Mega stores or mega sores?

The debate on FDI in the Parliament was of interest to me – not just because of its impact on the lives of the farmer, small traders and vendors, but also my life to a considerable extent. While the policy makers are happily glossing over the flip side of the whole issue, the affected people are worried. Don’t we know that all these giant chains are only concerned about keeping their godowns stocked at all times, no matter where the material comes from. If Indian farmers are not able to supply them or if they feel the produce is not up to their standards, they would summarily reject the produce and fly in stuff from where they find it cheap. So soon we would not only be using Chinese goods, but also be eating what they produce — frozen and preserved and flown in.

(If you want to know how these chains ‘help’ the farmers, please read Varsha’s post here.)

Already we have stopped getting ‘in season’ apples because they are all plucked and frozen at least six months before we get to eat them. And the price remains steady at around Rs.100 season or no season.

And has anyone noticed how our desi bhutta has been swallowed by the sweet corn, with its sickly sweet taste? I miss those bhuttas roasted on a little charcoal fire by the roadside and generously rubbed with lemon and black salt and with equal passion hate the cloying taste of the sweet corn dished out at ridiculously high prices with such flavours like Mexican chili and Chinese chat masala (whatever that means). And when these are roasted, they taste even worse.

Coming back to the mega store chains, how do they make their profits? Not by overpricing, but oversizing the packs. Already the neighbourhood grocers have standardized the packs of dals and other stuff to half, 1, 2, 5 kg packs. If you want anything less than that, you have to find an even smaller shop that sells stuff loose and measures out any quantity you specify. At home, we are just two people and if I include my maid, who has her breakfast in our house, we are two and half people. I don’t need those mammoth packets of grains and pulses or the 200ml tubes of toothpaste and 500ml shampoo bottles.

Also when you go to these mega stores, you find bargains and offers of many kinds – buy one and get 1/2/3 free, buy a 5 kg can of cooking oil and get a kilogram of sugar free and so on. They also have other lucrative offers of containers and bowls and glasses free. This is where the problem begins – each pack comes with one glass/bowl/container. If you want to have a nice set of those on your shelves, then you have to buy more than one pack. I am no saint who has overcome temptations and so when I find a beautiful glass free with a pack of instant coffee – 200 gms – I end up buying four of them to make a nice set. It is another story that I have to give away three and half packs to neighbours and the maid respectively, lest the coffee loses its flavour. I could have bought the glass for a fraction of the cost without the offer. But who can resist an offer, pray?

I envy all those who happily shop for their monthly groceries and other needs in a mega store or mall, finding all they want under one roof and resisting all the temptations while doing so. I can never resist temptation nor can I find all I want there.

So I prefer my neighbourhood shop – rather shops. I shop at two or three different places for my varied needs.  Some of the things are only available at certain stores. For example, I need to get the tamarind from the south Indian store. What I get in a megastore might be too new, too sweet and have too many seeds. And I certainly don’t fancy eating Chinese tamarind, thank you! The coconut is shorn of its husk and given with the guarantee of exchange if it is rotten. I get the ‘mandai vellam’ (lumps of jaggery that resemble a head!) specially got from TN and a lot other things besides, including Tamil periodicals. I can pick up the phone and ask for the stuff and it comes home – no minimum amount of shopping that needs to be done to avail this service!

I also like going to the shop to pick out the stuff myself, as the shopkeeper helpfully suggests some new product or tells me that a particular product is not good and that he is going to return it to the supplier. He also knows the things I buy regularly and reminds me that I have forgotten to put til oil in the list or ask ‘Don’t you need Odomos? Mosquito season has started.’ He doesn’t have the rice I usually buy in stock, but promises to send it by evening and does too. He is not averse to keeping a running account, though I prefer paying off the bill every time I make a purchase. And then, I like to buy my coffee powder from the shop where the shopkeeper mixes the beans in the proportion I want and freshly roasts and grinds them for me. He is also nice enough to bring it to the road where we are waiting in the car, since the complex is too crowded to enter and park.

While my friendly kiranawala (grocer) delivers my requirement home, I have to lug the heavy stuff myself. If I don’t have a car parked in the basement, I have to push the cart to the auto stand and lift them up into it and then lift them out at home and carry them upstairs.

As for vegetables I like to buy them from the vendors lining the street after the morning walk. It feels good to be greeted by the vendor and offered the choicest of the greens as he puts in a sprig or two extra after the scale dips. I would rather eat the local produce that is fresh instead of the GM vegetables that has been frozen and flown half way across the world. How I wish I had a patch of kitchen garden to grow my own organic vegetables.

The long and short of it is that I don’t like shopping in malls or in hyper-stores – not for my groceries and veggies. Not even for my clothes and shoes. The glut of stuff lining the shelves is inviting and confusing at the same time. All designed to encourage spending with their ‘dil maange more’ and with weak willed people like me falling prey, lock, stock and barrel.

Well so much for those of us who can afford to buy from these mega stores and can write about choices. What about the poor who get their vegetables and fruits at half the market price? ‘Garib garib ki madad karta hai,’ (the poor help the poor) says my maid when I incredulously tell her the price I had bought the same vegetable from the vendor she has bought from. There is no way they would get any discount from the Walmarts and Tescos on the grounds of poverty, would they? For all one knows, they might even be stopped at the entrance due to their appearance.

In a country that has more than 40% of people in the BPL category, of what use are these mega sore…..oops, mega stores? Perhaps the small cash subsidy they are going to get will help them buy stuff from these international outlets, with all those bargains and offers thrown in? When political parties who are against FDI in retail still support it because they want to be on the side of the ‘secular’ party at the Centre. Who are they supporting? The government or the farmers of the country? I am frankly confused about the rationale behind all this. Can anyone please explain?

 Image courtesy: http://in.finance.yahoo.com/

99 comments

  1. Oh I couldn’t agree with you more here. I live in a small town and their is only one food store and a few small shops for household items and cloths. Many of my friends drive the 1 1/2 hours to a bigger town for all their shopping. I hate those big stores. I walk in them and immediately feel funny and overwhelmed with the lightening, many people and rows and rows of items. I can never make a decision and prefer buying smaller amounts that keep fresher and brands or organic I prefer. I may sometimes spend a little more, but also support my small town businesses. I also so don’t trust the the goods that come from China even though it is so hard to buy anything anymore that doesn’t come from there.

