New breed of food entrepreneurs take tiffin service online; Can they make it big?


A hard-core vegetarian, Pratik Jain found it difficult to get a meal of his choice while working for an MNC in Mumbai. He was ready to shell out extra money on a delicious full-course meal, but could not find a food service good enough to whet his appetite. Though he found some online services that delivered meals at his doorstep, he was not ready to 'risk' his health as he was not so sure about the quality of food.

The Management Studies graduate in him scented an opportunity in online tiffin service space, which led him to quit his job and launch Yummy Tiffins, in Mumbai in April 2010. The company, which claims to be India's first customised online food delivery service, currently serves meals to almost 200 customers every day.

Tiffin service is not exactly a virgin space as there were players like Mumbai-based CalorieCare, founded in as early as 2005, offering customers meals packed with the count of carbohydrates, fats, protein and the calories. It now serves meals to almost 1,000 customers in tray-packed, disposable containers, which are delivered to the location of the customer's choice.


But the trend is there is a new breed of food entrepreneurs who are entering this market using internet as an order channeling system and offering healthier, customised and tastier tiffins to customers.

In Bangalore, there are at least three players such as Chulha.in, ItsMyMeal and Papastiffin, if not more, targeting students, office goers and others for their daily meal requirements. In Delhi, there is Homecurry.com who has joined the online tiffin bandwagon. All of them are betting on a customer's need for healthy meals outside one's home's confinement.

While Chulha provides lunch and dinner to its customers, ItsMyMeal supplies evening snacks (for corporate customers and regular bulk orders only), besides lunch to individuals and employees in MNCs in Bangalore. Papas Tiffin "the smallest among them -- supplies lunch, dinner and snacks to homes, offices and companies, apart from undertaking orders for parties and get-togethers.


Yummy Tiffins now employs around nine people, and has also tied up with the Mumbai Dabbawala Association to deliver food to corporates. The price starts at Rs 55. Jain claims that the company is already profitable and is now planning to expand to more cities. "Our business has a healthy margin. The revenues have doubled from last year's figures. We are launching in Bangalore in 3-4 months, where we will operate on our own. We are also expanding to Pune shortly."

In Bangalore, Chulha  specialises on catering to the North Indian palate - customers who relocated to Bangalore from the North for work and live away from their families. It serves 300-odd customers (mainly individuals, paying guests and office goers in the city) on a daily basis, offering them home-cooked north Indian food.

Founded in 2008, Chulha charges Rs 50 for a vegetarian meal, while non-veg tiffin costs Rs 60. It also offers veg and non-veg mini meals, which is priced at Rs 45 and Rs 55, respectively. According to Nishant Gupta, the founder and MD of Chulha, the market is too fragmented and highly competitive. "There is demand for online tiffin delivery services. Though the customer base is growing day by day, there are some issues that to be resolved. Tiffin delivery is a tedious work that it needs hard work and patience. So it is not easy to get labourers. Convincing people about the quality of food is another headache." He said that customers in Bangalore prefer veg cuisine over non-veg items.


ItsMyMeal, founded by Nikhil Gupta, Neeraj Kumar and Anoop Agarwal, is another online tiffin service in the IT hub. It provides Indian and international cuisine to corporates and individuals. The company makes sure that no menu is repeated in the same week or same month for lunch or dinner. The charge varies from Rs 59 to Rs 105, depending on the dishes a customer selects. ItsMyDeal is now planning to open 100 production centers by the end of 2015 and is launching in multiple cities, including Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi.

Delhi-based Home Curry, which provides both veg and non-veg lunch to office-goers in the Delhi NCR region, finds a huge opportunity in the 15 lakh working population.

"Many of the families in here hardly get time to cook food at home. So they depend on online tiffin deliveries like us. Though there are number of players in this space, majority of which are unorganised, they fail to meet the demands of this huge population. Here we are much better than others," said Manoj Gupta, co-founder and CEO, Home Curry.


He, however, admits that there are some challenges. "It is a highly price-sensitive market. Moreover, logistics is another key challenge. Since we take orders online on a daily basis, it is not easy to carry food in long routes and deliver it," added Gupta.

Home Curry is planning to expand to Pune and Bangalore in long term, only after getting enough scale in the NCR region itself.

Mumbai's Calorie Care can be considered the biggest player in this segment right now. It offers international cuisines as well as gourmet soup and salad meals, both veg and non-veg. The company co-founder Parinaz Driver claims: "Our USP is that we have around 50 items in our menu for the customer to choose from. We also serve food to customers depending on their calorie level. We have around 900-1,000 customers as of now and we have plans to expand to Delhi, Bangalore, etc."


Driver says that competition is huge and it is not easy to get customers, a view echoed by most other players including Yummy Tiffin's Jain. Says Driver: "What we provide is premium food. Depending on various health issues, a customer can choose an item from our menu. It can cost a customer anywhere between Rs 180-Rs 300. So it is not very easy to grab customers."

Is the business scalable enough to create a multi-million dollar business with a national footprint? We pose the question to venture capitalist Prashant Prakash, who is managing director with Accel Partners. He answers:

"These are very local businesses, which are focused only on local customers. It is not that easy to take this business model to multiple cities. What I feel is that it needs consolidation that somebody has to bring these businesses into a single platform, which will help them get good scale. If each and every one tries to expand individually, it cannot sustain in long term." Well, that is a challenge and opportunity for an entrepreneur.


(Edited by Prem Udayabhanu)

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