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Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 10:31 UK

India's floating mart a big hit

By John Mary in Alappuzha, Kerala

Customers wait for Floating Triveni
The floating mart is very popular with the customers

In the sylvan backwaters of India's southern state of Kerala, a floating supermarket is making waves.

Touted as the first of its kind in India, the Floating Triveni calls at various ports, stacked with some 2,000 items of groceries and provisions.

Among its cargo are rice, grains and cereals, and stationery and toiletries.

More than a million people are in the path of the floating mart which is a big hit with the customers.

Unique service

As the nearly flat boat buzzes along the extensive network of Kerala's waterways, villagers jostle among themselves to be the first on board.

It can accommodate 20 customers plus eight crew members at any given time.

The vessel sets off every morning at 8am and replenishments are done during the night halt.

Inside the Floating Triveni
The vessel is well stocked

The unique service was launched on 7 June by Consumerfed (Kerala State Consumer Cooperative Federation), which manages the government-backed retail cooperative societies.

It covers different islands of Kuttanad archipelago through its vast network of waterways.

Earlier, villagers on the islands used to make regular trips to the mainland on canoes to fetch supplies.

With the launch of Triveni, the villagers say they are saving up on that time and effort.

The most enthusiastic customers of the floating mart, however, are women who have become less dependent on the men folk for their purchases.

"A big boat laden with essentials, coming to my doorstep, is a novel idea," says homemaker Yashodha.

"Instead of customers going to shop counters, the big counter is hauling in. Moreover, the mart offers great discounts too," she says.

'Thrilled'

On the vessel, manager AK Anoop logs onto the computer, checks the inventory and places orders with the Consumerfed head office for more stocks of detergents which are flying off the shelves.

"Women are simply thrilled. It's a novel experience for all of us. The daily collection has been grossing at 30,000 rupees ($625). Now there's no looking back," Mr Anoop says.

"If we hadn't developed Triveni, we would have had to set up retail stores on every island in the Kuttanad archipelago," explains Riji R Nair, managing director of Consumerfed.

Though small floating boats selling fruits and vegetables are a common sight in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Venezuela, Triveni, it owners say, could be the only floating supermarket of its kind in the world.

Customers of Floating Triveni
The owners of the market claim it is the first of its kind in the world

Consumerfed has now approached the Guinness Book of World Records to validate the claim.

The idea of a floating barge first met with a lot of scepticism because many feared it would be commercially unviable.

"But we were ready to experiment," Mr Nair says, and adds that it took three years to build the vessel.

Officials say the business will be expanded soon and the vessel will also deliver home appliances like washing machine or fridge to those who place an order in advance.

It will also have a computer room where children can play games.



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