[YS Learn] How to ensure food at work is safe and delivered in a traceable manner in 2021

Sanjay Kumar, CEO of Elior India, spoke about the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and their effect on the future of B2B foodtech in India.
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With over 4,000 employees, Elior India — a subsidiary of France-based Elior Group — serves around two lakh freshly prepared meals every day to Fortune 500 and MNCs. It is one of the top three companies in the Indian food services industry. And at the helm of this business is CEO Sanjay Kumar. 

Sanjay is responsible for Elior’s entrance into the Indian market. He also led the company’s high-profile acquisition of MegaBite Food Services and CRCL. 

At his core, Sanjay’s expertise lies in setting up new businesses and pushing multinational corporation market entries or expansions in India.

He has been instrumental in leading several acquisition deals, including a mix of asset deals, joint ventures, and share purchases in existing entities.

In a conversation with YourStory, Sanjay spoke of the lessons gleaned from the COVID-19 pandemic and how they will shape the future of B2B foodtech in India. 

Edited excerpts of the interaction:

YourStory (YS): What was the impact of COVID-19 on the B2B foodtech market and how did you turn it around? 

Sanjay Kumar (SK): COVID-19 has had two major impacts on the foodtech market. First, most organisations now are becoming more aware that intermediate technology aggregators in the B2B space for food at work do not really add any value to the food programme in the cafeteria at the workplace. 

The benefit we see coming in is an increasing preference for food service providers to be the owners of the digital platform in the office cafeteria so that fewer vendors and service providers operate from a single premise. Therefore, the first impact is a lesser dependency on third-party aggregators.

The second impact has been an increase in the role of aggregation platforms in ensuring the safety of employees in the office cafeteria.

This has been enabled with advanced algorithms that automatically ensure social distancing and order sequencing so that one can avoid long queues and crowds in the office cafeterias. 

These two impacts will probably continue through 2021 in ensuring the food at work is safe and delivered in a manner, which has traceability.

YS: What were the lessons Elior India learnt during the pandemic?

SK: Every organisation has learnt its own lessons. For us, there have been principally three learnings. First, we realised it was worth making investments in ensuring the safety of the food that is cooked in our kitchens, especially during the pandemic. 

Second, we needed to ensure there is regular communication amongst employees to ensure that the crisis is managed better. 

The last is probably the most important one — not only to ensure the safety of employees who consume our food at work but also to ensure that our people who produce this food and work in our kitchens are safe and are receiving the support and guidance that they need both from our QHSE team, as well as the paramedic team that we have deployed for checking in advance the safety of our people.

Sanjay Kumar

YS: What shifts did you make at Elior India, and how have the models realigned? 

SK: The biggest shift we made was the recalibration of the menus to understand how we introduce more nutritious food, to ensure the food that we serve at work is delivered safely, and therefore, restructuring the food programme from a more buffet-based to a more packed one. 

And, preferably do this sustainably so that there are fewer contact points between the time the food is produced and the time it is consumed.

YS: What steps did you take to turn things around?

SK: Even prior to COVID-19, there was a downturn in the economy impacting the margins, as well as both revenue and the growth. However, the pandemic worsened it. 

Principally, we put in place a four-point charter to ensure we do not become a victim of this pandemic. 

The first thing we did is communicate with our employees to ensure there is clarity of purpose and teams remain motivated on the ground. Secondly, we restructured the organisation through a bottom-up approach.

Rather than looking at how many people we have and how to realign the workforce, we evaluated how many meals need to be produced. We decided on a zero-based budgeting process for that level of production and the corresponding strength and structure of the organisation.

Thirdly, we cut back on all discretionary spends and variable spends that could be deferred or postponed till some recovery takes place. 

Last but not least, we revisited all our fixed assets to see if there are opportunities to either monetise them or replace them with a lease model, which allows cash flow to improve. 

YS: What are the permanent and temporary shifts you see in the market? 

SK: Eventually, the world will get back to how it was before the pandemic. But temporarily, we believe that the number of people coming to work — especially in the large tech centres — is going to be much lesser than before even throughout 2021.

Work from home is here to stay and will probably continue through the middle of 2022. Hence, one will have to continue to live with the adapted model we have put in place for the near term. 

Therefore, the temporary shift is going to be around fewer numbers, social distancing at the office cafeterias, and fewer people continuing to come to work from the office.

The permanent shift is going to be around focussing safety and higher levels of investment in defining a food programme at work, which meets both the nutritive as well as the safety requirements to ensure people feel adequately protected and safe when they come to work and consume our food. 

YS: What lies ahead for Elior India in 2021? 

SK: The year 2021 essentially hinges around three pillars as far as our business is concerned. 

First, to ensure the safety of our own employees and of those whom we serve.

Second, to continually communicate and engage the organisation in ensuring they believe the turnaround is underway and the organisation is equipped to come through this crisis. 

Last but not least, manage cash so that we are able to go through this crisis without having to depend on borrowings. Hence, we have to ensure that both receivables from customers as well as payables to our vendors are managed in the working capital cycle that the balance sheet and P&L can afford.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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