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Coronivirus: How some Indian firms are cashing in on 'fear economy'

By Pavan Lall
March 19, 2020 19:28 IST
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Any concerned citizen ought to start practicing hygiene by washing their hands properly and be aware of the brands that are certified.

The ‘sin economy’ trade thrives on tobacco, liquor and gambling, and ‘good times economy’ posits the same for celebrations, festivities and dining.

But as the coronavirus epidemic spreads across India, marketplaces are seeing large and small players scrambling to cash in on what can be labelled as the ‘fear economy.’

 

This mainly includes respiratory and surgical masks, sanitisers and sterile wipes.

Also, small and big medical players, making thermal temperature gauging devices, are sensing an opportunity and jumping to capitalise on them.

Household hand-sanitisers have historically been made by players like UK-based Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Dettol, and industrial-grade versions like Sterillium are made by German firm Raman and Weil.

In today’s market, however, one sees a flurry of new brands across medical stores as well as online.

One example is Fearless, made by Fearless Pharma, run by Sajjan Raj Kurup, who got into the business recently with a suite of disinfectants.

“Raw materials are not available and we are not being able to make what we want because it is a volume procurement game,” he said.

“In the future, we may be looking at setting up a small unit as opposed to contract manufacturing.”

He goes on to say that people are scrambling to order ethanol.

Contract suppliers say they are not sleeping for five days because so many small contract manufacturers want ethanol and other chemicals to quickly push their versions of sanitisers.

Sterillium, which is the gold standard and the most efficacious hand cleanser, is out of stock.

Shahavir Noorayezdan, a Mumbai doctor who also runs a medical device venture, says that as with sanitisers there are various levels of efficacy.

“The bottomline is that you need 70 per cent Isopropyl alcohol and with some of the stuff that is being sold on Amazon and small stores, there’s no guarantee you get that,” he said.

“The gel-based hand cleansers are largely glycerine and don’t even come close to killing bacteria and virus.”

Business Standard called up one dealer of thermal non-touch thermometers who indicated that only orders of greater than 25 would be taken and it would take a week to deliver.

The prices he said were also higher. Devices that normally retailed for Rs 2,000 were being sold for Rs 9,000.

There are several brands of infra-red non-contact thermometers that include Chinese ones and local labels like Puja Engineering.

But US-based Fluke Corporations’ products are the best known ones.

A cheaper infra red thermometer is for sale online by a company called Shreenika.

Its other products include sun-glasses and insoles for shoes.

Industrial giant 3M makes the best respiratory masks  that range from surgical protection to more sophisticated models that filter out particulate matter in different sizes.

Of course, in many shops, their masks are out of stock.

Now, even garment makers are switching to masks made out of fabric that are designed and look close to those of medical grade equipment.

Color Fuel, a Delhi-based maker of women’s dresses and kurtas, has started making surgical masks that are disposable daily and masks which retail for around Rs 10 or Rs 15 a piece.

“Price is going up with demand,” said Sadique Siddiqui, director of the firm.

“The real demand in the industry is being inflated by WhatsApp and the social media and that’s why raw material prices are going crazy.

"This mask could have even come for Rs 5.”

There are scores of other choices available on Amazon.

One is a mask made by Winsome that claims that it’s great for “virus protection, air pollution and personal health” and comes for Rs 300 for two.

Winsome’s core business is polyester duffel bags, nylon bags and even leather belts.

As Nooreyazdan says there is a propensity in times like these to be able to buy raw materials and mark up products by as much as 100 per cent or more but this is a regulated industry.

Any concerned citizen ought to start practicing hygiene by washing their hands properly and be aware of the brands that are certified.

They must realise that medical devices require decades of testing and quality control to do what they claim.

Photograph: PTI Photo

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Pavan Lall in Mumbai
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