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Organised Food Retailing: A Blessing or a Curse?

There are serious concerns about the entry of organised retailing in the Indian food sector. What impact will it have on farmers, 'kirana' store owners, traders, commission agents, consumers and the economy? Based on a study of the Indian food retailing industry, this article indicates that while these concerns are valid, there are more winners than losers in the process. The paper also defines business steps that the affected parties can take as well as policy measures the government can adopt to resolve the issues equitably.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 17, 200867Organised Food Retailing: A Blessing or a Curse?Vijay Kumar, Yogesh Patwari, Ayush H NThere are serious concerns about the entry of organised retailing in the Indian food sector. What impact will it have on farmers, ‘kirana’ store owners, traders, commission agents, consumers and the economy? Based on a study of the Indian food retailing industry, this article indicates that while these concerns are valid, there are more winners than losers in the process. The paper also defines business steps that the affected parties can take as well as policy measures the government can adopt to resolve the issues equitably.Vijay Kumar ( is a visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. Yogesh Patwari ( and Ayush H N ( were both students at IIM when this study was conducted.In his 1845 book,Economic Sophisms, Frederic Bastiat, noted French economist, statesman and a champion of free markets ridicules protectionism using wit, irony, satire, dialogue andapologue to illustrate the absurdity of “erroneous ideas” [Frederic 1996]. One such illustration is a petition filed by an in-dustry association to the French legislature seeking their assist-ance in warding off competition. Excerpts follow:To the Honourable Members of the Chamber of DeputiesGentlemen,We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price, for, the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stag-nation. This waging a war on us...mercilessly.We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains …and blinds – in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light …enters the houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today in so unequal a combat…The petitioner: manufacturers of candles, lanterns, candlesticks, street lamp. As the reader might have guessed by now, the competitor: the sun.Invoking government intervention in coping with competi-tion, howsoever indefensible, is an age-old practice. Often, the request is wrapped in the national flag along with the painting of a scary scenario should such an intervention be denied. Something similar has been going on in the ‘bazaars’ of the country these days. As the organised food retailers make inroads into the retail market, traditional retailers (‘kirana’ store owners) along with farmers, traders, activists and our ever-ready politicians are demonstrating against the interlopers. They want organised retailing barred from their areas. Some states like Kerala and West Bengal have lent a sympathetic ear and a new policy is under consideration. Uttar Pradesh has closed down one retailer, while other states are monitoring the situation carefully.In order to understand what organised retailing is all about and what impact it might have on the various stakeholders such as the farmers, kirana store owners, traders, commission agents, employees, consumers and the national economy, we conducted a study of the Indian food retailing industry. We also defined the business steps the affected parties can take and what policy measures the government can adopt to ensure an equitable reso-lution of the issues involved. This paper summarises the results of the study.
