Not another sweet(s) story | The Daily Star
Weeks after life has largely returned to normalcy for many, sweetmeat companies continue to see low sales all across the board. Although the scenario has improved in recent times, it’s still a far cry from the strong numbers of pre-pandemic days.
One of the factors behind this bleak condition is the loss of income of customers, which has led to lower affordability coupled with a sense of uncertainty, identifies Maruf Ahmed, managing director of Alauddin Sweetmeat and office secretary of Bangladesh Sweets Manufacturers’ Association.
“People now think twice before making a purchase. Regardless of the income bracket or social class, the pandemic has taught everyone a lesson and made all of us cautious of how we spend money,” he said.
Another factor that has severely affected the industry is the grinding halt of physical events such as weddings, which are almost non-existent now.
“Come to think of it, social distancing has become a buzzword to combat the pandemic. And our business is centred on socialising, gathering and celebrating!” Mahbubur Rahman Bokul, director of Premium Sweets’ operations in Bangladesh, explained the scenario by pointing out the irony.
The pandemic has made businesses confront new realities to cope with these harsh times, including the challenge of paying and retaining staff amidst sluggish sales, along with incurring the added costs of health safety products.
For a company that is well over a century old, Alauddin Sweetmeat has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, but even the heritage outlet has seen nothing like this before. Maruf Ahmed informed that the company had to announce pay cuts, stating that this is undoubtedly one of the worst times it has seen in its long history.
To make matters worse, sweet brands are also uncertain and apprehensive of the future, afraid of a ‘second wave’ and what winter might have in store for them.
Being only around a year old, Mithaiwala has suffered a particularly huge blow, something that has put all its plans in disarray.
“Almost all the plans and orders for Pahela Baishakh got cancelled. We had a lot of inventory stocked up. It was a total loss,” Subhabrata Maitra, consultant, Mithaiwala, informed.
Occasions such as the Bengali New Year and Shab-e-Barat went by similarly, with sweet shops counting losses instead of enjoying greater demand.
To “at least let the brand live”, Mithaiwala and several other brands relied on online sales, as Maitra put it.
“The little sales we had during the general holiday came online,” M K Nazrul Islam, deputy general manager of Rosh Limited, informed.
THE MISERY SPILLS OVER TO DAIRY
With the plights of sweet manufacturers come the miseries of dairy farms, as milk is an integral part of making sweets.
“Previously, before the outbreak, there were instances when we had to push our milk suppliers to step up supply figures so that we could cope with heavy demand. Unfortunately, the tables have now turned, to the extent that sometimes they call us to request for orders,” Maruf Ahmed said.
Mithaiwala’s Subhabrata Maitra echoed the same. “We got calls from suppliers who said that if orders were not taken, they would have no choice but to pour out milk down the drain,” he lamented.
CAN DURGA PUJA BRING A SIGH OF RELIEF?
Although most festivals of the year have passed by, sweetmeat companies started hoping anew for the Durga Puja, one of the most sweet-centered celebrations.
To illustrate, Mithaiwala has launched several new sweets. “Life goes on. People need something to be happy about and they need to celebrate,” Subhabrata Maitra said, talking to this correspondent around a week before the puja.
Similarly, Premium Sweets’ Mahbubur Rahman Bokul informed that they are offering assorted sweet boxes and gift hampers for the festival.
However, for all their optimism, things haven’t quite panned out their way. Though sales figures have increased to an extent, the Durga Puja has brought little change to sweetmeat companies’ fortunes. Talking to this correspondent yesterday night, Mahbub said the fervour surrounding the puja could not take products off their shelves.
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