city residents have been rushing to supermarkets and markets to hoard groceries for weeks on end.

Panic buying has begun in Bengaluru after it was announced that Karnataka will be under lock down till March 31 and that the state was closing its borders. Fearful of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bengaluru residents are flocking to supermarkets, smaller grocery stores, HOPCOMS and vegetable markets to stock up on monthly essentials. 

Despite official warnings from the government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to refrain from panic buying, the fear of not being able to buy groceries has led to some of the city’s residents to hoard groceries that will likely last for several weeks. Some have even started learning how to cook, while others are placing orders to rent or buy new refrigerators. Further, several employees at supermarkets and grocery stores say that the increased sales is also because of the Ugadi festival on Wednesday.

Stockpiling due to fear of unavailability

Several residents in Mahadevapura and south Bengaluru told TNM that they have ordered groceries for two months on Sunday after the lockdown was announced. People fear that online orders would take too long to arrive and the local stores may run out of supplies. 

“It is the fear of the virus spreading and also the fear that we won’t have any items to cook. Our apartment is not allowing delivery persons to come and we are avoiding ordering supplies online. When I checked on Big Basket, the delivery slot was for April 3 or 4. We have eight people in our family and we live in a duplex in Jayanagar. We have many mouths to feed and if we don’t have enough supplies it may get difficult,” said Prakash*, a 36-year-old resident who works as a project manager. 

Prakash said that he and two of his brothers, who live with their families in the same duplex, have each ordered rice, dal of different varieties, whole wheat grains and 20 packets of dosa/idli batter. He has also bought baby food in abundance for his nephew. 

“We also bought chips, biscuits and noodles. I know that panic buying is wrong but we have more people in our house. We generally buy more groceries every month than an average family. But we have small babies and children in our house. We have to think about them too,” he added. 

Vedika*, another resident of the city’s Murphy Town, says that she and her brother, who share an apartment, have ordered twice as much this month fearing delay in delivery. “Going to supermarkets is a little scary. We wanted to remain at home and so we ordered supplies from Big Basket last night (Sunday). We generally only order supplies for breakfast. We have decided to start cooking at home now and we have ordered supplies that will last us for at least two months,” she added. 

Supermarkets see higher sales

Several employees at various supermarkets in Bengaluru told TNM that they witnessed more number of people walking in to buy essentials on Saturday and Monday compared to their average footfalls. 

“A lot of people generally end up buying weekly supplies in our outlet. But now, with the festival and the lock down, we are witnessing more sales. On Saturday, the instant noodle section was sold out by 5 pm. This morning, rice, jaggery, sugar, atta got over in just fours hours since we opened,” an employee from a shop in Koramangala said. 

Another employee at A-Mart in Indiranagar said that eggs, vegetables, instant noodles and ready-to-eat MTR packets were getting over quickly. “People are also buying sugar, oil, rice and atta in bulk. Maggi will take at least another day to arrive. The larger family packs are getting sold more. With no instant noodles, people are buying ready-to-eat meals,” he added. 

The owner of the HOPCOMS near Puravankara Park in the Central Business District said that several residents of the area bought vegetables and fruits in bulk on Monday morning. “I open the store at 8 am every day. By noon, all vegetables and fruits were over. Vegetables are replenished once in two days and I have to get fresh supplies for tomorrow,” he said. 

Learning to cook, buying new refrigerators

Matthew is a 21-year-old resident of Bengaluru’s Koramangala. Matthew graduated from college in 2019 and began working in the city. He began working in an ad agency in the city as a copywriter and would eat out every day. Matthew has now bought groceries to last him for two months as he is scared of eating out. 

“I don’t know how to cook but I have stocked up on groceries like instant noodles, pasta, rice, dal, milk cartons and cereal. I have also ordered frozen meats like bacon, sausages and prawns. They will be delivered by Thursday. I also rented a fridge from Rentomojo, which will arrive in a couple of days. I am watching YouTube videos and learning how to cook. My parents keep calling me and telling me not to eat out and since this is serious, I want to be careful too,” Mattew told TNM. 

Matthew said that he has bought a lot of packets of chips, biscuits and snacks, that would last for longer if kept outside. “I live in a studio apartment and I have bought Lays packets of five each of different flavours. I also bought 10 packets of nachos and one carton full of snacks from a bakery in Frazer Town last week like cookies and bread. I will store it in the fridge once it comes,” he said. 

Just like Matthew, a 24-year-old techie, Suyash, who moved to Bengaluru’s Electronic City two years ago, said that he has rented a new refrigerator to store groceries that he and his roommates have ordered. Suyash and four of his roommates live in a three-bedroom apartment near Electronic City. 

“My roommates and I ordered groceries for a month. We ordered separately because Big Basket was allowing us to only order four of each item in one order. We rented the new fridge to keep the items once it arrives. We will receive the order only next Thursday (April 2). For now, we have stocked up on groceries for two weeks. We mostly ordered essentials like rice, dal, atta, sugar, maggi and snacks. We generally get 10 kg atta for a month. Now each of us has ordered 10 kg packets,” he said. 

Markets witness huge footfalls

With the Ugadi festival coming up on Wednesday in addition to the lockdown, many of the city’s residents flocked to various markets, such as KR Market, on Monday to stock up on vegetables, fruits and monthly essentials. 

Vendors at the market, who did not want to be named, told TNM that hundreds of people were coming in to buy supplies as they are sold at cheaper rates at the wholesale market. 

“Many people bought fruits and vegetables in bulk. Generally people buy 1 kilo of different vegetables that can last for a week. Today (Monday) people were asking for more quantity,” said Murthy*, a vendor at KR Market. 

Rajesh*, who owns a wholesale supply store of ration in KR Market said that people were buying rice, dal, wheat grains in bulk. “People who do not own retail stores are also buying in bulk. We realised it much later and then we started asking the purpose of each customer buying so much in the afternoon. This is to make sure that our regular retail vendors are not out of stock,” he said. 

In Shivajinagar, concerned vendors say that people have been milling about the markets and streets denying that the coronavirus pandemic would not affect them. “Residents are walking around on the roads, rushing to markets as usual. The markets are very crowded on an average day and yet people are not practising social distancing here. They think this won’t affect them. There are also some people who are overly cautious and are buying more items to cook at home,” the vendor added. 

He also said that he is telling each person who walks into buy fruits at his store to stay at home. He has been giving his phone number to regulars, asking them to call and place orders instead. “I can’t force them not to come. I can only tell them everytime they walk in. If less people come, even we will be safe,” he added. 

Awareness against panic buying

Despite the city witnessing several residents rushing to stockpile supplies, some residents are also making efforts to create awareness and prevent panic buying. JP Nagar resident, Aleem, told TNM that he and several members of his apartment association have been sending regular messages to people to avoid stockpiling groceries. The association has formed a WhatsApp group, where fake messages about empty supermarkets being busted. 

“There are so many messages which state that supplies will run out due to the lockdown and the social distancing. We have been repeatedly telling our residents to not stock up and indulge in panic buying. In my house, we have bought groceries that will last for two weeks and that is reasonable. Most people do that in their normal lives too. If people stock up then those who will need it more will not have it,” Aleem said. 

Just like Aleem, Mavis Smith, a resident of Victoria Layout, has been educating people who live in the vicinity of her home, not to indulge in panic buying. Mavis and her neighbours have sent messages on several groups they are a part of. 

“We are even telling the older people we know that we will help them buy vegetables and groceries. The shops near our house are not running out of supplies by midday. Even the supermarkets are telling people to stop panic buying in our area,” she added.

*Names changed to protect identities