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 17, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68The study was conducted through interviews with managers and employees of various retail stores in the city of Bangalore, retailers, farmers and traders in a nearby village, industry experts, security analysts and reliance upon secondary sources.More specifically, the study methodology centred around over 100 interviews with the managers and employees of about 70 retail outlets in total. The outlets selected consisted of 30 kirana stores, 20 pushcarts, and about 20 organised stores representing various formats, such as hypermarkets, supermarkets and dis-count stores. The outlets are located in three areas of Bangalore – Bannerghatta road, Koramangala and M G road – and the village of Budikote near Bangalore. The kirana stores selected were a mix of size, distance from the newly set up organised stores and management’s availability and willingness to be interviewed and share proprietary information with us. The retail inter-views were supplemented by the observation of operations at one wholesaler (Metro Cash and Carry), interviews with farmers, traders and members of a cooperative society in the village of Budikote, industry experts, security analysts, private equity and venture capitalists who have made investments in organised retail ventures.The retail interviews focused on issues such as their business strategies, merchandise mix, supply chain, sales trends, prices relative to maximum retail prices and the competition, customer profiles, buying behaviour, reasons for customer desertion/ addition, competitive pressures, operating problems and feasibility of formation of cooperative societies, as applicable. The interviewswere guided by a list of predefined issues without being straitjacketed by it, allowing a more free flowing discus-sion wherever needed. More significantly, we worked with the kirana store owners and convenience store managements to de-velop their pro forma profit and loss statements. We quantified various items such as revenues and the itemised costs under various heads. Similar data for the other organised retail formats was gleaned from the published sources and verifiedduringthe interviews with the store managers as well as the industry experts.The study, of course, started with secondary research. In this regard we scanned the archives of both domestic and foreign publications such as the Economic Times, Business Standard, Live Mint, Economic and Political Weekly, Business World, The Wall Street Journal, TheNew York Times, Fortune, and Business Week among others. We supplemented this effort by analysts’ reports, annual reports of the publicly held companies and sector outlook reports published by organisations such as Euromonitor, Confederation of Indian Industry, A T Kearney, Macquarie, ABN AMRO and the like. The literature search enabled us to develop an initial perspective on the industry as well as formulate our hypotheses that formed the basis of the remainder of the study. Nevertheless, we were confronted with the paucity of published data on the overall Indian food retailing industry.The paper is organised into five sections. Section 1 starts with a brief profile of the food retailing industry; Section 2 covers the current and new supply chain arrangements; Section 3 lays out the impact of organised retailing on various stakeholders; Section 4 puts forward the recommendations for both the policymakers and affected parties; Finally, Section 5 briefly summarises the conclusions of the study.1 IndustryProfileThe following is the profile of the retail industry.1.1 Industry Size and EmploymentThe food retailing industry accounts for annual sales of about $ 176 billion currently, which is a little over half of total retail sales of $ 330 billion [Kearney 2005] Over the past five years, the industry has grown at about 10 per cent a year, exceeding the GDP growth rate [Elliott 2007]. This pattern of above – GDP sales growth is likely to continue for several more years given the general economic bullishness, pent-up demand and a deepening culture of consumerism [CII 2006]. The total retail industry is the second largest employer in the country, next to the farming sector. Current employment is estimated at about 40 million people (rural-urban split is about 60-40)1 of which about 0.5 million are employed in the organised sector (all in urban areas). We guess that the food retailing sector accounts for slightly over 50 per cent of the overall employment, in line with its revenue proportion to the total retail revenue. The organised sector has already captured a 4 per cent share of the business, which is expected to grow to 15-20 per cent in about four years.2 We assume that in 10 years, theorganisedretailmayoccupyaround 30 per cent market share.The retail industry has been gradually opened up to foreign direct investment (FDI).3 Until two years ago,FDI in retail was not allowed at all. In early 2006, foreign investors were allowed to own up to 51 per cent share in single brand outlets only. Now there is talk of lettingFDI into all retailing. The plan has aroused serious controversy in political and business circles and a number of reviews are underway. The protest marches in various cities are indeed also fuelled by the impending entry of FDI. The only exception to the restriction of FDI in the industry has been the food wholesale sub-sector where 100 per cent FDI is allowed. Even in the case ofFDI in wholesale trade, protests have occurred from time to time. Still, the ability of the wholesale sector to deal in farm produce has been restricted in states where the Agricul-tural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act has not been amended (discussed later).1.2 RetailFormatsThe traditional retail industry consists of two basic formats: kirana (mom and pop) stores and pushcart vendors. The kirana stores are (typically) family-owned, small in size (100 sq ft and above), carry a limited number of items, and are run mostly by family members, supplemented with some hired help. There are approximately 12 million such stores in the country with perhaps half of them involved in food retailing.4 These stores generally cater to the customers within their neighbourhood. The pushcart vendors run their self-owned “mobile stores” and carry, for the most part single or a limited number of items. There is no push-cart vendor census data available but the total number of vendors could be a few million.
