Food delivery USP

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

We occasionally order through Swiggy and Freshmenu. I order more frequently when the wife and kid are not in town. So far, I have been pretty happy with the quality of food, and of course, I order only from restaurants that I know, through Swiggy.

However, there is one consistent issue with the delivery/logistics. For the majority of times, there has been some leakage or seepage of some gravy or stir-fry, making its way on to every other container. Some times, it is a minor issue, and there has been at least once, where I had returned the food, where the cardboard container of my dosa was soaked in sambar.

Let us dissect this.

Factors that influence this mishap (in no particular order):

  • Packaging. I think this is taken care of by most players well enough. Freshmenu (and bowl company by Swiggy, and other major cloud kitchen players) have apt sized plastic boxes for wet stuff and cardboard boxes for dry stuff. The lids are pretty tight too. Have not faced issues there either. The restaurants that I order from, in swiggy, take care of this, as well.
  • Form-factor of the packaging and stackability. I think this is taken care of, as well. Most of these packages are standard sizes and neatly stackable.
  • The big bags of the delivery folks. The bag is a large box-ish bag with fairly solid sides. The guys stack the packages nicely as well. (So, I think, the process is not flawed).
  • The carrying of the bags. I think, this is where the problem begins. The boys sling the bag over their shoulder, rest the bag on the seats of their bikes and hit the road. I think during this time, the nicely stacked packages tilt. And hence seep and leak.

Potential solution:

While I am not an expert in logistics, let me propose a solution – the Dominos Delivery Box. This solution is not an original solution. I think, the Dominos guys solved this to an extent. The boxes are screwed on to the bikes. The pizzas and the other items are placed/stacked inside the box. So, other than the tilt of the bikes, during the traffic, there is no real tilting. I think this can also be reduced significantly by good packaging techniques and/or auto-balancing bases on the boxes.

As for the container of the food, the cloud kitchen guys have an advantage. As for the rest of the food delivery folks, my disclaimer (if you recall) was that, I order only from restaurants that pack well. If the food delivery guys want to nail the experience in the larger scale, Swiggy/Runnr/UberEats need to take packaging into their control. While I agree that it is a hard problem to solve, it would be the best damn experience. If I can order bisi bele bath from the local darshini, and the food still comes in a nice plastic leak proof tray – that is bliss. (For comparison data sakes, currently the darshini just plonks the food into an aluminium cover and heat-seals it.

An added feature that can be slapped on to this box, is a thermostat, and a feedback controlled heater – to maintain the food hot. There can be other IoT stuff instrumented into this box too – weight/temperature/time logging and tracking etc.

Food-tech/delivery guys – you listening? Now that the food delivery war is heating up (Swiggy vs Runnr vs UberEats vs Cloud Kitchen guys), it is all about USP. I think this might just be the two things. Food packed in clean containers (with no leakage/seepage) at the right temperature. Hmm. Yumm.

The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

On Flipkart and Dabbawalas

I read an article today that Flipkart is beginning to work with the famous Dabbawalas of Mumbai for last mile delivery. The efficiency of these tiffin box carriers of Mumbai has been lauded so much that there is even an Harvard Business Review Case Study on them. Much has been written about these men who wear the white cotton kurtas and ensure hot food from homes reach office goers at the perfect time. In other words, it is a classic example of a supply chain model which has been perfected over the years.

So, now on to todays news of Flipkart and their tie-up with the dabbawalas. Apparently at this moment in time, this is in pilot, and a group of dabbawalas are being trained for delivery. Initially they would only be handling orders that are already paid for (would not be handling COD).

This is a pretty innovative thing that Flipkart is getting into. I see several areas where both Flipkart and the dabbawalas can mutually benefit from such a tie-up.

Additional income for the dabbawalas: This is probably the one that bubbles up first. The dabbawalas current schedule mostly works in 2 spikes. One spike to delivery the dabbas from home to offices, and the other to collect the dabbas back from the offices and deliver it back to home. The other times are pretty much open to them to earn additional income.

Additional delivery people for Flipkart: They can choose to be the ‘uber’ of delivery-men. Let me elaborate here. When dabbawalas have their spike time done, and they are free, they can intimate to flipkart, that they are free and for how long. If the logistics and supply chain software is able to allot him a ‘ride’ or a ‘job’ that can be executed within that time, and he is comfortable with it, he can pick it up, and deliver it. This creates an additional pool of delivery people for flipkart. (Another pilot is happening in Bangalore with Flipkart trying a crowd-sourced delivery model). 

Processes knowledge sharing: The dabbawalas have perfected the art of sorting, colour-coding, and routing, within a congested city like Mumbai. If they have arrived at this amazing process, which works in a chaotic environment like Mumbai (and mostly using either public transportation or low-key transportation such as bicycles), this model can be replicated in many other cities.

At the end of the day, what the dabbawalas do is to pick up dabba from point X and deliver it to point Y. Isnt this what Flipkart does too, in its last mile delivery – pick up package from Flipkart distribution center  at location X, and drop off at location Y (customer)?

This may not be only one way. For all you know, Ekart (which is the delivery wing of Flipkart) may have come up with some processes as well, which uses more modern tech and the use of sophisticated algorithms. It is very well possible that some of this might end up being beneficial in automating processes in the dabbawala community. An immediate example that comes me is bar-coding stickers instead of the traditional color coding.

Dabba delivery as a business: Well, who knows. If this proves lucrative and serves multiple purposes such as delivery on the way, flipkart might even get on to it.

Food delivery: If you replace the origin of the dabba from home to a restaurant, you have food delivery. If you replace restaurant to a catering service, you have a subscription based tiffin service.

The possibilities are endless…