Humble matchbox falls prey to inflation after 14 years, to cost Rs 2 from December 1
Many manufacturers tried to tide over the situation by reducing the number of matchsticks in the boxes to 30 from the standard number of 50, but still, they could not manage.
THOOTHUKUDI: The humble matchbox, which defied inflation for the past 14 years, has now fallen prey to rising prices.
A matchbox, now available for Re 1, will cost double the price from December 1. This is perhaps the only item used in our daily life whose price did not increase for 14 years. The last time the price was revised was in 2007 -- from 50 paise to Re 1. Prior to that, the cost of each matchbox was increased from 25 paise to 50 paise in 1995.
The manufacturers have decided to hike the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of a matchbox to Rs 2 each, citing the steep rise in input costs. Members of the All India Chamber of Match Industries alongside manufacturers' associations from Kovilpatti, Sattur, Gudiyatham, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri took the decision to give effect to the MRP hike from December 1.
The origin of the safety match factories in Tamil Nadu dates back to 1922 when two workers Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar set up the first factories at Sivakasi. The two had worked at the factories of WIMCO, a Kolkata-based multinational company that had a monopoly over the trade at that time. The industry boomed as the south-central region was dry and agriculture was down due to lack of adequate rainfall. Over the years, many found it lucrative and the factories spread to neighbouring labour-intensive areas such as Kovilpatti and Sattur.
The manufacturing units are categorised into hand-made, semi-mechanised and fully automated. The safety matchbox-making process involves frame-filling, dipping, box filling, label pasting and packing. Currently, each of the boxes contains 40 matchsticks and a carton contains 600 matchboxes each. The hand-made safety matches had vanished as machinery had come in handy for increasing the production, according to the manufacturers.
The manufacturing of matchboxes relies on 14 key raw materials including potassium chlorate, red phosphorus, sulphur, potassium bichromate, wax, white splints, blue match papers, cardboards for inner and outer boxes, the manufacturers said.
TN leading manufacturer
Currently, Tamil Nadu is a major supplier of matchboxes across the country and also a leading exporter. At least 320 manufacturing units of various sizes and over 1500-job work units function in the state providing jobs to more than 4 lakh people both directly and indirectly. Women constitute 90% of the workforce.
The manufacturers said that more than 90% of the safety match factories are in Sivakasi, Kovilpatti, Kazhugumalai, Tenkasi and Sattur areas. Kovilpatti and Kazhugumalai in Thoothukudi district are a hub of safety match factories with Kovilpatti being the largest next to Sivakasi of Virudhunagar district, according to manufacturers.
The match industry had faced difficulties in the past decade, with the biggest challenges being the implementation of demonetisation, Goods and Service Tax (GST), labour issues and the Covid pandemic, the manufacturers recounted. Matchboxes were the only product available for Re 1 in the market across India until now, they add.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, the secretary of the National Small Match Manufacturers Association VS Sethurathinam said apart from soaring raw material costs, the increasing fuel prices and toll fees had added fuel to the fire. He said the price of the cardboard outer box had increased from Rs 36 per kg a month ago to Rs 55 now. Similarly, the price of the cardboard inner box rose from Rs 32 to Rs 58, blue match paper from Rs 44 to Rs 48, potassium chlorate from Rs 63 to Rs 78, red phosphorus from Rs 425 to Rs 810, white splints from Rs 42 to Rs 47 and wax from Rs 58 to Rs 80.
"Given the current price of all raw materials, we cannot sell a matchbox for Re 1," he said. Many manufacturers tried to tide over the situation by reducing the number of matchsticks in the boxes to 30 from the standard number of 50, but still, they could not manage, he added.
Tamil Nadu Match Manufacturers Association president Suresh told TNIE that each and every raw material had witnessed a hike of 20-100% in recent years. The Covid pandemic had caused a cascading effect on the matchbox industry, he said. "The ocean freight charges were increased due to the delay in shipping movements during the pandemic triggering a hike in the price of raw materials," he said.
The manufacturers said all the manufacturing associations had agreed to maintain 50 matchsticks in every matchbox and to print the MRP as Rs 2. With the hike in matchbox prices, one carton which is traded at Rs 250 to Rs 480, will be hiked to Rs 500 to Rs 600 based on the quality and market requirements.