Trader Commission Wholesaler agent
urer er Mother C&E agent Distributor godown
SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 17, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly72farming. It is also possible that under this new arrangement of the amended APMC Act and the entry of organised retailing, the small farmer may not benefit at all or only a little since organised retailers might prefer to deal with larger farmers given their large requirements. Should that happen, some sort of small farmers’ association to deal with organised customers would become necessary. Finally, while the organised retailers are being perceived as a big threat, they may turn out to be just as vulnerable as the kiranastores (discussed later in this section) [Holstein 2007]. The organised sector is still evolving and the various formats are being tested. Everybody seems to be making a beeline for the business. Eventually, the competitive situation may turn out to be such that a shakeout occurs and many of these stores/companies do not survive. That would be a healthy sign of Schumpeterian “creative destruction”.5Overall, the impact of a shrinking supply chain and the entry of organised retailing would provide farmers with higher incomes, consumer with lower prices, better quality goods and a wider choice in hygienic and better purchasing environment.3.2 WholesalerAnother indirect beneficiary of the changed regulations will be the wholesalers. Instead of procuring their requirements from the mandis, the wholesalers just like the organised retailers, are likely to buy directly from farmers. This would lower their pur-chase costs. As the mandis decline, the kirana stores and a host of other institutions will start buying from the wholesalers thereby lowering their own purchase costs. The rural retailers who cur-rently buy from mandis or large retailers in neighbouring towns would also start buying from wholesalers, thereby increasing the volume of business of wholesalers. The pro-active wholesalers who deploy creative strategies such as store-door delivery to the kirana stores and provision of other merchandising services would be the beneficiaries. The profit margins of the wholesalers would also be a function of the degree of competition among the wholesalers. As in the case of organ-ised retailers, higher the number of wholesalers the lower will be the prices to the stores.3.3 KiranaStoresThe principal source of disadvantage for the kirana store owners is the higher purchasing cost compared to organised re-tailers. With the onset of organised retail, the volumes and profits of the kirana stores will decrease. This will be more pronounced for the ones that are situated proximate to the organised retailers. Many kirana store owners may have to exit the business.However, this impact will be virtually nil on the kirana stores in rural areas. Also in areas where the local populace belongs to the lower middle class or lower income groups, the impact may be minimal. This is because of better and personalised customer service, small-ticket purchases by these customers and the exten-sion of credit by kirana stores, a facility not available at the organised retail stores [Wall Street Journal2007].But it is almost certain that, in general, the business of kirana stores will be adversely affected and they will have to undertake a host of measures to counter the effect of organised retail such as formation of buying groups to achieve purchase economies through volume buying. Many organised players have also shown interest in partnering with kirana stores to help them become more efficient. Organised players like Reliance and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies such as Unilever India have already taken such initiatives. This may help them cope with competition from organised retailers. 3.4 PushcartVendorsThis is a segment of the retail industry that employs millions of people, although the total number is not known. Our interviews indicated that many of the pushcart vendors especially in metro areas have college degrees, lack access to capital but with minimal investment make a decent living working in this segment. The absorption of the educated unemployed in this segment often acts as a buffer against any social unrest. The pushcart vendors with their “mobile stores” also exhibit an extreme amount of flexibilityinthat they can easily relocate their stores to more attractive areas in case of competition from organised retailers. More than organised retail, their business is affected by the level of petty corruption embedded in the local policeman’s or municipal inspector’s‘hafta’. 