NEW DELHI: Soft drink and ice cream companies that were beginning to cash in on improving rural sales have suddenly found themselves staring at a unique roadblock: Gram panchayats.
In the wake of the second wave of infections, these apex rural bodies in several villages across India have banned the sale of cold items and prohibited entry of outsiders. This has also impacted the sales of FMCG items, ranging from chips and curd to fruit juices and biscuits as working hours of shops have been curtailed and entry of outsiders prohibited.
“We are facing a strange problem,” said a senior executive at one of the largest beverage companies in India. “The elders in these villages are alleging that cold products increase the risk of contracting Covid-related infections.”

“Even the sale of ‘srikhand’ is not being allowed in several village clusters,” said the sales head of a large food company. While TOI has reviewed some of the notices that have been issued by the panchayats. Emails sent to MNCs such as Coca-Cola India and PepsiCo India did not elicit any response.
“Any business related to cold items such as cold drinks and ice creams will not be allowed in the village,” stated one notice. “There is only one entry point and one exit point and outsiders will not be allowed.”
“Shops will be allowed to open only from 7am to 9am. Violators will be fined Rs 500,” said another.
“It’s like a Chinese whisper. You know how it is. Some doctor would have said that soft drink gives you a bad throat and that would have spread like wildfire,” said Rakesh Khanna, proprietor of a local cola brand City Cola. “Business is down by 90%.” The current situation in rural India is a far cry from the final few months of last year, when demand in rural and semi-urban India was outstripping that of urban India on the back of strong government support, reverse migration of labour and good agriculture.
“Unlike the first wave, the virus has not spared rural India this time. There are several clusters that have high rates of infections,” said Subhashis Basu, COO at Prataap Snacks. “Although there isn’t a complete lockdown and demand is still higher in rural than urban, sales have slowed down.”



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