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    1. It is wonderful that you buy stuff from near your place to keep the businesses alive. We need to do our bit for the community in some way, isn’t it? You have put it perfectly — those big stores intimidate one sometimes. We do enjoy the conversation and the exchange of pleasantries with our neighbourhood shopkeepers who often are also our friends, right? As for China, Chinese products rule!

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  2. Well, given our fiscal deficit and policy paralysis, and the fact that elections are looming, the government needs to do something pronto. Enter FDI in retail – foreign companies pouring mega-bucks into the country. Problem 1 solved.

    Next, the finance minister wants to encourage spending to boost the economy in a time of high inflation – quite like Mary Antoniotte, who wanted poor farmers to eat cake if they couldn’t afford bread. So with all these mega-offers these mega-retailers will offer, people will be tempted to buy – at least until they widen up, if ever. Problem 2 solved.

    As for people’s fear that kirana stores will fail, I don’t see that happening. One for the reasons you’ve eloquently stated above. Two, because Wal-Mart will have to alter its international strategy of opening huge shops outside city limits because no one is going to drive down 30 kms to stock up a months grocery. They will probably compete with the Big Bazaars and Le Marches that are already operating without really denting mom-and-pop stores.

    And with that, I conclude my thesis! 😉

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    1. Ah, what a thesis! Thank you, MG 😀 Sometimes I do feel that a revolution like the French Revolution is due any time now. Hopefully the biggies will provide employment and low prices if nothing else.

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  3. Some interesting perspective to the whole FDI mess.

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    1. Isn’t it? I love all the inputs from my wonderful readers 🙂

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  4. Amazing post, Zephyr!!! You are rocking as far as the topics and the content of your posts go! Now to the topic–Initially I used to compare as to what happened in USA after the megastores–the mom-n pop shops closed, small businesses were put out of business. And what was worser was that megastores existed only in comparatively well-to-do areas where they will have enough clientele. Due to economies of scale and volume–the milk, bread,eggs etc always cost cheaper in megastores and more expensive small business stores located in poorer areas–such that the poor paid more for their milk and bread than the well-to-do. That had made me very angry. I also hated the monolith ideology of megastores where because of concentration of power there were dangers of ignoring local foods in favor of cheaper options elsewhere. I also hated it for destroying entrepreneural spirit and making more folks as “employees” rather than owners of their own project. I thought that hurt the human spirit.
    But I realize we cant simply assume the same will happen in India. Indian spirit is way more robust. As sudha so beautifully points out–megastores are closing down. When I was in phoenix mills mumbai recently, i saw how some stores were shutting down for they were not making enough to offset rent and salaries and still make a decent profit. So I hope the kiran stores will reign supreme and that the process will help them develop and adapt.
    But I also fear. Once upon a time, my ancestors spoke out native language. Today I speak, write, think and even dream in english language. How soon before our kirana culture is erased from our hearts, how soon before our children speak of sweet moments visiting megastores with their parents, how soon will megstores become cherished memories, cultural antecedents to the way we receive our world? I dont. know. I dont know,

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    1. It is an irony that the poor have to pay more because the mega stores are out of bounds for them, and you know why. The Phoenix mills story itself is an eye-opener of displacement of the poor to make space for the ultra rich. But I guess you are right. The day might not be too far off when the mall experience would be topping our list of memories with our kids and grandkids. But I am a socialist at heart and would feel guilty every time I see the divide around me.

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  5. Well I am not fully aware of the implications to be able to comment on it. But from a consumer’s point of view it would do a lot good and even eliminate the middlemen involved.

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    1. I am not fully qualified either, which is why I invited my learned readers to comment and enlighten me. Do read Varsha’s links. She has explained it well.

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  6. I buy from all kind of stores and enjoy every kind of experience so for me megastores are as important as the local kirana stores. Even if one is tempted by a number of things, you get what you want.

    Yes, things have become costlier but that is in case of buying from farmers as well. Apples are Rs 100 even if I buy them from the biggest mandi. Of course it is rs 30 higher at Big bazaar. So my point is being practical about the purchase because we want all kinds of things around us.

    Don’t know how i missed reading this post earlier 😐

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    1. We get the produce from the super stores at the same rate as we get from farmers, but those are not fresh ones, Jas. And while we pay the same amount, the farmer must have got a fraction of the cost, from these stores. Do read the link at the top and that given by Varsha in her comment. My email notifications are still off and so you might not have got it. If you are comfortable with Reader, you can subscribe through that.

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  7. 🙂 Very interesting. i make it a point only to buy Indian because somewhere in my patriotic brain, I think I am doing my minuscule bit. Yet, supermarkets are very convenient. They do stock local stuff and it is easy to buy even small quantities. (supermarkets, not malls or hypers). I also enjoy my local kirana stores where they have these elderly women, nicely oiled, heavy earrings from over-sized piercings in their earlobes, sitting together and cleaning the dals and rice. I love to go sit quietly with them and eavesdrop as they occasionally look at me and smile and nod. No words required. I am happy to say they are all still flourishing where I live, because we enjoy the “khaatey mein likh do” and phoning to tell them to send it home. In Bangalore we enjoy our local Nilgiris supermarkets which are very good.

    But I am guilty of enjoying browsing the malls whether I buy or not. As for the freebies, after initial indulgence, I’ve learned my lesson. I mean, imagine spending Rs.1500 for a free pack of water bottles worth all of Rs.160 ! Even my son laughs at that – asking why on earth would we force ourselves to spend 1500 just to get something worth 10% of that spend, instead of simply buying the water bottles, if we needed them?

    And anyway, if at all there’s an issue with a product, it is sheer hell to sort it out with the mall’s store. The procedures alone are enough to put anyone off. It also means that we must store all the bills carefully. Urgh.