3.5 Traderand Commission AgentThe amendments to theAPMC Act will lead to a drastic reduction in the volume of farmers’ produce flowing through the mandis at a minimum and may even lead to closure of many mandis. Accordingly, numerous traders and commission agents will be driven out of business. In order to survive, they will have to rethink their business model. They do have some unique compe-tencies such as a detailed knowledge of the market, contacts with the farmers, wholesalers and processors. Thus, they will need to use such assets to reorient their businesses whereby they can continue to play a useful role in the industry. One of the easiest options for them would be to join other traders and commission agents and enter the wholesale business. Another option would be to get some manufacturing competencies and start small-scale processing operations closer to the farm to supply private label products to kirana stores.3.6 EmploymentClearly, with 1.25 per cent of the total retail workforce employed in organised retail and the share of organised retail in the total retail pie being 4 per cent, the productivity per person employed in organised retail is 65-70 per cent greater than the productivity per person in unorganised retail. Thus, it would appear that the organised retail would lead to massive unemployment. That is also the current “wisdom”.What we found was counter-intuitive. Undoubtedly, the organ-ised retail would lead to fewer people in the industry. But the relatively lower employment in the organised sector would be more than offset by the overall growth of the industry, which will require additional manpower.We projected the employment in both organised and un-organisedfood retail over the next 10 years and found that in

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 People Employed in Organised Retail (mn) People Employed in Unorganised Retail (mn)

SPECIAL ARTICLEmay 17, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly74retailers. In order to ensure a larger share to farmers, processors and consumers, the government should not onlynotconstrain but facilitate the entry of more organised retailersandwhole-salers into the marketplace. In this regard, there is no need to differentiate between domestic and foreign players.Foreign players may even bring better technology, managementand other competencies. Furthermore, farmers can increase their bargaining power in dealing with the organised retailers or wholesalers by forming sales cooperatives. Accordingly, the government should provide all possible assistance. The sales cooperatives would be particu-larly helpful to small farmers who may otherwise be left out of the newly created markets.(ii) Kirana Stores: As already noted, the primary disadvantage that a kirana store faces relative to the organised player is higher procurement costs. This is because the kirana stores will not have access to the back-end supply chain (directly from the farm-to-store) of the organised player. This disadvantage can be largely eliminated through government action. The government needs to frame a law similar to the Robinson-Patman Act of the US, whichaddresses the same issue. The passage of such a law wouldallowkirana stores access to the supply chain efficiencies of large organised retailers. The Robinson-Patman Act (or Anti-Price Discrimination Act, also known as the Chain Store Act) is a US federal law and a part of their Competition Act known as the Clayton Act that prohibits price discrimination by chain stores or suppliers.7 The Act was passed in 1936 as organised retailers were starting to make inroads into the marketplace [Time 1936]. The major legislative purpose behind the Robinson-Patman Act was to provide some measure of protection to small independent retailers and their independent suppliers from what was thought to be unfair competition from vertically integrated, multi-location chain stores. The objective was to ensure that businessmen at the same functional level would stand on equal competitive footing as far as price is concerned. The Robinson-Patman Act requires sellers to sell to everyone at the same price and buyers with the requisite knowledge to buy from a particular seller at the same price as everyone else.There are many exceptions to the Act. It allows price adjust-ments due to differences in the cost of manufacture, sale or delivery resulting from the differing methods or quantities. It also permits price differences due to “changing conditions affecting the market for or marketability of the goods concerned”, such as the deterioration of perishable goods, the obsolescence of seasonal goods, distress sales under court process or “going out of business” sales. Price differences that represent a good faith effort to meet the competition of one or more other firms are also permitted.In India, a provision similar to the Robinson-Patman Act can be incorporated in the Competition Act, 2002 which is still under implementation and which will eventually replace the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969. Currently, theCompetition Act prohibits anti-competition agreements like fixing prices, limiting quantities, collusive bidding and market sharing. It also prohibits certain vertical agreements which could take place in the retail industry if left unchecked. Examples include: tie-in arrangement, exclusive supply arrangement, exclusive