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Ice cream makers see double-digit growth after year of Covid meltdown, hope to beat 2019 sales

Most major ice cream brands have seen a double digit growth against the pre-Covid levels of 2019. Starting from February, sales figures have touched as high as 20-30%.

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New Delhi: The early arrival of summer this year has given a push to ice cream sales, which have seen double digit growth since last month against the pre-Covid levels of 2019.

Starting February, many parts of the country have seen mercury rise over 35°C, which is around 6-7 degrees higher than normal.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Delhi recorded 33.2°C on 25 February, 8 degrees above normal. Moreover, IMD seasonal outlook for the temperatures from March to May 2021 shows that above normal seasonal minimum temperatures are likely to prevail over most of the subdivisions of north India.

This has led to an exponential boost in ice cream sales across the country after a disastrous season last year, wherein the peak season of April to June was washed away in lockdown.

Now, most of the major ice cream brands have witnessed double digit growth against the pre-Covid sale levels of 2019. Starting from February, sales figures have seen a 20-30 per cent rise. For some brands, the figure is as high as 60 per cent.

Speaking to ThePrint, milk cooperative Amul’s Managing Director R.S. Sodhi said the company’s ice cream sales have gone up substantially.

“Our sales in February this year against last year are up by 40 per cent while in March it is three times compared to last year. However, it will be rational to compare it to the March 2019 sale. In that case also, we have witnessed over 30 per cent increase in sales pre-Covid level as summer has arrived more aggressively this year,” he said.

Apart from Amul other major brands such as Vadilal and Mother Dairy also registered massive boost in sales this year.

Vadilal Industries Ltd Managing Director Rajesh Gandhi said, “Compared to 2019 sales level there is a 20-30 per cent increase in February which has further increased to over 60 per cent in March as heat has started prematurely this year.”

He added, “This year is going to be a very good season especially in the peak season which lasts from April-June for the western part of the country whereas for the northern part it goes on till July.”

Sanjay Sharma, dairy products business head at Mother Dairy said, “We expect the summers of 2021 to be a season of revival for the overall ice cream industry due to an early rise in temperatures and normalcy gradually setting in. The sales are recovering to the pre-Covid levels as of March 2021.”

He said, “We anticipate a growth of 15-20 per cent in sales over 2019 for the next three peak months of the ice cream season — April, May and June as we plan to launch 8-10 new products.”

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Covid threat again?

With a spike in Covid-19 cases in the last few months, lockdowns or night curfews have been imposed in many states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

This has, however, led to a massive disruption in sales for the ice cream companies that operate out of these states or have a major market share in cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

Sudhir Shah, president of Indian Ice-Cream Manufacturers Association (IICMA) and managing director of MD Scoops Ice Cream told ThePrint, “With the introduction of night curfews in these states, cities like Ahmedabad, Surat and Mumbai have witnessed a major disruption in ice cream sales.”

He said, “As the majority of the people go out for ice cream consumption with their family and friends after having dinner from 9 pm-12 am at night, that’s when the night curfew is implemented which rattles the sales in key hours of peak season months.”

According to Girish Pai, director of Naturals Ice Cream, in the first and second week of March, the firm has been facing a lot of “sale disturbance issues in Maharashtra cities like Vashi, Mumbai, Pune and Ulhasnagar as cops come and close down the outlets either due to gathering of crowds or on the ground of night curfew”.

Maharashtra comprises only 7-8 per cent of India’s population but 60-70 per cent of India’s caseload. Its cases per million are also much higher than the national average — the state has 18,800 cases per million while India’s average is 8,400 cases per million.

Between 11 February and 11 March, its daily caseload has risen from around 37,000 to a little over 1,00,000.

The ice cream sector had witnessed a massive meltdown in sales last year due to the imposition of Covid-19 lockdown across the country between March and May.

Anuvrat Pabrai, member of IICMA and founder of Kolkata-based Pabrai’s Fresh & Naturelle Ice Cream said, “Last year was almost a complete financial year loss as the main months of March, April and May were at loss. Mostly ice cream units did just 30-40 per cent of the business. The crucial season for us is March, April, May and June, so 40-50 per cent of total annual business as per 2019 level happens which amounts to Rs 7,000-8,000 crore in these months.”

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Industry still hopeful

Experts, however, remain optimistic that the sales this year will surpass the 2019 pre-Covid sales level of Rs 15,000 crore and might go up to over Rs 20,000 crore — a 25 per cent rise.

Pai of Naturals Ice Cream said his business is surging in other parts of the country.

“We have a 15-20 per cent increase in February sales this year above the pre-Covid level. The absence of board exams this year has also contributed to a boost in sales this year. If the situation remains normal, April and May might witness 25-50 per cent business above pre-Covid level of 2019 sales with the price of ice cream also going up with an increase in fuel and raw material price,” he said.

IICMA chief Sudhir Shah also expressed a similar sentiment.

“Compared to a pre-Covid year in January and February some brands have registered 90-100 per cent increase in sales. Overall we are expecting growth of 20-25 percent over 2019 sales in peak months of April, May and June,” he said.

“The HORECA (hotel, restaurant, and catering industry) sector hasn’t been picked up but the gap is filled by retail sales surge along with the upcoming 14 April-15 July marriage season which might further propel sales,” Shah added.

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