Food Delivery In 10 Minutes, Alright, Great, But How?

For the ones who have grown up reading the Harry Potter books, the concept of transfiguration would ring a bill. In the wizardry world of Harry Potter, transfiguration was when one altered the molecular structure and thus the form of appearance.

Thus, Professor McGonagall was able to transform herself into a cat. Peter Pettigrew, the loyal servant of Lord Voldemort was able to disguise himself as a rat, and so forth. Yet, even in the wizardry world, food stood as an exception to this magical spell. One could increase the quantity of the food present, summon it from elsewhere, but they could not produce it out of thin air.

Zomato, however, is aiming to prove the wizards of the magical world and bears of the real world wrong and wants you to get your meal in 10 minutes. Alright, great, but how?

Even with all the data intelligence and advanced algorithms in play, there is something about the food delivery business that shall always remain a constant — the food itself. We have gone as far as ensuring that we can keep it frozen for use over a duration of a few weeks, or to extend its longevity by skilled packing and preservatives, but even then, it warrants cooking. Even if one were to assume that an army of highly advanced drones, moving at the speed of a few kilometers per hour were deployed for food delivery with zero error margins, the food would warrant preparation and cooking. Any food, that is, be it a sandwich or even a salad.

From the announcements, it appears that Zomato has found the Holy Grail, the secret dearer than the chemical formula of Coca Cola, and therefore, they are now willing to bet on a business model that has already failed for their recent acquisition, Blinkit, or Grofers as it was formerly known. Make no mistake, no idea in the free markets is incorrect or warrants a complete denial, even if it has failed previously, but for the curious ones, the reasoning behind its potential success or failure is always a subject of debate.

In two separate pieces, the arguments that work, and the have been elaborated. Now, one wonders, how does it work for the food. In the fast-food industry, perhaps, the easiest thing to assemble is a McDonald’s hamburger or a Subway sandwich, but any regular customer could vouch for the fact that the preparation time itself is in excess of five minutes. Even the veteran consumers of vintage Maggi would know that something as basic a food item as instant noodles requires at least five minutes.

Yet, Zomato claims to have decoded a formula that the ‘muggles’ of the real world cannot understand. Assuming the 10 minutes promise works flawlessly, how does it address the preparation of tandoori and fried snacks, beverages that require heating or mixing, food items that are prepared in an oven, for instance, a pizza, or Indian breads that require their own cooking time in traditional tandoors, or lentils and gravy vegetables that may require fresh cooking?

In his announcement tweets, Deepinder Goyal, the founder of Zomato, stressed that the interests and safety of the delivery partners will not be compromised. Even if one is to accept the declaration at face value, the real-world experience is always very different. Many customers, promised a short delivery time, are quick in harassing delivery partners. The shortcuts many of these partners are forced to take are often resulting in mishaps on the road.

Also, the delivery time for this marketing stunt has been calculated at six minutes. In a society of 2,000 houses, the mere time taken for a delivery partner to get from the main gate to the apartment, passing through all the security clearances, is more than five minutes, even 10, if the lift is an issue, or there is a small hold up at the security, which is not uncommon.

In a series of follow-up tweets, Zomato’s founder also stressed that they were only opening up the 10-minutes delivery for specified locations and that they were building food stations near to those places that house the bestsellers.

Fair enough, for they have the knowledge that they should ideally be sharing with the restaurants they generated their data from, and they know what sells on what day and what time, but by building food stations, are they threatening to overshadow the traditional players?

If tomorrow, these food stations were to sell sandwiches, were they emerging as a direct competition to Subway, or Starbucks, or Biryani Blues, for instance, or will it be a collaboration, and if the latter, for how long? In a way, this is Zomato, full-time, getting into both the production and delivery business. In the long run, this won’t end well for the restaurants, especially the smaller players.

Upon asking the kind of food items these stations will harbour, a spirited Goyal stated that bread omelette, poha, coffee, chai, biryani, momos, and several other items will be delivered. Thus, people are not getting food in 10 minutes but they are only getting food items that were prepared earlier, microwaved, packed and dispatched. From a consumer perspective, it’s not very different from the ready-to-eat meals by Haldiram’s that were being served in some executive trains during the Covid restrictions.

The numbers do not add up. The business model does not look sustainable or scalable, and even the items available for selection are very limited, and yet, it is the new big thing in town, merely weeks after Blinkit announced it, and failed.

However, all credits to Goyal, for even with all its faults, he has built a product that has become an indispensable part of our routines, and therefore, one hopes that the promise of good food, prepared fresh and in the best conditions, and delivered seamlessly is not lost while catering to an idea that has a few takers and little value beyond the shock and awe. Time is of the essence, yes, but not this way.

It’s the same story as it was with the grocery delivery promise, it’s a great idea, but why.

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