Food watchdog wants Q-comm to speed with caution

The government has stepped up unscheduled audits and spot checks on dark stores of leading quick commerce platforms, especially for packaged foods, after several hygiene lapses came to light in recent weeks, said people familiar with the matter.

Not just these warehouses, but direct-to-consumer food brands too have received ‘surprise visits’ from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) officials, the people told ET on condition of anonymity. Quick commerce companies are exercising more caution in hygiene as well as in adding small-scale new- age brands to their platforms, they said.

ET’s queries emailed to Blinkit, Zepto, Big Basket (which runs BB Now) and Swiggy (for Instamart) didn’t elicit response till press time. However, an FSSAI official confirmed escalated checks across cities.

The FSSAI official said, “These audits are being done to ensure quality control at all dark stores.” A senior quick commerce executive, on condition of anonymity, said that when multiple violations were found by Telangana’s Commissioner of Food Safety at Blinkit warehouses near Hyderabad, other companies’ dark stores were checked too. “Yes, ours too was checked, along with all other top names one can think of,” the executive said. The founder of a mid-scale consumer staple brand confirmed a surprise check at its facilities the previous week, adding that several other brands, too, faced similar unannounced visits.

Another person said, “It is specifically more in food and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). I know at least three brands whose warehouses were checked too. While there were no serious violations, it has alarmed them.”

From another perspective, though, another quick commerce executive said, “It’s good regulators s are taking stock. As a platform, we are consistently trying to work with brands on hygiene and quality issues.”

Fast delivery startups are watchful about taking on smaller brands, despite the higher margins, said people in the know, after incidents such as the reported discovery of a human finger in an icecream coneordered via an app-in Mumbai. The quick commerce executive quoted earlier, however, said, “What happened with the icecream was at the manufacturing level. Platforms really can’t do much. We don’t open food packets to see what’s inside.”

On the other hand, large food manufacturers express concerns over storage and handling of packages at dark stores. “We cannot afford to have mishandling of packages,” said a senior executive at a large, packaged foods maker. “The consumer will not differentiate between the delivery platform and brand if she receives a damaged product. Ultimately, the brand image suffers.”

He also acknowledged that the worry stemmed from the fact that quick commerce was core to their business and growing month-on-month. Industry executives said the situation is akin to that several years ago,

when horizontal ecommerce platforms were expanding into new categories and took time to stay compliant. It is a major area for quick commerce platforms to address, as they get ready for the next round of battle with infusion of new capital, they said.

S-ET Image Source: Google

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