    I wonder when this consumer madness will settle down. Everyone is crazy about freebies/brands/buyonegetones…

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    1. Trust Vidya to sit and eavesdrop on the women cleaning grains in the grocery stores! Browsing and even buying from the malls is fine, but here there are two issues, one about the consumers and the other about those poor who are affected by the incursion of the biggies from abroad. Also when they come to developing countries, their policies of return and exchange change drastically. Abroad, they will exchange anything with cash back. As for falling for the freebies, there is a local saying in Tirunelveli: ‘Feela kedacha phenyle kooda kudikkalam!’ 😀

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      1. Hehehe. well said about the phenyle! 😀

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  8. In a 2 sq km area in the suburb where are I live, there is not one, but 5 mega stores. Between them, they managed to put out 13 kirana shops out of business and 3 more to limp along. The interesting thing is, once the kirana shops went out of business, they started competing with each other and now there are just 3 megastores standing and indications are there that one of them will close operations soon ! What is even more interesting, and heartening for me personally, is 3 kirana shops have re-opened in the last 1 year. Is this an indication of change? Will it last? I really don’t know.

    Like many of the others who have commented here, I shop at both the local kirana shop and a mega store but for different things. But my domestic help prefers to shop only at the mega store as she feels that they are cheaper. I personally feel that both can exist and do exist in a consumer society like ours. As for who benefits, it is the consumer !

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    1. If one were to go by reports about these mega stores in the US, all is not well for them and so they are coming to countries like ours where it is easy to set up shop. You do have your stats on your finger tips, don’t you? Good to know that the kirana walas have reopened their shops. Maybe this is the way things will turn out on a larger scale too. Didn’t Roshni say that they are going back in the US to mom and pop shops again? The consumer might benefit, but not in the long run and other poor might not, even in the shorter run.

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  9. Zephyr:

    Quite a relevant topic for today’s ‘developing’ India. I like supermarkets and malls for the free aircon and colour. I prefer buying things from any grocer who is close by. As for chilli and coriander powder, my mother dries the material and grinds it and gives it to me. No ready made powders for me except in dire times when the stock is replenished and I am far away from amma. I have found that even pulses from supermarkets have worms and pests and hence I have lost faith in the savvy packaging and quality percentage of supermarkets.

    I guess one has to be wise in choosing the required products instead of following the herd and shopping in these popular outlets. Sometimes supermarkets seem to give a certain power to the consumer and so he/she ends up spending more money rather than shopping in the kinara store which seems to lower the standards. The power of money and status allows only shopping in supermarkets and not the corner shops.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. This is a new perspective, Susan. The snob value of shopping in malls. The consumption patterns in India are still pretty old fashioned — as I shop for certain things at certain places, most of the commenters seem to do too. At least for this reason the small shops won’t go out of business even if they will be suffering losses. But as for the others, the small farmers for one, it is a big question mark, since these chains hardly seem to have helped them in the US. The mega stores and others too have easy exchange and return policies. However, they forget all that when they come to India, so instead of exchanging a pack of worm ridden pulses, they would make us run round in circles.

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  10. Wallmart has ensured it’s sales by not allowing a purchase below 1000 Rs in Kota.Yes we shop there in the hope of getting cheap stuff but i am too lazy to compare the prices with smaller shops.Of course we buy random stuff from them too.But i do wish this FDI bill had not been passed because now they will get a free run of our markets.Are they going to think of our farmers?Perish the thought.

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    1. Wallmart in Kota? I didn’t know that! The minimum order keeps going up. But for two people, how much stuff can you buy? They will definitely wipe out our own superstores like Reliance and Big Bazar, which are still smaller than them and also our own. What farmers?

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      1. Yes we have Best Price Bharti Wallmart.I just told KEm that now i will stop buying from there.It is my reply to these corrupticians.

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        1. Good for you!

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  11. I usually accompany mommy for the monthly grocery shopping trip.. we have seperate shops or to say, local vendors where we buy the pulses, cooking oil and other items. the megastores are just a fad. no doubt we’ll visit the place once a new mega market opens up in the city but the next time, we’ll be back to our same old routine. the local vendors/shopkeepers have no comparisons!
    P.S. I absolutely HATE sweet corn! Spiced up bhutta rocks! sweet corn is like a “snack for the elderly” to me.

    P.P.S. I was so delighted when I saw a familiar face in indivine! most of the regular bloggers have disappeared.. thanks for dropping by the blog, it was wonderful to know that you noticed my absence! 🙂

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    1. LOL about sweet corn being a snack for the elderly. But even elderly ones like me are not too enamoured of it 🙂 You are right. We like to go to the big stores for a change, but for regular stuff, it is the friendly grocer down the road. Of course I missed the Princess and wondered if she had stopped blogging completely, till she came back, one day 😀

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  12. But I thought FDI is going to improve our infra structure by building roads, cold storage, farmers club etc etc and not give the Indians better products than what we already have from China 🙂

    By bringing FDI, the govt. hopes that some of their jobs will be taken over by the MNC’s. But is it not a silly dream! Do you think we need FDI to improve our infrastructure? The government also says that less goods will be wasted. If so, why did they not encourage the local companies to build roads, cold storage, frozen goods industry, canned juice and fruit industry etc. This would have solved much of the problem and everyone would have had a better choice.

    The govt. also tells that FDI will remove the middlemen! We are fools if we were to think that they will just disappear! They will only realign and the farmers will be in the same spot as before.

    FDI would have been good we if had good governance!

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    1. Loved all your arguments about FDI being redundant in our country, except give the customers better choice of packed goods and FMCG. Your last sentence says it all!

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  13. On this issue, I don’t know which side I am on. When I was in Bangalore, I found shopping in Big Bazaar quite comfortable. That was because, there was everything I wanted and the neighborhood shops were costlier! In Coimbatore, I was equally comfortable buying everything from neighborhood shops.

    I don’t think Walmarts or even Amazon can replace neighborhood shops. The same way supermarkets haven’t been able to replace them. India is too big and how many street corner outlets can these companies hope to establish? Neighborhood shops are so near and so convenient. I don’t know why I would shop in the bigger outlets, even if they are just half a KM away from my house. There are many already.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. You are the most adaptable shopper, Rajesh. I do the same when there is little option, often giving away half the packet of dal or some other stuff because we don’t consume so much, when I shop in these big places. Our retail chains are pygmies compared to these behemoths. Let us hope the damages are not too many to the small farmers and traders.

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  14. Sheer convenience and cheaper prices do win out even if there is ignorance and confusion because of lack of information and discussion. It is too new in India for us to have informed opinions. Perhaps what seasoned Americans have to say about mega stores like Walmart will prevent us from making the same mistakes even as we open our doors to them.

