No one would have thought that foodtech could have been such a huge sector for Indian start-ups. What does foodtech even mean? Food prepared by technology? Well, going by what the startups in the space do, foodtech is more to do with efficiently delivering food using technology. . We first wrote about 8 heavily backed foodtech start-ups, then a list of 17 more in the space and we also asked the VCs as to why are they so excited about the space.
And the trend continues. We continue to receive pitches from companies across the country in the foodtech business. We can only pontificate over how the space will turn out to be. So when an entrepreneur friend introduced me to Satish Chamyvelumani who ran a startup called Foodbox, I wasn’t thrilled to learn more. But going against my instinct, I decided to meet Satish at a Darshini in Koramanagala, Bangalore. Satish had flown in from Chennai for a day.
Satish, a mechanical engineer and a Masters of Science in manufacturing technology from New Jersey Institute, has spent more than a decade in USA as an operations engineer with various MNCs. It was in 2013 when he moved to India because of a host of reasons and decided that “the time was ripe to start up in India.” And thus came into existence Atchayam Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd. The idea was to serve people with food from their favourite brands while on the move. Based in Chennai, Atchayam has two outlets where people can find food from restaurants like A2B, Madras Coffee House.,etc.
“I am not a fan of food delivery apps. For a market like India, we wanted to try out this more on-the- ground model,” Satish had told me in the meeting at 10 am (which is also the time for him to streamline and co-ordinate with the restaurants to have the processes in order). And over the two months since we met, Foodbox has made rapid strides. In Chennai central, Foodbox is selling about 900-1300 packs per day. DLF IT park outlet sells about 200-300 packs per day depending on the day of the week. “We will be opening our first outlet in Bangalore in the first week of June and our third store in Chennai at Chennai silks, T Nagar,” updates Satish.
The innovation is in the dispenser machines Foodbox has built. These machines do not require any manual intervention (in its ideal state). The machine is built in a way that it knows when the food has expired and is not fit for consumption; it also heats or cools the eatables as it is told. Explains Satish: “Foodbox is a marketplace where we facilitate the meet between customers looking for food from particular restaurants. Customers get improved access to high quality foods from the local restaurants they trust and restaurants are able to reach newer markets without additional capital.”
This is a supply and demand linking process. Foodbox’s restaurant partners cook and pack the food they would like to sell and transport that to Foodbox outlets at a preferred time slot. Foodbox uses the capacity available at restaurants for cooking, packing, transportation, and cuts out the capital and manpower needed to run an actual storefront. “From the customers standpoint we run a fully self-serviced store for a quick food pickup – a variety of brands, takeaway-friendly packaging, and the convenience of purchasing food in minutes, at about the same price as restaurant retail,” says Satish.
Foodbox is supported by a few US-backed angels and is currently looking to raise its next round to grow to other cities. Foodbox has partnered with six restaurants: Adayar Anandabhavan, Anjappar Chettinadu, Moti Mahal Deluxe, Hotel Sudha, Charminar Hyderabadi Biriyani, and Mr. Chows. “The restaurants are very happy about the volumes and the opportunity to reach new markets at zero capital spends,” adds Satish. Foodbox is also developing next-generation dispensers which will be more advanced. There have been technology sale opportunties that have knocked on their doors as well and the next few months seem promising.
Besides the current stores, Foodbox is negotiating with a couple of companies in the Middle East to have Foodbox outlets installed. The other exciting possibility is with the Indian Railways. “We have submitted our proposal to the railways officials for replacing the entire pantry car with a Foodbox outlet. There has been a lot of excitement about this idea. We are hopeful for a pilot towards the end of this calendar year,” says Satish.
Foodbox is a team of about 10 at the moment and intends to remain lean. Trying to bring in completely automated storefronts, if the model works out, the scale up will come quickly. And considering the number of spaces like business parks and railway stations that exist in India, Foodbox has a huge market.