Since 1890, the Dabbawalas of Mumbai deliver home cooked food to workplaces across the city with an accuracy of nearly 100 percent. Their organizational structure not only brought them into the Guinness Book of World Records, but also inspired business coaches worldwide to implement similar structures to corporates worldwide. In 2019, the venerable Dabbawalas kept with the times and introduced a digital service, thereby entering the booming and competitive market of online food delivery.
The trend of ordering food via platforms and mobile apps gathered pace around 2014 with a variety of start-ups entering the stage. Many of them were limited to certain cities at first, before attracting major funding and expanding to other cities. Restaurant search, grocery shopping, or courier services had been included to the scope of services. From there, the market rose to over four billion U.S. dollars in 2020. While the market grew and high funding was available, a few brands evolved to dominate the market and acquired smaller competitors.
By 2021, Zomato from Gurugram and Bengaluru-based Swiggy emerged as the two big players on the food delivery market in India. Zomato acquired around ten companies worldwide, the most prominent being competitor UberEats in India in early 2020. Swiggy, operated by Bundl Technologies Limited, focused on the domestic market, but acquired start-ups to offer a variety of other delivery services. Both companies received significant funding by Chinese investors at an early stage. In March 2021, Amazon Food entered the business in Bengaluru to rival Zomato and Swiggy.
Both Swiggy and Zomato reported net losses from their operations during the financial years 2019 and 2020. When the Indian government imposed a rigid lockdown to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, food delivery companies across India struggled to keep their operations running due to curfews and a shrinking demand. However, surveys from the second half of 2020 showed that the demand recovered quickly. Employees working from home, along with many first-time customers boosted the industry thereafter. While many full-service restaurants remaining closed during the pandemic or facing the risk of being closed due to new restrictions, so-called ghost or cloud kitchens emerged as a new trend. Here, the food is prepared exclusively for delivery in a space that does not allow customer contact.