From Dabbawalas to boxed meals: COVID-19 pandemic paves the way for new models of food delivery

October 27, 2020 1:44 PM

Most people are well aware of healthy eating, especially owing to the current situation. Hence, the buffet formats for catering in office cafeterias have now been replaced by box meals.

India’s foodservice industry is rapidly growing and is expected to touch the Rs. 6 trillion mark by 2023.

By Sarthak Gahlaut

Like time and tide, Mumbai’s dabbawalas wait for none. Interestingly, when Prince Charles visited India in 2003, he expressed an interest to meet these lunch box delivery men. The dabbawalas agreed to meet the British Royal but took a call on the timing. They could spare only 20 minutes for the meeting, ensuring that their delivery time didn’t get affected. That’s how immensely driven they are in fulfilling their duties since 1890.

It’s a common sight every morning in Mumbai. Thousands of men dressed in a white outfit and traditional Gandhi cap deliver 200,000 home-cooked lunches in schools and offices every day on time. Operating based on a color-coding system, these dabbawalas are lauded for their business operating model and precision in delivery.

Has the time changed?

The growing IT hubs in Indian cities bring a mix of people from different communities. It is this working population of outsiders who crave for home-cooked food. Realizing that the value of home-cooked food is paramount, several tiffin/lunch delivery services have mushroomed in several parts of the country over the past few years. Not just that, a rising number of home chefs, largely women, have also taken up the food delivery industry in India. Limited time has been the prime reason that convenience foods have become vital in an on-the-go world. Busy work schedule has left most office-goers with little time to cook. Moreover, according to a recent report, India’s foodservice industry is rapidly growing and is expected to touch the Rs. 6 trillion mark by 2023. Therefore, such factors have led to the emergence of a number of players in the foodservice industry for nutritious solutions, especially aimed at employees.

Impact of COVID-19

In March 2020, several foodservice providers experienced a sudden jolt when the global pandemic hit the country. The nationwide shutdown led to the closure of schools and offices to avoid public contact. The coronavirus pandemic made people wary of food delivery services as these delivery men normally come in contact with several others. They were more susceptible to contracting the virus. Therefore, the foodservice business was massively affected and rendered thousands of its employees jobless.

COVID-19 effect: Easy and safe eating a top priority

A large number of people in India love to eat. Earlier, digging into a co-worker’s lunchbox in office cafeterias was an everyday affair. Also, if the canteen’s lunch options felt too mundane, then people used to step out for lunch. But now, an out-of-office dining experience or lunch routines in offices has become a thing of the past.

Thus, food safety being the top concern, the concept of box meals have become the new favourite for gastronomers. However, the idea of box meals has been prevalent among people, it has experienced a sudden spike in demand post lockdown.

Given that hygiene and safety are key priorities, people are now preferring a service that they can trust. Also, with several offices resuming operations, employees are now skeptical about sharing canteen spaces with their co-workers or eating from local vendors. Most people are well aware of healthy eating, especially owing to the current situation. Hence, the buffet formats for catering in office cafeterias have now been replaced by box meals.

Leveraging technology to enable contactless delivery, several players have become the front runners to capture the country’s large foodservice industry. Leading operators are experimenting with packaging boxes, offering DIY kits, combo meals, multi-course gourmet spreads, packages, and food platters boxed for customers and delivered to relive the dining experience at home or office. The pandemic, therefore, has been an apt time for them to create new models of food delivery in India.

Who wouldn’t love the taste of healthy food that’s prepared under hygienic conditions and delivered at their doorstep?

(The columnist is Founder & CEO, Feastly. Views expressed are the author’s own.)

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