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    1. Read your post on this Keyem. It is not new for the world though it might be new to India, right? And as you say, we have to learn from others’ mistakes and guard against them. But as sm says, the laws are not in place yet and then it might be too late to do anything about it.

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  15. I think modern consumer is spoilt for choices, I buy from mega stores as well but not everything. The small kirana store is never going to close as there is a high demand of what he/shes stocks and they all stock according to what sells from their establishment. I get freshly milled flours of different types from my neighborhood chakkiwala but if I need everything under one roof I might go to a mega store..I don’t see any harm as long as my priority of local and seasonal products is met with. I never pick up California apples when local keenu and peaches and amrood is in season.
    And I don’t think the mega stores are going to kill the small vendor by the colony gate.

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    1. Nice to see you after a long time, Sangeeta! If all our needs and quantities are met with, we will all patronise the mega stores. But that is not happening even when we have these national retail chains. Also, as Varsha has pointed out in her article today, these giant chains first reduce prices and then increase them once they have the market sewn in. The plight of the farmers is also a moot point.

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  16. FDI is good for India but Indian, Indian laws are not ready for FDI in India

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    1. You said it, sm!

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  17. I have no clue what this FDI will bring.. because when has any govt ever done good for the people .. its more what they can make of it ..

    BUt I do hope and wish FDI comes and works for the good of our farmers as they are the ones who are always taken for a ride and not cared about .. the feeder of the nation sometimes has to sleepy empty stomach.

    I do hope this provides some good news and farmers get the benefit .. although as you have mentioned I doubt for end of the day the khadi wearing gang is the only one that gets the benefits in the long run always

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    1. I know how you feel about the farmers Bikram. Already the MNC chips brands have caused havoc in potato farming and are making farmers move to cash crops like chillies to flavour their chips. It is not about farmers but the small ones, who are already so beleaguered. We are only looking at the swanky places with a plethora of choices in goods.

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  18. I am not sure if FDI retail will be good or bad for the farmers.Consumer might benefit on price terms while large Cos will have a vice like grip on Indian middle class pockets.
    My worry is…it might be too late if it isn’t proved beneficial to farmers

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    1. But, Chowlaji, it is the present our leaders are worried about. Kal kisne dekha hai? 😀

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  19. hey great title : one that resonates !!
    we will now have loads of choice in frozen food and not enough in Real food!
    thanks for the link 🙂

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    1. Hey Varsha, thanks and wish you had posted the link to your latest one too.

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  20. Somehow, I feel that this isn’t a case of Us v/s Them or a black & white situation. Its just that we’re not used to shopping for things en masse the way the megastores proclaim we should. Does it make sense? Yes & no.

    We still procure our foodgrain, grocery & food items from the stores near our house – there are 4-5 of them around us. Some stuff is not available anywhere else, like the stuff you get all the way from TN. Other stuff is perishable, and not available in the small quantities we need.

    But then, there are times when the megastore comes in useful. When I’m buying soaps or handwash refills or detergents, the range, discount on quantity, and the ease of selection without having the shopkeeper on my head to choose whether I want Rin or Ariel, is all better in a megastore. For eg, I prefer to use a specific brand & design of toothbrush, which my area’s stores have stopped selling. The megastore has the same brand & design, or a range large enough for me to find something similar. The discounts on quantity are also useful – I think about half the buckets in my bathroom are of the free-bucket-with-this-pack lineage.

    Yet I would not recommend food items from the megastores, only the non-preishable stuff. Biscuit packs are atleast 2-3 months old. You’ll never find anything newer than October now, in December. Other items are even older. Items like chips & biscuits that are partly fragile you’ll find broken or powdered when you open the packets.

    Isn’t it a zero-sum game from a consumer’s perspective? I used to buy my toothbrushes from the local store, now I buy from the megastore. The price is the same, only the place where I’ve shopped is different. I used to buy 2 kg detergent a month from the local store, now I buy 6-8 kg once every three months from the megastore. I will still go to the local store for the specific brand of ghee that only he stocks across my area, not even the megastore has anything close to that type.

    Also, I somehow don’t quite agree with the doomsday scenarios being bandied about – whether we’ll start eating Chinese rice or Mexican wheat or any such thing will be realized only in the future. And right now, I doubt whether the megastores across any urban market have tapped more than 15% of the population as repeat shoppers.

    Suffice to say, India is a big enough country for everything to come and succeed, and yet not hurt any competition.

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    1. I agree about the perishable and non perishable stuff we buy in mega stores. And the fact that the country is large enough place for every player in the business. I too buy stuff in these mega stores but my monthly ration is too specific and too small for them. The question here is not about the demise of small businesses alone, but the overall impact on agricultural produce and the economy, so what if it is in the future?

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      1. I’m yet to see statistical differences – at the farm producer level – of the change in status pre- and post modern retail. At present, the format of agricultural distribution is languishing at pathetic standards right now – there are enough and more articles of how useless the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is. Grains rot, yet people go hungry. To an extent, the fact that there is no player who can create a distribution channel to utilize this properly, is due to the fragmented nature of the end chain – the kiranawala. Perhaps a large player will be able to streamline the whole chain ang ensure that more grain reaches the consumer. Hopefully, prices will drop as supply increases.

        Ouch. Reading the last paragraph makes me realise I sound more like an MBA that I am than the simple English user that I think myself to be. Let me stop here before this maliase spreads to the rest of this comment.

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        1. Ha ha. Your MBA jargon has not obfuscated the point you were trying to make. So, it is fine 🙂

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  21. Zephyr…A big chunk of the world economy runs on human weakness. Peer pressure, vanity, convenience are some of the known weaknesses– all of these make people run to these Mega Malls.
    I prefer to do all my monthly-grocery shopping in Spencers. In my case, it is just a matter of convenience. They offer good deals, and maintain quality also.The trip to these stores especially during summer time is a big relief! And I can comfortably resist shining things! 😛 [But, please note that I am not lobbying for walmart…] :))
    I buy my fresh vegetables, fish, poultry,and meat from the local market….
    With the proliferation of hypermarkets and mega malls, the traditional role of the neighborhood grocery store is slowly dwindling.And that is something to worry about. .But, are these kirana-sellers really struggling??? At least, my local Kiraana-shop owner, who delivers bread n milk at our doorstep every morning, doesn’t seem to be worried at all. He says,.kirana culture will never die. For small things people would always run to the neighborhood stores…
    I guess, ultimately.they will end up selling stuff in inflated cost due to low business…

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    1. It was after talking to you the other day that I wrote this post 🙂 I really envy all those who shop at these mega malls and manage to get all they need. Like everything else, this topic has everyone divided sharply about the pros and cons. My fear is that local produce might be choked out by the imported ones as has happened in FMCG. Except for some brands like Parachute or Vatica, we have no indigenous herbs or fragrances like amla, shikakai and coconut oil in the toiletries and cosmetics. Instead we have exotic fragrances and ingredients. It is good that the kiranawala is upbeat about his future. But as you say, they would be raising the prices to make their profits.

