The Efficient Dabbawala Goes Organic: How Food Delivery modernised in Mumbai
The reliable Mumbai Dabbawalas are going healthy, with their plans to open a startup in food processing. Ritesh Andre, representing the President of Dabbawalas in Ahmedabad, announced their plan to begin a startup that would use organic produce.
“We are in the process of developing a business model for our startup. Most Dabbawalas come from farming families that grow organic grain and vegetables. The idea of the business is to deliver organic produce through their Six Sigma-certified supply chain. We will use technology for the same purpose,” the Times of India quoted Andre.
The movie ‘Lunchbox’ might have made a love story out of the 0.00001% chance that Dabbawalas might have of making an error, but the Forbes magazine’s Six Sigma performance rating means a precision of 99.99999 %, which means the chance for an error is one in 16 million deliveries.
It’s been a decade since the world appreciated the flawless methodology used by the white outfit and Gandhi cap clad Dabbawalas to pick up lunch boxes from thousands of homes all across Mumbai and deliver them to offices throughout the city. However, Dabbawalas have been doing this since 1890.
Almost 200,000 Mumbaikars have come to depend on this 5000 strong organization to appease their hunger daily. Now they are planning to spread their talent to cities like Chennai and Pune.
It all started when 125 years back, a Parsi banker desired for homemade food while in office. He offered the responsibility to a man who became the first ever Dabbawala. The idea caught on giving rise to a demand for home-cooked food delivered in offices. While in the beginning the effort remained informal, Mahadeo Havaji Bachche saw the potential and created the phenomenal lunch delivery service that we know today with a hundred Dabbawalas.
What started working with a color coding has, over time, transformed to alpha-numeric characters. And starting October 2017, they launched the Digital Dabbawala, marking another evolutionary milestone in their long and enduring journey.
“We are famous across the world for our reliability. We are six sigma certified. There are currently over 5,000 Dabbawalas working tirelessly in Mumbai delivering over 200,000 lunch boxes each day. With Digital Dabbawala we expand our delivery from just dabbas to last mile delivery of Digital Services,” the website says.
Digital Dabbawala combines technology, government e-initiatives, and their doorstep service to continue delivering on time. The Times of India quoted Andre’s view on how Dabbawalas are embracing technology, “Various IT companies approach us with a number of business models, but it is difficult to implement them with the same efficiency and we continued with our existing model. However, after the implementation of goods and services tax (GST), we are in the process of adopting financial technology,” he explained.
“We are getting software made to manage funds from their inoperative income, which comes from advertising, training and lecture sessions and even charity. All this income is deposited in their trust,” said Andre.
Moreover, Dabbawalas are also collaborating with Paytm Payments Bank, which enables Dabbawalas to receive payment on the spot Paytm QR. Paytm Payments Bank is a digital bank that provides zero balance accounts and zero charges on digital transactions.
The 1998 Quality Assurance study by Forbes was just the beginning of Dabbawalas coming into the limelight. In 2005, IIM Ahmedabad featured a case study on the Mumbai Dabbawalas. The New York Times reported in 2007 that the organization grows at a rate of 10% per year. When Prince Charles wanted to meet the Dabbawalas on his visit to India, he had to tweak his schedule, because the Dabbawalas couldn’t allow any flexibility in their precise timing.
Mumbai has always been the city of dreams for Indians, whether it’s Bollywood’s call to glamor or just seeking success through hard work and business. As Mumbaikars rush around in this metropolis, where sometimes there’s hardly any difference between night and day, they order food, and spoilt by the Dabbawalas’ diligence, they expect prompt service. Whether it’s in the office or at home, for a project party or a wedding, food delivery and catering is a fast-rising industry in Mumbai. There are many places that Mumbaikars rely on to satiate their hunger, food cravings, or to carry on with their routine.
A glance at Zomato, Foodpanda, and other review apps shows that Mumbai consumers are known foodies. No wonder there are so many food delivery options in the city. If you want American, Mexican, or fast food, just call Coma Coma in Pali Hill, Bandra, which serves till midnight. Another delivery option is The Gourmet Kitchenin Veera Desai Area, which delivers Mediterranean and Italian. For Chinese and Thai, there is Meraki with 7 outlets across the city. For healthier delivery options, there is Little Food Daily in Khar or Freshmenu, with 9 outlets, and Keto options. For Biryani and Mughlai, Worli’s, The Bohri Kitchen, founded by Munaf Kapadia and his mother, is known for its biryanis.
Based out of Kandivali, Fooditional are known for their catering services that provides traditional Indian as well as international dishes. They specialize in party caterings, school meals, corporate catering, and packaged food. FreshMenu are also chosen often for their daily changing menu and success in weddings, parties, and societal events.
Apart from ready-to-eat food, Mumbaikars also use delivery for groceries. An example is Supr Daily, a company started by two IITians who switched to selling milk, making over 1.6 million in the process. Like the Dabbawalas, Supr Daily prides in its efficiency, delivering quality milk to all its customers by 7.30 A.M. With the advent of smartphones and computers, Mumbaikars also use app-based delivery services like BigBasket, ZopNow, AaramShop, Godrej Nature’s Basket, and LocalBanya.
Mumbai is the city that never sleeps. Keeping this in mind, Mumbai has many options for late night food delivery, such as Juhu-based AK24 (anytimekhana), who deliver from 11.00 P.M to 4.00 A.M. Box 8, an Indian food delivery service, was founded by IIT graduates, and takes orders till 1.00 A.M. For late night Chinese, seafood and Asian, there is Red Ninja Express, which takes orders till 3.00 A.M. Founded in 2011, they claim to be the first place in Mumbai to introduce the NewYork style Takeout Boxes and are known for their “Ninja Box” and dimsums. The Roll Company, based in Juhu and Mahalaxmi, serves till 4.00 A.M.
The history of food delivery in Mumbai starts with the Dabbawalas. It is no wonder that so many delivery services are available there, probably inspired by the hard work and precision put in for more than a century, determined to deliver on time every time.