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‘Many avoiding cold food for Covid fear’: No summer relief for ice cream trade, sales dip 50%

While lockdown restrictions hit business to an extent, sales also affected by 'misconception' that ice cream makes one susceptible to Covid because one can catch cold, say stakeholders.

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New Delhi: With the arrival of summer, demand for ice cream increases manifold in India. But this time around, the ice cream industry is facing the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

According to Dilip Rath, chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), ice cream sales have reduced by almost 50 per cent in the lockdown period from 24 March.   

“Restaurants, retail stores, street vendors and ice cream parlours have been completely shut in the lockdown, and as a result, sales have reduced by almost 50 per cent,” Rath told ThePrint. “Ice cream sales in India usually peak during the summer months, but this time the still escalating Covid-19 outbreak has badly affected business.”

The official spokesperson of the Delhi government-run Mother Dairy Fruits and Vegetables echoed similar sentiments. “The peak season for ice cream sales is from April to June. About 40 per cent of our annual business happens in these three months,” said the spokesperson. “Currently, this period has been worst affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. The sales of ice-cream have witnessed an unprecedented slump. Usual business channels and vending carts are both shutdown right now.”

“It is true that due to coronavirus, people are avoiding cold desserts. It is definitely having an impact on the ice cream season,” spokesperson of Paras Milk told ThePrint. “According to our own estimates, the sale of our ice cream has reduced by as much as 80 per cent.” 

While the NDDB doesn’t keep ice cream production figures, according to the market research firm Statistica, 170 million litres of ice cream was produced in the country in the 2017-18 fiscal.

According to another firm, Research and Markets, the Indian ice cream industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the dairy or food processing industry. Its report in 2018 said the ice cream industry in India generated revenue of over $1.5 billion (around Rs 10,000 crore) in 2016 and is projected to generate revenue of approximately $3.4 billion (around Rs 25,000 crore) by 2021. 

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Fear of Covid-19 turning people away from ice cream

NDDB chairman Dilip Rath believes that apart from the lockdown restrictions, sales have also been affected by the misconception that consumption of ice cream or other cold desserts might increase the risk of coronavirus infection. 

“This has also led to sharp reduction in sales,” Rath said. 

Some of the Delhi residents ThePrint spoke to agreed that they fear ice cream makes them susceptible to Covid-19. 

“Summers are meant for ice creams but the fear of corona has made us stop eating anything cold,” said Karan Gupta, a resident of Delhi’s Pitampura locality. 

Konark Tiwari, an engineering student and resident of New Rajinder Nagar, said, “I love ice cream. But I am resisting anything cold because of the corona pandemic. Ice creams can lead to sore throat and cold, so I am not eating them.”

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Ice cream firms looking at door delivery to boost sales

To counter the drop in sales, the ice cream companies have started doorstep delivery of their products.

“In Delhi, organisations like Mother Dairy have started doorstep delivery of ice cream,” Rath said. “But we also need to run a sustained campaign to counter the perception that consumption of ice cream raises risk of coronavirus infection.” 

The Mother Dairy spokesperson said the demand for home delivery is rising.  

“More than 25 percent of our ice cream business takes place from our own milk booths but there is a rising demand for home delivery,” the spokesperson said. “We had initially set a target to increase our sales by 25 per cent this year as compared to the last year. After analysing the trend, we hope that after the lockdown, we will be able to garner about 80 per cent of our annual business.” 

The slowdown has also affected ice cream parlours that have to pay electricity bills for storing the products. Irfan Khan, who works at an ice cream parlour in Shankar Road area of New Rajinder Nagar, Delhi, said some of the ice cream stored in his shop was bought in March.

“Some ice cream packs have a validity of one year and others expire in six months, so they have been kept in the deep freezer,” he said. “Right now, there are no sales but the electricity consumption hasn’t stopped due to continuous operation of the freezer.”

Khan said the summer months are the best for their business. “We used to have good income from ice cream sales during these four months,” he said. “Many hotels, restaurants and street vendors from the area would order ice cream in huge quantities. The business would start to pick up from March and as April and May are usually wedding months, they boost our sales further. But this time our shop has been shut since March. Let’s see what kind of business we see in near future.”

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