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  22. Greetings!! 🙂
    All the points you raised are very much plausible and valid.
    See, me and my friends we were debating on FDI when the whole issue was in it’s infancy. First of all, I should state here that I was (and am in fact) in favor of FDI. Yes, there are some scares: farmers might not get a fare treatment, small shops will collapse; home grown markets will not be able to compete, etc.
    There will be an impact on domestic suppliers: farmers, vendors, etc. but why should I, an average consumer not get quality products? It’s a matter of choice as to what product you wish to consume. Even at my place, veggies are bought fresh and I don’t think it will be impacted by FDI that much.
    Why can’t we assume a positive aspect to it all?
    Farmers are reeling under pressure since independence, and FDI has had nothing to do with it. The domestic producers/suppliers have had close to 60 years to develop; get competitive. If they haven’t been able to be so, then maybe FDI deserves a chance..?!
    And maybe after the introduction of FDI, domestic producers will be compelled to improve their produce’s standard.

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    1. That is a very balanced argument in favour of FDI in retail. But unfortunately there is many a slip between intent and implementation and we know how these biggies can bulldoze the small fry and get their profits. We all look for quality and service and we will benefit certainly. But aren’t we already getting it all in our superstores? What I and so many others are apprehensive about is the entry these are making with such promises, which have not come true in other countries. So how can we believe it will here, when our laws lend themselves to being bent and twisted to suit the unscrupulous?

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  23. A billion consumers getting cheap produce, millions farmers selling to big stores directly, thousands of young men and women getting jobs in the big stores and back end vs. some lousy kiryana shop going out of business, who has been selling you Dal with Kankar, rice with worms? The choice is simple…if the choice is between cheap imported onions and 110 rs Kilo domestic onions which one will we take… I guess the answer is clear….

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    1. Wow, how idealistic you sound! As for the ‘lousy’ kiranawala, he is a legitimate citizen of this country too and has every right to his livelihood. I would rather pick out the stones from the grains he sells than eating a GM vegetable or other produce imported from some far of country by these chains, Fortunately, cafebpo, there are still those who worry about the small farmer, the poor subziwala and the poor daily wagers, in our country.

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    2. Wow, that sounds like some advertisement! As for the ‘lousy’ kiranawala, he is a legitimate citizen of this country too and has every right to his livelihood. I would rather pick out the stones from the grains he sells than eating a GM vegetable or other produce imported from some far of country by these chains, Fortunately, cafebpo, there are still those who worry about the small farmer, the poor subziwala and the poor daily wagers, in our country.

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  24. I have been reading arguments from both sides. You are right that some farmers who do not produce a quality of produce will perish. Perhaps time will tell how this step pans out for Indian farmers and retailers. Lets see if this helps in employment and developing cold storage chains without too much damage to small farmers. When we can produce a nuclear bomb, I wonder why we did not develop cold storage chains so far?
    Since KFC and MacD did not destroy the samosa and tea shops lets hope for the best.

    I shop from Needs supermarket and Spar ( I have no kirana store nearby) and they deliver the groceries at home. In fact my local grocer(within the apartment) cheats often but I get a fair value from the supermarkets.

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  25. Well written! How much ever we yell, fight or flee, there is no escaping the FDI entry. So, good luck with the Chinese apples and toys 😉

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    1. LOL, we are already eating only American corn and Washington apples. How much worse can it get?

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  26. What do I say…….. I buy routine stuff from malls, vegetables from central Market where I buy vegetables wholesale, get dals, tamarind etc from India and so on. No a single mega store does not satisfy my needs, I go to different stores where I get certain goods good.

    I agree we might soon be eating Chinese and buying Chinese whilst our manufacturers and traders languish. My own family members have suffered bcoz of the advent of mega stores because they have small shops and now they barely have any customers.

    But then I rememeber long back the kiranawala used to weigh less and his grains had stones mixed in them. Now he has stopped bcoz he knows the customers will not tolerate that.

    So good /bad I really don’t know but foreign investment… we could have done without that

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    1. Ah, you have given a real example of the small traders languishing because of the mega stores. If this is the case with our chains, which are very small compared to those giants, what wouldn’t the biggies do to them? I guess then they have to migrate in reverse to smaller towns and villages because such stores can’t survive in those places. The kiranawala underweighing and mixing stones is a thing of the past. Today they sell cleaned and packed stuff too and the weight is good. I have seen the boys packing adding a few grains more while weighing, just as they do while selling loose. We are busy exporting everything — natural resources, labour and more and now we are allowing the big corporates to come and make their hay.

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  27. I’ve always enjoyed shopping in local shops.I would go with Amma and more than often be gifted a gooseberry or two by the shop uncle.You see Amma didn’t even have to buy 250gm/500gm/1kilo of gooseberries because her fledgling took a fancy to eat one gooseberry.

    You get fresh things and they throw in free curry leaves as well!!

    I trust the local stores on the freshness of veggies.They don’t have huge freezers and 24/7 aircons.

    If you have noticed,when I shop with supermarts I deal with the corporate.When I shop with the local shops I deal with a real person who wouldn’t shrug off my queries with an over-polite,”Corporate policy ma’m or I’m a new part timer here”.

