Vaibbhav Arora was part of a nationwide meal distribution system working for foodtech unicorn Zomato last year, when he realised there was an urgent need for accessible hygienic and home-cooked meals. It was then that he quit his job at Zomato, and decided to start Bhojan Tech out of Gurugram in 2020.
A new age foodtech company dedicated to providing affordable food, all meals by Bhojan are subsidised to below Rs 100 to make it accessible for a large section of the population.
“The lower and middle-income segments of our population have been hit the most, and they are the ones who have had to go out there and work to earn a living. The need to make hygienic and homely food accessible to the masses is more urgent now than ever before. They also don’t get access to this kind of food at the price points they need,” says Vaibbhav.
He further explains that due to the country-wide lockdown, street vendors disappeared, local eateries were shut down, and people faced salary cuts and job losses, making something as basic as food even more unaffordable for many.
Why another foodtech startup?
According to Vaibbhav, the brand was conceptualised to serve homely meals and help people consume wholesome food while keeping the values of a traditional Indian kitchen sacrosanct. He explains that while there are unicorns like Swiggy and Zomato in the space, Bhojan is focused on fresh home-cooked meals at sub-Rs 100 price point.
“We’re driven by a strong social consciousness and the recognition that every human being has the right to a clean, fulfilling meal. Until the second wave of the pandemic in 2021, our focus was the food-on-the-move needs of the average person,” says Vaibbhav.
He adds that the company aspires to become India’s largest organised food tech distribution channel that is trackable and monitored at every step.
Currently serving across Delhi-NCR, the company offers hygienic and affordable food to the underserved demographics in the region. The meals are made available through extensive distribution networks including kirana stores, departmental stores, mass transit hubs, corporates and through their disruptive last-mile delivery solution called Bhojan-on-Wheels.
“Our B2B2C business model helped create a platform for mass food distribution, and nurtured micro-entrepreneurship. With this model, we established extensive pathways for our product to reach the end customer, including retail stores, corporates, mass transit hubs and co-working spaces,” says Vaibbhav.
The brand took the call to expedite their B2C subscriptions (initially planned for the second year of their operations) considering the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“The lockdowns and restrictions that came with the second wave made us pivot quickly from our ‘food-on-the-move’ focus to serving ‘food-at-home’,” he says.
“With people coming together to help each other make it through these terrible and chaotic times, we felt that we HAD to be part of the solution. Since our mission is to make quality, safe food accessible to those in need through affordable pricing and easy availability; we started our subscriptions with those that needed it the most – those isolating, stuck in containment zones and even suffering from mild covid and under home quarantine,” adds Vaibbhav.
The current B2C offering includes seven-day, 14-day and one-month subscriptions for different meal options. The food at Bhojan is cooked fresh every day in their kitchens, and distributed through a delivery fleet. He says the menu is rotated often, and the recipes are wholesome with fresh locally sourced ingredients, and do not contain class II preservatives or artificial colours.
Plenty of meal options are also available in the form of Chota Bhojan (breakfast options) at Rs 49, combo meals at Rs 55, classic meals at Rs 79, and standard thalis at Rs 95. The average basket size for one person is Rs 88, and Rs 150 for two.
The team is currently 20 people strong and growing. Once the idea was in place, Vaibbhav roped in Rahul Khandelwal, a serial entrepreneur as co-founder. Aneez Mehta heads marketing and covers branding, marketing strategy, communications and digital brand building.
Saurav Choudhury, head of operations, is a chef turned operations guru with over 19 years of experience in F&B supply chain, club kitchen and startup concepts. Shodhan S is chief of staff, he’s an engineer and IIM alumnus with expertise in scaling, program management and enabling P&L efficiencies.
According to a RedSeer report, the overall food delivery market in India was valued at $15 billion in 2016, and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 24 percent to reach $36 billion in 2020.
The pandemic may have eaten into these projections, but in a recent survey conducted by the company, 21 percent of respondents said they were more likely to increase their online ordering of takeaway food after the lockdown.
Home chefs have seen increased demand in recent times, and are supported by dedicated platforms like Noida-based Homefoodi, and Mumbai and Pune-based Authenticook, which are connecting them to prospective customers and helping them build a loyal customer base.
“The primary driver for us is keeping costs low, and keeping our food fresh by increasing efficiencies in production and distribution. This is where the “tech” in BhojanTech comes in. We are building technology to ensure we cater to the imperatives of our business – AAAQ i.e. Affordability, Accessibility, Assortment and Quality,” adds Vaibbhav.
According to him, the aim is to achieve complete automation in the kitchen and IoT at every feasible touchpoint in the supply chain.
“We apply our culinary expertise, our state-of-the-art-tech and strong distribution networks to ensure that our meals are not only delicious but extremely affordable as well as widely available,” he says. The startup currently has been funded by a family office.
Vaibbhav claims the company has seen a 300 percent revenue growth on a quarterly basis.
Speaking of the future he says,
“Our vision is simple, ‘Feeding Bharat’, and our first humble milestone to achieve this dream is to achieve 1,50,000 meals sold per day by the end of FY’21. Alongside our pursuit of this target, we will continue to integrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into our business in keeping with our dearly held values of ‘service’. In the coming years, we plan to donate two percent of our daily meal orders towards our ‘give-back’ programme for causes close to our hearts – feeding the elderly and those afflicted with leprosy.”