In other words, we can speculate, but frankly, we don’t have much to go by till we know that work can be resumed to some extent.
At this point, we have been confined to our houses for the longest time since perhaps many of us were born, and the uncertainty of things going ahead looms. The virus, in its wake, has wreaked havoc on industries and caused damage worth billions of rupees already, and we can only brace ourselves for what is to come. I don’t mean to deride all those online videos, live discussions and webinars by eminent luminaries from the F&B industry, but to try and even suss just how big the damage is or when and how the industry will recover is what I call ‘invoking a Paul’, the reference being to Paul the octopus, which could somehow “predict” the results of World Cup matches.
In other words, we can speculate, but frankly, we don’t have much to go by till we know that work can be resumed to some extent. And even then our inherent inability to be able to correctly guess how consumers will respond going ahead means we are trying to balance an equation, which has too many and constantly-evolving variables.
And yet, hope is such a thing that we, even I, log onto those chats and listen in keenly, hoping that the successful restaurateurs and beverage manufacturers are being conveyed something a little extra by the government and maybe the light they are able to shine on it will be all the light we need to illuminate the darkness that currently persists.
I, too, for my part have been speaking with industry stalwarts to understand where we stand. Here is what I have gathered from the various industries…
Spirits: Manufacturing of spirits is not bound by seasons as such, so once work resumes, supplies can be back on shelves sans delai. The only lag, if at all, could happen down the line if any other raw material is not in stock—like, say, yeast for beer, barley for malts — because international transport still has certain restrictions. Also, let’s factor in that transferring stocks between states might take a bit longer than it used to due to new sanitary standards.
Beer: Here again, barring the non-availability of raw material, from wet ingredients to dry ones like cans, bottles and crown caps, the supply-chain lag should be minimal. Abhinav Jindal of Kimaya Beverages shared that an ideal cycle of production takes no more than a month, so once they get the go-ahead, they could easily get production back in 30 days and, in the meantime, previous stocks could provide the much-needed stop-gap. He also added that although beer and other ferments already follow extremely strict codes of hygiene checks to avoid contamination in their life cycle, they may have to comply with additional compliances should the government feel them necessary.
Wines: Our last exchange with York winery and Grover-Zampa winery revealed that harvests had all come and winemaking was being carried out as every year, but with the added precaution of social distancing and mandatory temperature checks for all workers, as also frequent sanitisation of surfaces and hands. From what I have heard, 2020 seems to be a good easy vintage in India, so the wines, when they do hit shelves, should definitely be on our shopping list.
Home delivery: I was hoping that somehow this lockdown would manage to initiate the home delivery and sale of alcohol, which would then become a useful precedent for later. As things stand, I don’t see hotels and restaurants picking up anytime before August (there I go, invoking a Paul myself) and by then, the ones which do manage to survive may still find the client hesitant to spend on big wines. For their part, consumers have now learnt the art and benefits of entertaining at home, so they might look to buying more in retail and less at F&B establishments. And this is where home delivery could have given it a boost further, but I guess it won’t see the light of day just yet.
Overall, the channel of distribution of alcohol might shift, but the sales will continue, a prediction which may make manufacturers and importers happy, but isn’t as comforting for hotels and restaurant businesses.
The writer is a sommelier