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    1. The curry patta thrown if free is precious in places where it is hard to find! I have bought a small bunch for Rs.10 in the big stores 😦 The gooseberry is another thing that only is available in small shops, right? Because as you say, we are dealing with individuals and not corporates who have emotions and feelings and maybe a child at home whom you remind them of 🙂

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  28. I shop at mega stores but when I need something instantly over a Sunday, I run to my local shop. That is a reason that both the varieties have survived even after mega stores like Big Bazaar came in.
    Coming back to FDI, as far as I understand the bill, the companies have to invest a certain amount in India in bargain. They have to use local people for jobs and in turn help in the growth of the economy. I do not know how bad or good things will get in the future because our politicians have a habit of making a mess out of even the simplest of things.
    Bringing these companies will also bring unemployment for many. There will be casualities. The middle men will be finished. The ‘Mandi’ as we know them, will be a thing of the past. And I am sure there is no backup plan for the people who will suffer because they are poor.

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    1. The biggied hsve existed in our markets even before globalisation. But still a Nirma caould come and cock a snook at Surf. But with these international chains things are different. Already there are reports of Walmart paying for ‘lobbying’ which is another word for bribe in international circles. And who benefited? Those who made and about turn and voted them in? Who? You have mentioned unemployment, but they are touting employment as the main benefit. The small farmers of our country are already fighting for their survival, both figuratively and literally. Are these giants going to support them or just the medium and large ones?

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  29. Even I don’t the rationale, BM. Like you said and many said in the comments, most of us prefer to buy from local stores. Which are cheap, convenient and has all the other benefits that you rightly pointed out.
    I don’t know what my mum is going to do now…she still buys in a food chain like food world though. Because that is the nearest one to her. Hey, I remember collecting those tiny animal figures that used to come with Cibaca paste. Now, not many know cibaca these days I believe. Every month, we would wait for the paste to finish and pray to get a different animal or literally open the paste in the store itself and ask him to give a different one if the animal is the same…hehe 😛
    coming to the U.S, Indian grocery could be purchased only in an Indian store. So, no walmart business.. But veggies, there are different stories. The local farmers markets are super expensive compared to the bigger farmers market which is again dominated by Asian sellers. :). the upside is the veggies stay fresh for 2 weeks and are pretty cheap. Downside is, we have to go 30 miles to get them :(..and the ones available in the U.S stores are nothing but hybrid and you know how they are…
    BM, may be when the retailers are wiped out, these Mega Sores will have additional packages like, if your bill is above 1000, you get free delivery to your apartment complex, if it is above 1500, you get them to your door; if it is above 2000 then they would set them in your shelves too…ain’t a good idea? now, let me copyright it….ok..am stopping here..now…:)

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    1. They already do home deliveries in some of the outlets, which is why I can’t make use of them. My grocery bill is really small to make them want to deliver my stuff 😛 But no worries, these chains are not coming any soon. And when they do into the smaller towns, they might just fail. I know how Reliance and Big Bazaar and another retain chain shut down many of their outlets in Jabalpur because there were so few takers. The local traders used to be the biggest customers and they added their profit and sold the items and the ‘offers’ besides. The poor who could afford good clothes went there to gawk at the shelves often buying an odd pack of Parle G in a jumbo size or a bottle of Pepsi. That is why I am saying, the divide between the rich and poor would widen even more. Today what is available in even the vegetable mandis are not the real stuff. If you see the precise size and shape of vegetables you’d understand that they have been meddled with genetically.

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  30. I agree to everything here, I always buy my groceries from local stores only..but my husband says that in India we dont have proper storage facilities and none to bother about buffer stocks, so many time farmer suffer, rather they suffer all the time because if crop is less they suffer, and if it is more they suffer because then it goes cheap, the way its happening in punjab for potato crop..

    As such stores may not be so bad but they are because of the poiliticians corruption and corruption in our system..

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    1. Oh Renu, you think just like me! The farmers are indeed the perennial sufferers and so are the poor, no matter what the rulers and the government bleat to the contrary. This is why I liked that article, which talks about American farmers and how these chains have bled them. But so few have actually clicked the link 😦 As another commenter has remarked, the laws are not in place to welcome these chains and so we are going to let ourselves in for a lot of problems later.

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  31. I have my apprehensions as well. I shop in mega stores and some of them do have good deals with convenience, but I regularly buy from my kirana store. He gives me personalized service and can get me things like mongodis or some typical spices that I need. I am not sure if the WalMarts of the world are setting a good example, facing as they are rights violations in US itself. Actually WalMart is a powerful middleman itself which will be able to dictate the low prices that it pays to the farmers especially when they have the muscle power to buy from anywhere in the world. So, I am apprehensive about them coming over. Though, I must admit that WalMart was my place of choice when I wanted to buy things in the US. It really is very cost effective to the end consumer.

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    1. We embrace wholeheartedly what the world rejects or bans, be it drugs, ideologies, lifestyle or Walmart. So we are getting it. While we are looking at things from just one angle — that of ours, since the larger issue doesn’t concern us directly, we are happy with the choices, the style and the so called fillip to the economy. You have made a great point — of such chains becoming the same middlemen they are supposed to be eliminating. Even i have to go to the mall when there is nothing close by, and go through the rigamarole of standing in a mile long queue to get a tube of toothpaste billed. I root for my grocer too — for his service, like having my choice of stuff delivered home.

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  32. In a country of billion plus, everything will be lapped up Zephyr, notwithstanding that 40% live BPL!! It still is almost as big as whole of Europe with people whose pockets are bulging to buy more whereas at the other end we have more poor than entire Africa, who live in penury!

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    1. Exactly, Rahul. Such incursions into the country is only widening the divide betweeen the rich and the poor. But who is bothered about them, except the politicians who go to them at election times?

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  33. In an economy that’s fueled by global market trends, it’s tough to remain insular. IMHO, the passing of the FDI bill, gave our otherwise dull economy the much needed push. I shop at big superstores, but when it comes to my daily needs, I’ll prefer my neighbourhood store. Our Kirana stores provide that personal touch that no mega mart can match.

    Also FDI promises to do away with the middleman. They will be buying directly from farmers.

    I think, I’ll wait and watch before dismissing mega stores as mega sores.

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    1. I agree with the economy getting a boost, but is it going to be of use to everyone or just the rich farmers and big industries? With their huge money power, these corporations and chains can import their stuff from anywhere. And then where do the farmers go? If they are so farmer friendly why are American farmers in such a bad state? Varsha’s post talks about this aspect. As another commenter pointed out, by the time we realise that things are not what they were promised to be, it would be pretty late.

