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Sunday, 27 February 2005    
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Pedalling Nescafe with new vigour

by Elmo Leonard

M. Nihal 40, a self-employed resident of Ahangama in the South was caught up in the tsunami of December 26, but Nestle Lanka Ltd, for whom he is engaged as a "pilot" selling the Nescafe brand of coffee on the streets, provided him with another tricycle to continue his work.

Prior to the tsunami Nihal pedalled his tricycle 22 miles to Galle and sold two tank-fulls of Nescafe. Today, with a reduction in the populace and the buildings intact, he could sell one tank of Nescafe per day. But, with Nestle increasing the commission due to a pilot or vendor to Rs. 3 from the hitherto Rs. 2 per cup of Nescafe sold, Nihal is able to earn around Rs 350 per day. The cup of Nescafe, hot or cold continues to retail at Rs 12.

Nihal obtains his supply of Nescafe from a "Nescafe supply kitchen" or "hub", the terms used by Nestle Lanka.

This hub is under the agent, Mrs. Priyanka Lokubarana. Priyanka started with two salesmen and is now left with Nihal.

The work bears a great physical demand resulting in some salesmen falling by the wayside. So, Nihal, who in earlier times pushed a cartload of "boondi" sweets was told to try his hand, and got the job.

Nihal is possibly too slight of build for the task, but said that he wants to stick to the job for as many years more as possible, in his bid to be the bread-winner for six others in his family. Today, Nestle has 34 hubs in the island, including the North. There are 115 vendors including Nihal, attached to these hubs.

In railway stations, tricycles make way for carts which carry Nescafe for sale. These carts also carry snacks to go with the coffee. The pilots feel that they should also carry snacks with them, but Nestle says that it would be sometime before they find hygienic suppliers of snacks to be distributed to their vendors all over the country.

Deputy Minister of Tourism and Industry, Arjuna Ranatunga as the chief guest on the first anniversary of the Nescafe pilot self-employment project, urged the 115 vendors to be proud of their task of being self-employed.

Nestle, at its premises in Colombo, also inaugurated a mobile service unit to maintain the tricycles used by these vendors.

Nestle's managing director, Stuart Young said that his company was providing a means of self-employment for the youth of the country.

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