The shutdown of economies a few months ago did not leave Abhay Sharma unfazed, although he admits that it was not the first crisis that he has seen. “The worst that I had experienced was the 1998 financial crisis, and the meltdown of the Russian ruble while I was running a business in Moscow,” he recalls. He claims to have emerged stronger then and feels that he can position Sonnamera the same, as well. “We are already looking for a larger warehouse and, with the addition of new brands, we’ll have a bigger offering to consumers.” In the next six months, he will strengthen his supply chain and invest in digital technologies to streamline his operation and ensure congruence between various departments. Abhay is the director of Sonnamera Pte Ltd, an importer and distributor of FMCG to the retail trade in Singapore.
Before the pandemic struck, most of the products that they import came from India, where a 60-day total lockdown crippled the supply chain. Abhay quickly decided to open trade channels with food companies in the US and Australia and increased imports from Italy and Holland by over 800 per cent. “We had also air freighted huge consignments of (some Italian products) to ensure that the major retailers’ shelves were well stocked.”
Fortunately, as an essential service provider, they did not have to suspend operations. Over the past months, they actively reached out to food manufacturers worldwide to diversify their supply chain, even launched three new brands during the circuit breaker.
Abhay saw the emergence and rapid development of two major opportunities during the lockdown. The first was the ready-to- cook and ready-to-eat frozen foods which have a long shelf life, and the second, wellness and plant protein products, which saw high demand alongside organic food and plant protein. “The biggest change we have seen is the rapid movement of online purchases for grocery items. We foresee specialty foods to have a much larger opportunity in the post-pandemic environment.”
Given those growths, Sonnamera established a relationship with McCain Foods in Canada, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products; the first consignment arrived in stores in mid-June. They are also launching a range of frozen vegetables from Australia, and are in the final stage of discussion with another producer of plant protein products, which they hope to bring to the market in August. Sonnamera is currently in talks with over ten international companies that produce sustainable products and use environmentally sustainable packaging.
“The biggest change we have seen is the rapid movement of online purchases for grocery items. We foresee specialty foods to have a much larger opportunity in the post-pandemic environment. E-commerce opens up the opportunity to list an almost unlimited catalog of products. With the emergence of healthier food options that can be quickly listed online, the route to the market for speciality food becomes faster.” Without limitation imposed by physical shelf spaces, vendors can offer more extensive choices to consumers, he adds.
Abhay adds that online search brings wider choices to consumers quickly. “As such, we worked on a DTC (direct-to- consumer) project, which we launched on our online platform last July.”
With movement restricted during the lockdown, Abhay noted that consumers discovered the joys of cooking. “Although ready- to-eat food will continue to grow, we strongly feel that consumers will want to experience the cooking food at home after the pandemic. We are launching a range of cooking kits in line with what we feel will be an emerging trend,” he says.
In the coming 12 months, Sonnamera will introduce at least ten new brands. “Healthy, sustainable, environmentally friendly, and fun elements will be the key driving factors in the selection of these brands. In fact, we will discontinue products that do not fit in the general direction of the portfolio we are building.”