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  34. I commented about this in another blog. I hate the idea of Walmart and their ilk taking over the local stores! Walmart does not treat their employees well, and they also kill the competition by slashing down their prices. They are a multi-billion dollar corporation, so they can take the temporary loss. And, you’re right about the Chinese maal soon flooding the market. Sometimes, Indians should not blindly ape the west, especially when the west now realizes its mistakes and is now going back to the local mom and pop stores!!

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    1. The promises about employment is also apparently an eye-wash. I am quoting from somewhere, but your comment gives that credence. As Manju pointed out, the price reduction is only temporary till a monopoly is established. Then they raise the prices. We are famous for rushing in where angels fear to tread. The reason why these chains are coming to India and other developing countries is precisely because in their own countries people are going back to mom and pop shops, isn’t it?

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  35. Hi Zephyr,
    it was nice to read you and know you can’t resist temptation even if it is a glass bottle. so far so good:)

    Now, let me write what I know, first of all, this FDI is a byproduct of this globalisation thing, which is a kind of legalized colonization pimped by international organizations like IMF, UN etc.
    After having said that, globalism is also providing jobs, so people you and me are forced to love it too. Unemployment is a key indicator that can count against a particular ruling party. Todays opposition is vying to be tomorrow’s ruling party ( or they are just brought out by foreign investors). That is as far as I can say about the voting saga in the parliament.

    So, the gravy train is on the move, Unless it crash land, it foes on; it has no break or driver.

    So what you say in your post is that we are people of different shopping cultures, and we do not want to give them up because of our loyalty, fear of temptation of what ever that is:)

    So these mega ones and your favourite ones will survive side by side.

    Personally, I am used to both. I like the smell and touch of the fresh greens; but I am developing an aversion against the hygienic conditions of these local shops that is when I am in Kerala; their owners are as money minded as those big guys. From the Reliance shop, I get first grade things, the local shop-men are keen to keep the price at the same notch, but sell commodities of shoddy quality.

    So that is it. .

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    1. I loved the term legalised colonisation. How apt! Thanks for the detailed comment and explaining the concept to me 🙂

      Globalisation indeed is providing jobs but only at the lower levels. Also when it is not going to benefit a huge chunk of farmers who are really small, how do we say that it is helping the farming sector? Aren’t they already losing their land to developers and the government without having to losing their livelihood to the mega chains? As Manju has pointed out, the intent might be honest, but the outcome is not always so. And yes, the gravy train moves on without brakes and driver! I sincerely hope the smaller shops survive because they are the lifeline of our poor even if I am converted to a mall shopper.

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      1. zephyr dear, thanks, that is the best way I understand it. Now nobody knows it better, we are all trying to explain each other.

        Your concerns are all right. One of the most important cornerstones of globalisation is privatization-transfer all capital ownership to private hands, and a less role for the government. The agreement has been made elsewhere and our destiny is sealed even though we do not know it. India in particular is one country, where there is no transparency on this.

        One thing Glo. encourages is entrepreneurship. This is a way the individuals can counter or take advantage of it. The government has to do a lot to hep the individuals to be entrepreneurs- the bottom line is that they need to have individual freedom. But if individual can have freedom what happens to the vote banks, caste-religionism and classism. Here is the problem.

        In capitalism, the people have to change; they have to adopt to new production, new marketing, For eg, the local farmers can form their own cooperative stores. Many have told they prefer local shops, I also prefer; but I need to be taken care of like a valuable customer. In globalism customer is the prime person, but if you go to kerala the attitude of the ordinary shop owners is that if you want you buy or get lost.

        So there is a lot on it. How is it china is conquering the world with their products. Entrepreneurship. See I am living in a small city here. In this city there are two chain shops that are already filled with Chinese products, Now there are two more original chines shops. Where are the Indians? Unlike in the past, everybody can go anywhere and can find market for their product . This is employment. Where are the Indians, I mean the ordinary Indians?
        Oh sorry, I wrote a lot.;)

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  36. From my personal point of view, I don’t like this trend. Even here in the US, I always get our produce from farmers markets – as much as possible. I also shop at small local businesses, but avoiding mega stores is not possible here. However, back home, we never visit one (we live in Ahmedabad). Everything is bought from neighborhood shops and markets. It’s what I miss the most about India, and I hope it’s not taken away by this FDI in retail Revolution.

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    1. Even in India, it is becoming impossible to stay away from these retail chains, at present the local ones. I sometimes go there to just browse and pass the time 🙂 But the main shopping is still done by me in neighbourhood shops. For bigger families perhaps it makes more sense to shop there, since the quantities bought are more. Local shops offer masalas and other special items that are not available in these super and hyper stores. The price savings are also only on large quantities. When I get the same brand in a shop nearby, why should I go to one of these and pay the same price for it? Retail chains will not eliminate the small shops but surely choke them out slowly.

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  37. Points well put.. But I have a different viewpoint. To me buying with credit is the key evil. Your kirana store still does a Your cash transaction and today’s gen wants to use their cards. The govt’s financial inclusion projects might change that but till such time, I feel, that the major purchases will be at these hyper marts and daily emergency shopping at local baniya stores.
    Also , just the convinience of shopping in a ac mall while the other family members shop for their knick knacks , is reason enough to visit the hyper mart.
    Also what is the guarantee that your local dealer is not repackaging the Chinese goods and marking it as their own? Its finally the price game.

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    1. I can understand your point about shopping in the AC comfort and the use of cards. But we are not talking about the upper middle classes alone, though they are the ones that fuel these mega marts. We need to think about what the poorer sections will do. As it is, the groceries are reducing at an alarming number and working class people and daily wage earners can’t ever dream of shopping anywhere but the neighbourhood grocery or in the weekly markets where stuff is sold loose. People buy 100 ml of oil, quarter kg of rice and half a kg of atta. For them that is food, contaminated or not. It is these people whom I was thinking about when I wrote that piece although I gave vent to my own rants 😀 What do you mean by the ‘financial inclusion’ of the government? (The other reason I wrote this was also to learn a little more about the subject from my intelligent readers 🙂 )

      All goods are Chinese. Period. But I would still like local tamarind and jaggery, thank you 😀

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    2. A link to my post on all these related issues : its about where your food is coming and how that is going to be affected :US is already moving towards small farms and family oriented farmers markets .And exporting Walmarts to the world !
      http://wholesomeoptions.blogspot.in/2012/12/fdi-bill.html

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      1. Thanks Varsha, for the link, though I shared it on FB later.

