The Future Group runs several well known brands including the popular supermarket chain Big Bazaar
The Future Group runs several well known brands including the popular supermarket chain Big Bazaar

Future Group expects normal sales to return for its retail vertical by the end of January, almost a year after the business was severely hit by pandemic-related disruptions, its founder and Group CEO Kishore Biyani said.

Speaking to PTI, Biyani said Future Group - which operates popular retailing formats like Big Bazaar, FBB, Central and Nilgiris - has seen sales touching almost 60 per cent of the pre-COVID levels and that business has normalised "to a great extent".

Moreover, stocks in the stores are almost up to 80 per cent of what they were before the pandemic, he added.

Future Group, which had entered into a Rs 24,713-crore deal with billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries to sell its retail business, has also received large orders from Jio Mart that is helping the retail major chart a strong comeback.

"All our stores are now operational and our sales have now touched 50 to 60 per cent (of pre-COVID) levels. Stocks are also now moving to stores. I think we are nearly 70 to 80 per cent from the low, where we were (during the pandemic)," Biyani said.

Future Group companies and the promoters together have a debt of over Rs 20,000 crore.

On the inventory position and stocks, Biyani said: "We are far better than where we were when we started (after lockdown). We have normalised business to a great extent".

However, it could be a while before the days of packed retail stores return. "We are not getting much crowd because of social distancing and other reasons. It cannot be 100 per cent till everyone is vaccinated, but I think we are getting the rhythm back," he said.

Last month, CEO of Big Bazaar, Future group hypermarket, Sadashiv Nayak had said the number of visitors in stores is increasing and during the festive season all sections, including the apparels and garments, recorded good sales.

While shoppers may be staying away from the stores, Future Group has embraced the digital route to reach out to customers. Various retail brands under the Future Group have turned to shopping apps, WhatsApp and even phones to receive orders and deliver them to customers. The concept of 'pick up at stores' has also gained traction.

Like previous years, Future Group is also gearing up for its annual sale event "Sabse Sasta Din" on January 26.

Biyani expects a significant jump in footfalls during the event. "We are talking to vendors and banks and creating lots of merchandise for January 26. I think from January 26 onwards, we will be quite normal or more (than) normal," he said.

Future Group firms have started getting large orders from Reliance Industries.

"Besides supplies to Jio Mart, we are also working out internally with lots of supply with them," he added.

Last month, Biyani had told employees that the company was getting large orders from Reliance for its FMCG arm Future Consumer as well as supply chain and logistics company Future Enterprises.

"We have received a large order from Reliance as well in Future Consumer and in Future Enterprises," Biyani had said in an email addressed to employees ahead of the new year.

The group, which has recently opened up a new Big Bazaar hypermarket at Lucknow, will continue to add more such outlets in the coming months with a focus on tier II and III cities. It is also conceptualising two new brands that will offer products across multiple categories within the fashion and FMCG segments, Biyani had informed.

While the pact with Reliance still awaits regulatory clearances, Future is entangled in a legal battle by e-commerce major Amazon over the deal.

Amazon has dragged Future to arbitration at Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) after the indebted Future firm signed the deal with Reliance in August last year.

In 2019, Amazon had agreed to purchase 49 per cent of one of Future's unlisted firms -- Future Coupons Ltd -- with the right to buy into flagship Future Retail Ltd after a period of three to ten years. Future Coupons holds 7.3 per cent equity in BSE-listed Future Retail Ltd (that operates Big Bazaar) through convertible warrants.

When asked about the timeline for the closure of the deal with RIL, Biyani said, "I do not see (it taking) much time. Once we get Sebi approval, then we have to go NCLT for creditors, lenders and shareholders' approval".

"After Sebi approval, it would take 45 to 60 days," he added.

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