While quantity reduced, there is no cheating, says manufacturers

Rajesh Rai and Dechen Dolkar

With cooking oil getting costlier, consumers are getting into the details as they become skeptical of the quantity and pricing of  edible (cooking) oil in the country.

The quantity of the cooking oil has decreased but the price has not, they say. A few have even taken the matter to the relevant offices.

There are two companies that manufacture edible oil in Pasakha, Kenpa Private Limited and Happy Makhu. Both companies import ready-made oil and package the product at Pasakha.


The difference in pricing and quantity

Kenpa’s brand, Natural Lite oil has three varieties of packaged oil—the 3.250 litres (l) pack with a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of Nu 700, the 1.300l pack at MRP Nu 265 and the 650ml at Nu 145.

Consumers claimed their quantity decreased recently.

Retailers in Phuentsholing sell the 3.250l Kenpa between Nu 640 and Nu 650, the 1.300l at Nu 260 and the 650ml at Nu 130. In Thimphu, shopkeepers sell Kenpa’s 3.250l at the same price.

On the other hand, Happy Makhu sells the 3.570l oil at MRP Nu 750, 1.500l at Nu 300 and 750ml at Nu 150. But in the market, shopkeepers in Thimphu sell the 3.570l to consumers at Nu 635 to 640.

A corporate employee in Thimphu, Deki said that the price should be decreased if the quantity is reduced.

“Consumers are deceived with the quantity of the product. We usually say that it is 5litres of oil, but the label shows it is less,” the private employee said.

Deki said that she usually bought a particular oil brand and has never checked the quantity. She assumed it was 5litres looking at the container.

Consumers pointed out that if both containers of 3.250l (Kenpa) and 3.750l (Happy Makhu) are considered in the market as 5l containers, it should have 5l.

Retailers and officials from the two manufacturers said there is no problem as the  quantity is clearly mentioned on the label.

“The problem is with the customers,” said one.

Some say with the price of cooking oil increasing, Indian manufacturers have smartly reduced the quantity without increasing the price as a marketing strategy.

“They are not cheating by playing with the label and the quantity,” said one. “If a 3l oil is sold as 5l, it is cheating. But they reduced the quantity and mentioned it for transparency. People are not checking or checking only when they feel the pinch.”

Indian brands in the market

There are several brands of Indian cooking oil in the market.

Shudh refined soyabean oil bottle (3.750l) has a MRP of Nu 725. In Phuentsholing it is sold at Nu 675. Shudh also has 1.50l at MRP 345, but sold at Nu 270.

PS Brand refined soyabean oil comes in 1.500l with a MRP of Nu 320, which shopkeepers sell at Nu 250. The quantity and label of other brands such as Fortune, Saffola and Oleeve Active are labelled 5l and contain 5l. But the price is higher.

A 5ltr Fortune with an MRP of Nu 1,080 is sold at Nu 990 in Phuentsholing, 5l Saffola with MRP Nu 1,144 is sold at Nu 1,100 and the 5l Oleeve Active at Nu 1,380.


What shopkeepers say

An Indian businessman in Phuentsholing said that the trend of decreasing quantity came from across the border.

“I think it is because the price of the readymade oil increased and there was no profit in selling the same quantity at the same rate. So, they decreased the quantity in the container while the price remained the same,” he said.

“If the government tries to fix this and asks to increase the quantity, then, the price will also increase.”

A Bhutanese grocery owner in Phuentsholing said that oil companies are just playing with people’s minds and emotions.

“They are giving a decreased quantity with lower price because people tend to think it as 5l, 2l, and 1l. But it is clearly mentioned in the label and the government cannot sue the companies as well.”

“The only way to solve this confusion and manipulation is to allow only the branded products to import.”

In Thimphu, a shopkeeper said he used to purchase both Happy Makhu and Kenpa.

“But recently I am buying only Happy Makhu because both have the similar wholesale price but the quantity is more with Happy Makhu,” he said. He said he sells Happy Makhu and Kenpa at the same rate to the customers—anywhere between Nu 635 to Nu 650.

The shopkeeper also said it is the people’s mentality that needs to change as they want 5l at lower price, which cannot happen.

Another retailer in Thimphu said they sell the products as per the supply rate. However, the quantity of the cooking oil has decreased, he added.

“It has decreased by a litre. Previously, it was around 4 liters and now it has 3.500l to 3.750l. It has decreased mainly to maintain the price,” the shopkeeper said.

“Our suppliers say that if the quantity of oil is the same as before, the prices would rise to Nu 700 to Nu 800.”

What Bhutanese proprietors say?

The proprietor of Kenpa Private Limited, Dorji Tshering said the problem is about the standard of packaging.

“As per the standard, we have to pack 5l, 2l and 1l. But slowly the Indians started coming up with 4.8l instead of 5l and 1.9l instead of 2l. They started reducing the quantity,” he said.

“I complained to the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) and they fined the Indian company but nothing much happened after that. I lodged a complaint with BSB requesting for a standard packaging in the country but nothing has been done.”

Dorji Tshering said the trade office and OCP said that so long the quantity is mentioned in the labeling, there was no issue.

“When Indians reduced the quantity, I did too. The 5l oil is now 3.250l and people think they are still buying 5l. But people don’t want to pay for more volume.”

Dorji Tshering said consumers are not cheated because they are paying for the quantity they are buying assuming that they are buying 5l when they are actually buying 3.25l.

“Five litres will cost more.”

Unless authorities say that all packaging should be the same like 1l, 3l or 5l, nothing much will change.

The proprietor of Happy Makhu, Sonam Tshering also said the problem is with the buyer.

“I started with 4.500l in 2018. With the influx of imported cooking oil coming in reduced quantities,  people thought they were buying the same quantity at a cheaper rate,” he said.  Happy Makhu also started reducing the quantity.

“But we have not cheated people.”

Sonam Tshering said the OCP knows about this issue. It is a market strategy and many cost implications are measured before a price is set.

If companies started giving 5l, prices will shoot up, considering the cost of readymade oil they import from India. Recently, the price of the readymade oil has increased between Nu 35 and Nu 40 from India, Sonam Tshering said, explaining a litre costs about Nu 172 today.

Sonam Tshering said it would if relevant authorities standardise the packaging and be clear that 1l means 1l irrespective of the price.

“The government must stop importing oil with confusing labels and ensure that the imported ones also provide clear labels.”

Quality wise, Sonam Tshering said both Happy Makhu and Kenpa import pure readymade oil from India and package it in Pasakha.

“But we know that there is bad quality or impure cooking oil in the market. Relevant offices should take samples and keep on checking the quality. They don’t do it.”

What do officials say?

Officials from the OCP unit said that they have received complaints from consumers on the labeling of the quantity of oil on the Happy Makhu during the last lockdown.

Officials said that the complaints were related to the quantity of oil. Consumers have complained that the oil doesn’t have 5l, though they are charged for 5l.

Officials said that OCP has investigated and found out that the quantity is the same as labeled in the product and prices are charged according to the quantity.

“There is no alteration in the label of the products. As long as the labeling is there, there are no issues.”

Meanwhile, many are also pointing there are other essentials that need checking. A 25kg rice is only 24kg, they say. Even sugar packets of 1kg, shopkeepers say, have decreased the quantity to 700gms. The EveryDay milk powder which people consider a 1kg packet is just 800gms.