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Pakistan

Under shadow of pandemic, Karachi Eat expects lower footfall

  • Three-day festival commences in Pakistan's largest city today (Friday)
Published January 14, 2022
Photo: FILE
Photo: FILE

The Karachi Eat festival will commence from Friday (today) under the shadow of rising Covid cases in the city, with organisers expecting half the number of visitors compared with the previous edition in 2020.

The number of cases in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, has increased at an alarming pace, leaving both organisers and participants of the festival scrambling to ensure compliance at the three-day event to be held at the Beach View Park in Clifton.

Buzz around Karachi Eat, aimed at providing food start-ups and home-based businesses a platform to meet thousands of potential customers, has been dominated by coronavirus with the port city now registering a positivity ratio of over 20%.

As many as 1,223 cases were reported in Karachi alone on Wednesday, over 40% of the total in the entire country. Pakistan reported 3,019 cases.

However, organisers say measures such as reducing the number of stalls by 20% – the 2020 event featured 120, a number reduced to 96 this year – and doubling the amount of area covered by the event will help.

“We received 200 applications from various eateries and narrowed it down to 96, keeping coronavirus in mind,” Omar Omari, CEO of Eat Food Pakistan that organises the event, told Business Recorder.

“The layout will be in such a way that people are able to keep their distance.”

Since its launch, Karachi Eat has evolved from a few stalls to welcoming close to 100,000 visitors, according to organisers, in 2020. The event was not held in 2021.

Expectation over the footfall this year has been halved to 50,000, they said, keeping in mind the pandemic, but restaurant owners are still upbeat of meeting their sales’ projections.

“There is an opportunity here, which is one of the reasons it has grown so large. It has become a platform for food entrepreneurs and has helped small eateries, startups and home-based eateries take their businesses forward,” added Omari, stressing that the pandemic had hurt the food industry in Pakistan.

Not too surprisingly, Pakistan – home to the world’s sixth largest population with a growing middle class – boasts a massive food and beverage processing industry. The Board of Investment (BoI) says it is the 2nd largest industry in Pakistan after textiles, accounting for 27% of the value-added production and 16% of employment in the manufacturing sector.

The pandemic did upset growth, but as the situation eased, restaurants saw an uptick in orders again.

However, stalls at the festival have a different mandate as well.

Ali Naveed, chief operating officer at newly-launched Silver Grill, said the event is an “avenue to market” themselves.

“It is means of connecting directly with a large number of people at once, instead of connecting through a third party,” Naveed, who launched his food outlet recently, told Business Recorder.

Muted projections, but restaurants not too perturbed

The festival in 2020 saw average sales of around Rs800,000 per outlet, say organisers, translating into a business of Rs96 million over the few days it operated.

This year, however, projections have been reduced by almost 40%.

Organisers say sales for any restaurant could be around Rs0.5 million, on average. Restaurant owners are still seen packing, expecting anywhere between Rs0.4-0.8 million in sales during the three days with higher numbers expected Saturday evening onwards.

“Though people are still apprehensive due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have received tremendous results with the number of people who have bought tickets,” said Omari, adding that the event will not allow anyone to enter the festival without a vaccination card. Tickets are priced at Rs400, and available online.

His remarks come in contrast to those calling for the event to be postponed in view of the positive number of coronavirus cases, but Omari stressed that the industry needs the festival.

“The food industry cannot afford to stop functioning. Many food outlets rely on us as it is a platform. Last year, due to lockdown, businesses that relied on us took a hit. It is up to the people to take precautions,” he added.

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