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Chennai floods: brands step up

News, 09 December 2015

CHENNAI: Brands across a range of categories have pitched in to help in the aftermath of the worst flooding in a century in Chennai which saw 269 people die and 1m displaced.

With food and water among the primary requirements, companies such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, ITC, MTR, Britannia and Parle have donated products such as bottled water and biscuits, the Economic Times reported.

Nestlé has emerged as one of the biggest donors, providing 10m tonnes of noodles, including the controversial Maggi noodles that were banned until recently, 5,000 litres of milk and 50,000 pouches of coffee.

The minister for food processing industries, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, had earlier called on the sector to contribute, saying: "It is time to stand up and make exemplary contribution for the flood-affected people of Chennai who have been patronising food brands and products manufactured by the industry."

E-commerce businesses such as Zomato have also found a way to help: it is inviting consumers to buy meals for those in the flood-hit area and matching each purchase with another meal.

Providing shelter to the displaced is more problematic, but several e-commerce businesses have set up online co-ordination efforts that seek to put those needing somewhere to stay in touch with those offering accommodation, Exchange4Media reported.

Telecoms businesses have chipped in offering free calls and mobile top-ups; Vodafone is also helping worried customers trace family members.

Taxi-sharing app Uber even announced free rides on two days and offered truck rides to help take medicines and food to people in makeshift shelters.

That marked a change in direction for Uber, which in the past has come in for widespread criticism for its practice of "surge pricing" at times of high demand.

At a conference earlier this year, Professor Richard Thaler, the behavioural economics academic, contrasted Uber's "price-gouging" approach with that taken by US retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot.

In the wake of a hurricane, they sold water and plywood in affected areas at discounted prices, unlike "entrepreneurs" who filled up truckloads of items at neighbouring cities to sell at market prices.

Both are maximising profits, Thaler said, one short term, one long term. Firms have to remember they're there for the long term.

Data sourced from Economic Times, Exchange4Media; additional content by Warc staff