distribution arrangement, refusal to deal, resale price maintenance, etc. The Act also prevents any abuse of dominance through “predatory pricing”, where a larger player charges low prices over a long enough period of time so as to drive a competitor out of the market or deters others from entering the market and then raises prices to recoup its losses. The Act also regulates combinations (mergers, joint ventures, takeovers), which cause or are likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition. To summarise, there is a void in the Competi-tion Act, which can be filled by framing a new law on the lines of the US Robinson-Patman Act. This should go a long way in placing the kirana stores on the same competitive footing as the organised retailers.Since its passage, the Robinson-Patman Act has worked rather well in the US. The suppliers have been careful in avoiding situa-tions of price discrimination in conducting their business. The mom and pop stores have been immensely helped by the legal community. Indeed, many law firms specialise just in Robinson-Patman cases. To the extent the number of small retail stores has declined is due to alternative means of livelihood made available by a growing economy. Still, the remaining mom and pop stores continue to flourish.The kirana stores can also take their own initiatives to cope with the new competitive situation. They can form buying co-operatives, which will increase their bargaining power in dealing with suppliers. If the buying cooperatives are large enough, they can even procure directly from farmers or processors. The govern-ment should facilitate the formation of such cooperatives. The kirana stores can also tie up with organised retailers and food processing companies. As mentioned earlier, Unilever and Reliance have already started such initiatives.Finally, as noted previously, large retailers have access to private labels that are procured at a lower price and yield a higher profit margin compared to branded products. The kirana stores just do not have sufficient volume to have their own private label products. Maybe the government can implement a law that would allow kirana stores access to the private labels of the organised sector. This step would also have some desirable side-effects. If the organised retailer has to supply his private label products to the kirana store, he would make sure that the kirana store is well maintained, the ambience is attractive and hygiene is taken care of. This would improve the competitive position of the kirana stores. Alternately, the buying cooperative of kirana stores can create its own private label products, which can be sold through the member kirana stores.(iii) Pushcart Vendors: Pushcart vendors have been an impor-tant part of the economy as this retail segment had absorbed the excess workforce that could not be absorbed by the other sectors of the economy. Despite a more optimistic employment situation looming, there is still a need to ensure that pushcart vendors have a fair playing field. Perhaps their unique charac-teristics of high mobility and flexibility will aid their survival.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 17, 200875Nevertheless measures must be taken to help them by eliminating corruption, which makes day-to-day operations difficult. Be it the hafta taken from a pushcart vendor by the local policeman or the bribe demanded at the time of renewal of licences of the kirana store, unorganised players have to deal with such issues virtually daily. The government should ensure that the unorganised players can operate without such irritants.(iv) Traders and Commission Agents: The government should also assist traders and commission agents in reorienting their business models. It should seriously considergivingthemcredit and providing other benefits like taxholidays,etc,sothatthey can choose to become wholesalers ifthey so wish. This would be in line with the recommendation of creating a more vibrant wholesale market, which would also meanbetterpricesfor kirana stores and pushcart vendors. Alternately, they could supplement their own competencies with manufacturing com-petencies to start processing operations to supply private label goods to the retail segment.In summary, the recommended actions are as follows: (1) assist farmers, especially the small ones, to form sales cooperatives; (2) facilitate the entry of organised retailers – domestic or foreign – willing to enter the market; (3) modify the Competition Act to in-clude provisions similar to the Robinson-Patman Act; (4) actively assist the kirana stores to form buying cooperatives; (5) provide kirana stores access to the private labels of organised players; (6) eliminate corruption that hinders the business of pushcart vendors; and (7) assist traders and commission agents in reorienting their businesses to wholesale, processing or other formats.5 ConclusionsThe entry of organised retailing, made possible by regulatory changes such as the amended APMC Act, has aroused serious