Water is the essence of life. In times of a global pandemic such as COVID-19, the easy availability of pure potable water is a greater imperative. Adequate daily intake of pure water is critical in maintaining healthy immunity levels.
Yet, a rapidly-decelerating economy and the rising loss of incomes are making survival the main mantra. In such situations, the availability of water – any water – takes predominance. But impure water can be more dangerous during pandemics because it can increase morbidity and mortality rates.
Why Water is Essential?
Nonetheless, due to its pan-India impact, COVID-19 will play a role in deciding what Indians consume in the next year or so. This is mainly because consumer behaviour and consumption habits are being badly affected and constrained due to people’s falling purchasing power. Of course, some of these changes were already in the offing as the economy was facing severe headwinds in the past couple of years. The coronavirus outbreak has only accelerated this downward spiral.
Reduced consumption patterns, however, won’t be the only constraint for packaged mineral water suppliers. Another major challenge has arisen from the nationwide disruptions in supply chains. As witnessed in recent weeks, while essentials services are exempt from lockdown restrictions, all too often vendors ferrying packaged mineral water have not been allowed past check posts. In controlling the lockdown violators, the law enforcers are inadvertently stopping essential services providers too.
Coming back to the consumption of beverages, including premium drinking water, out-of-home consumption has fallen drastically. Conversely, at-home consumption has soared since the lockdown was announced. Considering the impact on their bottom lines due to the closure of malls where premium drinking water was sold, suppliers are seeking to divert and increase sales to retail outlets that are still allowed to operate, albeit within restricted hours.
There is little doubt that when lockdown restrictions are lifted and the situation normalises, out-of-home sales will rise once again. Yet, the previous sales levels will not be reached for another year or so, according to market sources. Healthcare analysts are also asserting that until a vaccine is available, the threat from coronavirus will continue looming large. As a result, a new normal will emerge. Social distancing, less outdoor dining and judicious discretionary spending would become the new norm.
Revised Strategies, Institutional Support
Moreover, where F&B companies are concerned, the sales of consumables lost during the prolonged lockdown can never be recovered. In such scenarios, F&B entities, including premium drinking water suppliers, would need to take a long-term outlook. According to the current ground realities, sourcing strategies will need to be revised. Product range and price points should be rationalised too, keeping in mind the lower spending power of consumers.
Additionally, manufacturers should revisit their supply chain networks. As far as possible, local suppliers and vendors are preferable because lockdown restrictions have inflicted greater disruption and damage to interstate logistics and transport. There is no doubt that local suppliers may still be able to continue contingency supplies, which interstate vendors cannot.
Besides, beverage companies must augment and streamline their online presence and distribution channels. With consumers completely homebound for weeks, online orders are gaining traction daily. Also, marketing, advertising, pricing and promotional strategies should be revisited and revised. Bold advertising can now strike a jarring note. What sold well earlier will only ‘un-sell’ the brand under current conditions. In striking an emotive chord with troubled or insecure consumers, brand marketers should be more empathetic and compassionate in outlook.
Finally, in driving business continuity plans, brands will need to engage directly and more frequently with suppliers and key consumers. Contingency plans should also be in place to manage supplies in areas that remain under lockdown even after it is relaxed in other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, the Centre and State Governments should distribute special curfew passes for supply chain vendors and employees of packaged mineral water companies. Without adequate supplies of pure drinking water, the war against COVID-19 will continue being an uphill task. If institutional support is extended to mineral water suppliers across India, it may help in ensuring that no other COVID-19 patient passes away lamenting s/he had not received even a drop of water for 24 hours…