Sanitising and social distancing: The new spice shop scene

How one spice store, Radhe, is tackling the COVID Crisis

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How one spice store, Radhe, is tackling the COVID Crisis

You could consider the Indian spice shop to be a microcosm of the wider Indian community in Australia.

If you could be a fly on the wall at your local store and observe the goings-on, you would get a feel for the trends and moods within the community.

Ketan Patel, proprietor of Radhe Wholesale and Retail in Sydney, could give you an understanding of the reactions of the community in the current health crisis.

“There have been interesting phases,” he told Indian Link. “First, we had over-buying, where people stockpiled on staples such as rice, atta and lentils. Soon this spread to items such as two-minute noodles etc that might be needed in case of a fuller lockdown, and also, interestingly, traditional immunity-boosting products such as turmeric and ajwain… Chyawanprash sales spiked up!”

Today though, the panic buying may have stopped, but other trends continue, he revealed.

“Now, we are seeing a smaller number of people than before for sure, but sadly, we still have people dropping in in groups, such as entire families. Do little kids and grandparents have to tag along to grocery shopping?”

Social distancing rules in place

For that section of the community still in denial, much of Ketan’s day is now spent in reiterating government regulations about social distancing and self-isolating to control the spread of the coronavirus and prevent COVID-19.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment to our customers and staff,” a notice on the door reads. “In line with the recent ruling on social distancing we are implementing strict shopping policies while we operate:

1. Only one person who is doing the shopping should enter the shop.

2. Persons entering must maintain a minimum of 1.5 meter space from others in the shop.

3. Based on the size of each shop, we may need to restrict the number of customers in the shop at any given point of time.”

Ketan told Indian Link, “We’ve altered our normal operations drastically. Only one person is allowed in at a time. Spots are marked outside for social distancing. Queues at the billing counter are to follow the 1.5m rule to decrease social contact. Staff wear masks and gloves, and we have hired extra casual workers to help with stocking, cleaning and other stores operations.”

Extra care is being given to ensure a clean and sanitary environment.

“Our staff clean every 3 hours or so. We use recommended products to disinfect all common touch points like doors, door handles, fridges, racks, desktops, horizontal surfaces, trolleys and baskets.”

Despite all warnings and guidelines, people continue to come out with their friends, roommates and family members, Ketan lamented. “At times, we have to close the main entry point when it gets crowded inside. Some people have just not understood the severity of this situation.”

Health of staff

The duty of care to staff members is equally paramount in Ketan’s mind. Employees are screened regularly for fever, cough and breathing difficulty.

“Staff have been instructed that if they’re sick they have to stay away. Everybody has been provided with a box of gloves even for travel, which they change as soon as they come in.”

He laughed off the rumour that employees were infected by coronovirus and that supplies were affected too. 

“This was clearly a sinister ploy to defame both our brands – Radhe Grocery stores and Radhe Chatpata House Restaurants.

We published a clarification on our social media as soon as we learnt about this.”

On the online debate on price gouging

There has been palpable anger among customers about price hike in the Indian stores that they are sharing online. Some young customers even are using TikTok videos to express their anger on increased prices.

“That may well be the case, and there might be some operators profiteering from this situation,” Ketan agreed. “But you must understand the basic concepts of supply and demand; and logistical issues such as staff shortage at supplier’s end and currency fluctuations

must be factored in. These are not ordinary circumstances. We must accept this reality.”

He added, “I would like to say that we are an ethnic company with ethics. Our goal is that our stocks reach every member of our community. Our suppliers have increased prices by as much as 15% and all type of discounts to us have been stopped. We are trying our best to not pass on the burden of increased costs on to our customers, but we also need to look at our finances too.”

What to expect in the future

“There is no need to press the panic button,” Ketan observed. “While I do not want to set wrong expectations around stock, for now we have enough. Sensible shopping is the need of the hour. However, this is a very dynamic situation with new guidelines being issued daily both in Australia and India. Just like others, we are monitoring the developments closely. With India in 21-day lockdown, the supply from there is definitely going to have an impact on stocks availability here in Australia. At Radhe, we are trying our best to find alternative sources/brands to procure all major grocery items, and serve our customers the best we can.”

Radhe is a household name in the community for some time now. Launched in 2006, it has today grown to operate from Harris Park, Blacktown, Quakers Hill, Glendenning and Pendle Hill, the last location also serving as the warehouse and centre for online sales.

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