KARACHI: People in the metropolis continued to face a serious shortage of various varieties of flour, especially the branded ones, as shopkeepers were either refusing them on the pretext of not having the commodity or demanding the prices of their own, it emerged on Sunday.
Wheat flour has emerged as one of the most sought-after essential items after rice, pulses, sugar, ghee/cooking oil, tea, milk, etc, since affluent consumers have gone wild to pile up flour stocks in view of reports of a lockdown due to coronavirus.
These consumers have been purchasing maximum quantity of food items especially at superstores and big markets, while cash-starved people made food arrangements for just a few days.
Small retailers in different area said they had been getting flour stocks from mills with a gap of one week, blaming many millers for deliberately squeezing supplies in the markets.
They said millers had mainly focused their supplies to the shopkeepers having a sizable turnover.
Consumers are told to avoid stocking flour as it lost its quality after a month
Some shopkeepers, despite having flour bags at their shops, were seen denying selling flour to new customers as they preferred their old customers first.
They said they had to call the millers and their distributors several times a day for providing flour stocks but they took at least one week in providing limited supplies. However, retailers said many affluent people held the flour stocks at their homes that may last till Eidul Fitr.
Both millers and retailers are now happy in selling flour in huge quantities at a time when flour demand usually subsides at the start of the summer season.
It is unfortunate for many consumers to buy costly flour despite the fact that mills had enough stocks and the Sindh crop had also arrived.
The provincial and the city governments had so far failed to take any notice of the rising flour prices.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the five and 10 kilograms bag of Ashrafi and Bake Parlour brands were easily available at Rs 270-280 and Rs 540-550, respectively. But, the retail prices of the two items had reached to Rs310-350 and Rs 600-650, respectively.
The new Sindh wheat is available in the open market at Rs4,100 per 100 kg, showing a jump of Rs300-400 per bag in the last one week.
Call to stop panic buying
A member of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association (Sindh Zone) said mills were grinding new wheat day and night but they could not cope with the huge demand of buyers as every mill had a specific production capacity.
“A family, whose flour requirement is 10-20 kg per month, has taken away 40-60 kg which is enough for next three months,” he said urging consumers not to indulge in panic buying.
He said many salaried people, whose income usually dries out in the last days of every month, had taken credit to buy flour.
He clarified that millers had not increased prices despite a slight jump in wheat prices. He alleged that the retailers were making huge windfalls by cashing in a huge demand from buyers.
He said consumers did not understand that flour lost its quality after a month.
He said like flour, the people were also buying medicines in huge quantities to avert any serious crisis in case of lockdown.
Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2020