As Ho Chi Minh City continues pushing through its worst coronavirus outbreak to date, which has given rise to a wide-scale dearth of groceries, several vehicles in the urban bus fleets have been mobilized as food stores on wheels to cater to city residents’ demand.
On Monday, Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Industry and Trade, in cooperation with bus operator Bao Yen Group, put their mobile grocery store initiative to the test by mobilizing two bus vehicles to sell veggies in various neighborhoods.
The pilot run of these veggie busses continued on Wednesday, with one of the buses pulling up around 9:00 am in front of Nguyen Binh Khiem Elementary School in District 1, where it was welcomed by a queue of local residents.
On the vehicle, a row of passenger seats had been removed to make space for its stock of veggies and rice.
In June and early July, Ho Chi Minh City emerged as the country’s gravest outbreak site, with caseloads rising steeply by the thousands, prompting authorities to put the city under a tightened social distancing mandate that forbids public gatherings and many wet markets.
The closure, which cut off access to groceries for many local dwellers, coupled with panic buying has led to a citywide scarcity of groceries, driving up market prices and pushing authorities to take alternative measures to ensure food security for the public.
|Packs of veggies are stored on a bus in Ho Chi Minh City, July 2021. Photo: Chau Tuan / Tuoi Tre|
“On the first day of the launch, Bao Yen Group saw major success with the tryout of its two mobile grocery stores, which drove the company to expand the program to five vehicles and ten selling locations on Wednesday,” a leader of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Industry and Trade told news site VnExpress.
The department will map out the selling locations, approve suppliers, and inform the selling schedule to the neighborhoods, while the bus operator will source the products before distributing them to the residents.
“On the first day, the company sold 700-800 kilograms of mostly veggies," a Bao Yen Group representative shared.
"That number rose to nearly two tons on the second day.”
|A bus is remodeled as a mobile grocery shop in Ho Chi Minh City, July 2021. Photo: Chau Tuan / Tuoi Tre|
The initiative promised a stabilized price for all of its products, which came as a delight to Ho Chi Minh City shoppers, as various supermarkets were recently exposed for driving up the grocery price in an alleged attempt to leech off the scarcity situation.
As seen from a selling location, the product prices are transparently stated on signs hung on the side of the vehicle, which allows buyers to place order and pay the correct amount to sellers without having to come in close contact.
Most of the salespeople on these mobile shops are bus attendants and drivers that used to run the vehicles on urban bus routes, but have now been put out of work since the tightened social distancing mandate forced all bus operations to halt.
|Bus driver Nguyen Trong Hung (R) takes up a new role as a grocery seller in Ho Chi Minh City, July 2021. Photo: Chau Tuan / Tuoi Tre|
Nguyen Trong Hung, 50, a bus driver-turned-grocery seller, said the veggies are picked up from a depot in Nha Be District and sold in two sessions of two hours each in the morning and afternoon.
Despite having to switch jobs during the current tumult, Hung remains positive as he gets to do grocery selling for the first time.
|Veggie prices are announced on a poster on the side of a bus in Ho Chi Minh City, July 2021. Photo: Chau Tuan / Tuoi Tre|
Perusing the veggie selection that the mobile grocery shop offers, Tuyet Lan, 37, a resident of District 1, said she showed up early at the selling location after being informed of its arrival by the neighborhood leader.
“I used to place grocery orders online, but it’s harder during these times as we have to wait 2-3 days for the items to arrive," Lan said.
“The queues at supermarkets are absurdly long as well, so I decided to check out this stall.
"In the end, I stocked up three kilograms of veggies from it.”
According to Lan, the mobile grocery shop proves beneficial as it saves residents the time and effort in traveling to supermarkets.
“The selection is not as diverse as the supermarket, but at least it’s more accessible,” she said.