Onion sale in India causes Groupon website to crash

Success of the sale seen as a sign of worsening economy

An activist protests rising food costs, standing near an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in Amritsar on Aug. 22, 2013.
Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

A sale on onions in India this week by deal-of-the-day website Groupon was so popular that it crashed Groupon's Indian website.

While the goal of the sale was to draw more customers to Groupon, its popularity highlighted a worsening problem in India: the rapidly increasing price of one of the country's most-consumed commodities.

Groupon, which offers deeply discounted deals on everything from restaurant meals to shoes and watches, offered onions at 9 rupees or about 15 cents a kilogram. Onions can now cost up to 100 rupees a kilogram in India, where much of the population uses the vegetable in almost every meal.

Food prices have spiked across India due to supply shortages, a depreciating rupee and increased inflation. As a result, the average price of a kilogram of onions has more than tripled in the past two months.

On Thursday, Groupon sold 3,000 kilograms of onions in 44 minutes, causing the website to crash. More than 8,000 kilograms were purchased when Groupon continued the sale on Friday before they sold out.

The website advertised the deal in a tongue-in-cheek manner, claiming, "people haven't experienced onions in a long, long time," and compared them to caviar and diamonds.

"We wanted to sell it at a price that most of us have completely forgotten," said Anur Warikoo, chief executive of Groupon in India. "This kind of onion price was last seen in 1999."

Onions have a long played a symbolic role in Indian politics. In January 1980, the Indian National Congress Party leader Indira Gandhi returned to power, campaigning against rising onion prices. At rallies she waved huge strings of onions and said a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs.

Eighteen years later, an election defeat for the ruling Delhi state government was blamed in part on a surge in onion prices.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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