controversy and emotional reactions in the country. Our analysis indicates that while the reaction is not unfounded, there will be more winners than losers in the process and overall, organised retail will be good for the country.The winners will be the farmer, processor, consumer and national economy. The farmers and processors will increase their income, especially if farmers form sales cooperatives. The consumers should expect to pay significantly lower prices. The national economy will experience better tax compliance and higher tax collections. The productivity level in retailing will increase dramatically, leading to better quality jobs and higher incomes. While organised retail would employ fewer people per unit of sales, overall employment would increase if the economy continues to grow at the recent rates. Indeed, the onset of organised retailing may be timely as the country is projected to face tighter labour markets in the not too distant future. Most notably, given the shift in the food basket to higher value items, farm productivity in terms of land as well as labour would increase.Among the losers will be the kirana stores, traders and commission agents. The government and stores can take a number of actions to mitigate the negative effects of organised retail on their businesses. The government can enact an anti-price discrimination law, along the lines of Robinson-Patman Act of the US, to ensure a level playing field for the kirana stores. The kirana stores can themselves form buying cooperatives to improve their bargaining power. They can also take up the organised sector on their offer to assist in utilising their back-end supply chain. The most affected group, namely, traders and commission agents, would have to shift their business strategiesandreorient their business model to the wholesaling or a processingformat. They possess sufficient knowledge of the product, supply sources and customers to be able to execute such models. Still, they will have to join hands with other traders and commission agents. The government can also help with credit and tax benefits.Notes 1 Census 2001(extrapolated to present), data taken from ‘India FDI Watch’, available at 3 ‘National Policy on Regulation of Organised Sector in Retail Trade’: A Proposal by CPI(M).4 India Retail Biz (2007): “India’s ‘Mom n Pop’ (kirana) Stores Are Able to Adjust with Organised Retail”, says ICRIER, November 6, available at http: //www. indiaretailbiz. com/blog/2007/11/ 06/indias-mom-n-pop-stores-kiranawalas-are-able-to-adjust-with-the-emergence-of-organised- retail-icrier/ 5 See Bibek Banerjee, G Raghuram and Abraham Koshy, ‘FoodWorld (A): The Growth Strategy (A Case on Organised Large Format Retailing)’; ‘Food-World (B): The Supply Chain Management (A Case on Organised Large Format Retailing)’; and ‘Food-World (C): The Road Ahead (A Case on Organised Large Format Retailing)’, IIMA Publication6 ‘Is Wal-Mart Good for the American Working Class?’, email debates of newsworthy topics, available at 2144521/ 7 ‘Robinson Patman Act (1936)’,Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, Allison McClintic Marion (ed), Gale Group Inc, 2001, 2006, available at, Frederic (1996):Economic Sophisms, Irvington-on-Hudson, NY, The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc, Arthur Goddard (trans and ed), (first published 1845).Banerjee, Bibek, G Raghuram and Abraham Koshy (undated): ‘FoodWorld (C), The Road Ahead (A Caseon Organised Large Format Retailing)’, IIMA Publication.Business Standard (2004): ‘APMC Act Review May Abolish Mandi Tax’, November 2. – (2008): ‘Shobhana Subramanian: Big Bazaars, Small Customers’, February 20, available at storyflag= y&leftnm=4&subLeft=2&chklogin=N&autono=314281Business World (2003): ‘Grocer’s Day Out’, March 10, available at http://www.businessworld and lecture given by R Subramanian, promoter and managing director, Subhiksha at IIM, Bangalore.Confederation of Indian Industry (2006): ‘Retail Scenario in India, Unlimited Opportunity’, Research Paper.Elliott, John (2007): ‘India’s Retail Revolution’,Fortune, June 27.Gulati, Ashok, Nicholas Minot, Chris Delgado and Saswati Bora (2006): Growth in High-Value Agri-culture in Asia and the Emergence of Vertical Links with Farmers, CABI Press, London, April.Holstein, William J (2007): ‘Why Wal-Mart Can’t Find Happiness in Japan’,Fortune, July 27.Kearney, A T (2005): Emerging Market Priorities for Global Retailers, Sector View.Raghunath, S and D Ashok (2004): ‘Delivering Simultaneous Benefits to the Farmer and the Common Man: Time to Unshackle the Agri-cultural Produce Distribution System’, IIM, Bangalore.Rangarajan, C (2007): ‘Employment and Growth – The Emerging Scenario’,The Hindu, October 3.Rao, M Govinda (2003): ‘Reform in Central Sales Tax in the Context of VAT’, Economic & Political Weekly. Time (1936):‘Act in Action’, October 12.Wall Street Journal (2007): ‘In India, a Retailer Finds Key to Success Is Clutter’ by Eric Bellman, August 8.

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