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A waiter arranges plates at a counter stacked with breakfast items at an Iranian Parsi restaurant in Mumbai
Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas
Deliver carefully.
ONLY THE BEST

India’s food delivery wars are no longer about speed, but quality

By Ananya Bhattacharya

With Indian food-delivery firms coming of age, quality is increasingly taking precedence over quantity.

As apps like Zomato, Swiggy, and Uber Eats bring thousands of restaurants to patrons’ fingertips, this also brings to sharp relief the problem of subpar food, which in turn has prompted the aggregators to respond.

Over two-thirds of consumers placing orders on food-delivery apps are concerned about quality, according to the social engagement platform LocalCircles. “Cases have been reported where some of the outlets registered on these apps have turned out to be makeshift, or operate out of home joints, with little focus on hygiene and quality,” LocalCircles said.

Seven in 10 consumers felt that the quality of food deteriorates slightly or even significantly during packaging and transportation, according to the survey of over 27,000 consumers across 218 Indian districts.

“These issues are real and tend to get ignored in the (startup’s) buildout stage, when the focus is on rapid expansion and market capture,” said Harish HV, an independent analyst tracking India’s startup sector. “As the buildout stage slows down, the focus then turns to operations, customer satisfaction, quality, and more. I believe these companies now have to ensure these aspects for sustained growth, else they will start seeing a dip in growth or revenues.”

Putting quality to test

It’s about time food-delivery firms get serious about what they’re serving up.

“The online food delivery concept started only to bridge the gap between restaurants and customers, through which even small outlets could have access. But as Zomato, Swiggy, etc, started to significantly expand, they started to face problems at later stages due to lack of set standards,” said Sukriti Seth, a consultant at the Noida-based TechSci Research.

In mid-2018, Zomato and Swiggy began delisting from their platforms thousands of restaurants that didn’t comply with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) norms. They have now begun started to work on improving the quality by setting up standards, paying regular visits to outlets, and collecting feedback from customers, Seth added.

Swiggy, for instance, told Quartz that it conducts extensive hygiene audits across its restaurant partner network using credible third-party firms, who rate the restaurant based on a detailed checklist that includes raw material procurement, pest control, food storage and processing, facilities, and hygiene. The audited restaurants carry food hygiene tags on their page on the Swiggy app so that consumers can make informed choices.

In August 2018, Zomato launched HyperPure, a technology-driven platform designed to supply fresh, clean ingredients to restaurants. Outlets buying ingredients through HyperPure are tagged “HyperPure Inside” on the Zomato app, which assures customers that their food is made from fully-traceable, high-quality ingredients.

Yet, controlling hygiene and processes is only step one. Often, even if the food is cooked right, packaging and transport provisions fall short and ultimately, the food on the customer’s dining table isn’t up to the mark.

Packaging right

Around 30% of people placing orders found the quality of packaging unsatisfactory, according to LocalCircles.

“People who are packaging aren’t skilled enough,” Yugal Joshi, vice-president of Texas-based consulting firm Everest Group, told Quartz. They are not aware that take-away parcels and food sent through delivery executives require different packaging, he added. “Moreover, the general quality of containers is poor as these food vendors are running on thin margins and don’t invest sufficiently.”

Tracking delivery personnel is also a challenge. Earlier this year, a Zomato executive was caught on camera eating from the package he was to deliver.

The companies are, however, combating the problem, bit by bit.

Shortly after the Zomato personnel’s video went viral on social media, the firm launched tamper-proof packaging in 10 cities. “If consumers find the safety seal open, they are advised not to accept the delivery,” it said in a blog post.

Meanwhile, Swiggy offers “packaging assist” to help restaurant partners access eco-friendly and sustainable packaging solutions. The Bengaluru-based firm is also working with multiple design consultants and manufacturers to come up with more innovative, personalised, and eco-friendly packaging solutions, it said.