NEW DELHI (AFP) – A US-based website offering onions at heavily discounted prices in India has seen an "overwhelming" response as consumers there reel from sky-rocketing prices of the vegetable.
Groupon, which offers cut-price deals on everything from restaurant meals to shoes and watches, offered onions at nine rupees (14 cents) a kilogram on Thursday.
By Friday, 8,057 Indian customers had bought the onions, used extensively in Indian cooking. Five thousand kilos of the vegetable had sold and the website had temporarily crashed.
"The driver behind this is obviously fun. It was meant to generate excitement by selling onions at a knock-down price," Ankur Warikoo, chief executive of Groupon India, told AFP.
The website advertised the deal in a tongue-in-cheek manner, claiming that "people haven't experienced onions in a long, long time" and comparing them to caviar and diamonds.
It was the first time ever the company had put onions on sale and the response, Warikoo said, had been "overwhelming".
"The first day itself we ended up selling 5,000 kilos. Today (Friday) our site crashed completely for 10 minutes. It's been absolutely fantastic."
While food prices have risen across the board in India, the cost of onions has increased dramatically.
The sharp spike has been caused by supply shortages, with a kilogram now costing up around 60 rupees ($0.91) in some retail markets.
Prices touched up to 100 rupees a kilogram in recent weeks.
"The current prices of onions (in the market place) have been a huge talking point," Warikoo said.
"We wanted to sell it at a price that most of us have completely forgotten. This kind of onion price was last seen in 1999," he said.
The deal is on for the next five days, with customers barred from buying more than one kilogram of onions.
"We deliberately put the cap at one kilo. It is really intended to be something fun," said Warikoo.
High onion costs have become an eye-watering problem for the Congress Party-led government as it bids for a third consecutive term in general elections expected by May next year.
Onions may not be the most vital source of nutrition but they are regarded as essential to spice-loving palates, which -- when dissatisfied -- can play a crucial hand in politics.
In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that 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.