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  38. Zephyr, I thought my first comment didn’t get published so I wrote it out again. Please delete one of them. 🙂

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  39. Since FDI seems to be a done deal, I guess we will have to learn to live with Mega stores. I agree with your point about oversized packs in malls. My neighbourhood grocer lets me buy grains and dals in whatever quantity I like.

    When liberalisation began in the 90s, people thought that small scale and cottage industries could co-exist with international companies.

    However, in the case of several products, what happened was that the large companies introduced their branded goods at extremely low prices. They could absorb the losses they suffered because this.

    The Indian small scale manufacturers could not afford to sell at such low prices, and so they soon went out of business. THEN the international companies raised the prices of their products.

    I do hope that this sort of this does not happen now…

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    1. Contrary to belief that neighbourhood shops sell substandard products at high prices, they do sell good stuff and also offer personalised service, don’t they? So many of these shops employ women who clean and sort the grains and pulses before they are weighed and packed away neatly. That is a very valid point about the multinationals choking the small scale industries by underselling and then making a kill after the latter died slowly. The plight of the farmers in the US is well known and the link I have provided very clearly brings this out. The big farmers are sure to benefit by these chains, but what about the small ones? What about the poor? Or doesn’t anyone bother about their existence anymore?

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  40. The whole world is sold out to the evil corporations. There is nothing much we can do about it. We need some global revolution to rout them out.

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    1. whether or not they are evil I am not sure, but at least these mega stores will surely choke the small retailers and vendors and will make the farmers more desperate than they are right now. The link explains this so graphically.

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  41. I am with you in many practices of yours mentioned here, Zephyr! I buy rice, dhal, oils etc. from a ‘saettu kadai’ near my house. I just make a call, he brings them home. If something is not to my liking I can send them back. No hard feelings!

    After buying the things at the saettu kadai, I go to Nilgiris to buy other things like noodles and pasta and the sauces (I make some at home). I don’t need a Walmart for that.

    I have got 8 half kilo bottles and eight 200gm bottles of Bournvita which I made my children to drink when they were small! We used to get Bournvita mugs free too…I had a number of mugs, now I don’t have any…broken! I still have got the bottles!

    I buy vegetable and fruits from a nearby small shops. I ask him which fruit to buy because if they are ‘kallu pottadu’nna I get ulcers in my mouth. He recommends good fruits sincerely! If I need some vegetable for the next day get together, he delivers them home by evening!

    I hate Chinese products. We brought some 1 pound things from UK for gifting…everything was ‘made in China’!

    Sorry, this has become a post now! Enjoyed reading all the points to shoo off Walmart from here!

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    1. You are so pragmatic in your buying patterns, Sandhya! We do need a variety of sources for our varied needs, don’t we? 😀 The neighbourhood green grocer and grocers are life savers. I have asked them for a loaf of bread sometimes in a hurry and they would deliver it and rush off even without waiting for the money. When I have been down with migraine and alone at home, I call for a fruit juice and he sends me that pronto. I might not have an array of thing to choose from, but who cares when one gets home delivery? As for Chinese stuff, everything comes from China these days. I had bought some costly Fisher-Price toys in London and what do I find on the carton? a Made in China label! Alas, it is not for me and you to shoo away the Walmarts 😦

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      1. I had visited the huge buildings when I visited the US. They are in a single floor…no ups and downs! The quality of things were good. But our own Nilgiris and other furniture and readymade stores have all those things. But who knows? I might like to shop under one roof!

        But I would like to keep in touch with my saettu kadai for door deliveries and service with a human touch!

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        1. You are right! Our homegrown supermarkets have all we need and for the rest saettu kadai zindabad 😀

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  42. I seriously do want to join in this discussion. But the problem is I haven’t been able to understand it yet! I have no idea why I am not able to read and understand any of the articles on this. I like supermarkets, malls and mega stores. They are the only way out here. The small groceries serve the purpose of emergency stuff like milk, curd, bread,eggs, etc. But the rest come in nice packages from hupermarkets. My mom sends homemade Tamarind from Kerala too. Even when in India, I shop at supermarkets where they give nicely packaged stuff. I am assuming the standards of these are bound to increase when competition from international markets come in. When Mobiles, internet, clothes (or the lack of it) and so many other stuff has already overloaded the Indian Market, how much more damage can a Starbucks or Walmart do?

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    1. I feel the same as Jyothi. I buy my monthly provisions from several stores, too – including mega stores, neighbourhood kirana stores and roadside vegetable vendors. I find that shopping at each of these places has its own charms. At mega stores, I sometimes get stuff which I don’t get anywhere else. Yes, it does have its own temptations, but I find those temptations at neighbourhood kirana stores too. As long as I make wise choices, I don’t really have a problem with shopping anywhere. And, yes, I feel that the standards of our local stores would improve too, with the advent of mega stores. I feel they have already.

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      1. The standards of local stores would improve as a natural progression since the customer is getting wiser. But these chains are not brought in for this purpose but the ambiguous purpose of helping the small farmer, eliminating middlemen and generating employment. How far these have already happened in the west is the moot point. Why allow economic colonisation, as Prasanna put it aptly?

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    2. The fact is Jyoti, that most small departmental stores have cleaned and packed stuff. Even the neighbourhood grocer packs cleaned stuff. The days when grains that had more stones than grains are past today, since everyone wants good stuff. The larger retails sometimes reduce our choices and make us buy stuff they produce. The products of Reliance or Easy Day are not all good, except the grocery items. Their juices, coffee and other items are all below par. Competition from international brands are supposed to make the products good as well as cheaper. The same was said about cosmetics and the FMCG too. But the price mirage was there for a while and then all products became costlier — even the local ones and it is not just inflation, but plain increase in prices. The question is about how it is going to impact the so called beneficiaries, and the poor. One only hopes that employment is generated. Do read the link provided to know about the so called boost to the farm sector.

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  43. check out this..the best picture to explain the current situation 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the link. The pics are so apt 🙂

      Like

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