Pre-Covid, this QSR chain was found near office corners in Bengaluru. Now, it’s a digital tiffin service

Sprink, a subscription-based food service from Benagluru, claims to have two lakh customers and is all set to launch operations in Hyderabad. It plans to enter student-focused cities like Kota going forward.
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When the country went into a lockdown overnight in March 2020, amid a looming coronavirus threat, it spelt doom for the restaurant industry.

A study by the National Restaurant Association of India (NRA) last year stated that nearly 25 percent of restaurants in the country may have shut down permanently, forcing over 23 lakh people out of jobs. 

The NRA also reported that the food services industry witnessed a massive decline of 53 percent in FY2021, showing how cataclysmic COVID-19 has been for the restaurant industry despite people going for takeaways. Strict regulations and anxiety regarding contracting the virus also kept people away from dining out, and this obviously hit many restaurants, both big and small.

The dip in dining out obviously hit many players, including Bengaluru-based Petoo. The quick-service player had 50 outlets across 11 cities in the country, which had to be shut down. 

“Our major locations were around offices and lunchtimes were super busy. But that changed after the first lockdown. Our revenues literally dropped to zero overnight,” says Kumar Setu, co-founder of Petoo, which was founded in 2015. 

Kumar swiftly pivoted and founded Sprink, a virtual cafeteria with Ritesh Dwivedy, an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur graduate, and Abhishek Mandal, an alumnus of Institute of Hotel Management (IHM)-Bhubaneswar, both of whom he had met earlier during the launch of Petoo.

Both Ritesh and Abhishek had been in the food delivery space since early 2010, when they launched JustEat, a food delivery aggregator, which was later acquired by Food Panda in 2014.

A Petoo outlet in Bengaluru. A QSR service primarily serving office goers, it was forced to shut down during the pandemic.

Beginning of Sprink

Initially, the platform was catering to companies that required food for its employees. The firm then started getting requests from hospitals, manufacturing firms, and individuals. While he refrains from revealing the initial investment amount, Kumar says friends, family and angel investors helped in the setting up of Sprink, which gradually evolved into an online subscription-based food delivery service providing homemade meals.

“Cooking in itself is not a problem. But thinking about what to cook, that too three times a day, is a painful process for many folks,” says Kumar, also an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur graduate. 

Apart from catering to individuals, who make up 50 percent of Sprink’s customer base, the other half of the firm’s customers come from corporate partnerships. Sprink caters to employees of IT firms such as Capgemini and Accenture, manufacturing players including Carl Zeiss, Stanley, Autumnwood, and co-living spaces including Helloworld, which is Nestaway’s subsidy, and Bengaluru-based Colive. 

The workings

Sprink starts by taking a quick survey of their potential customers. This includes questions about diet and food preferences like vegetarian, non-vegetarian and Jain food across mini, standard, jumbo and premium sizes. The platform also gets details on the number of meals in a day, and offers cuisines including North Indian, South Indian and Bengali cuisines. “Our food is of home quality, and we do not repeat a meal for at least three weeks,” says Kumar. 

Credit: YourStory Design

Sprink’s basic subscription plan starts at Rs 110 per day, which can go up to Rs 400 depending on the category of meals. The food choices and preferences can be changed anytime during the subscription period.

“After the initial survey, the customer starts interacting with us more by rating our food. This gives us a sense of what they like and don’t like. After constantly analysing the data, we can personalise the menu,” says Kumar. 

The firm does not charge any additional packaging or delivery fees from the customers. The price mentioned on the website is the final price. 

While the North Indian meal is the biggest selling category, salads are quite popular among the younger demographic. Sprink, currently operating only in Bengaluru, has its own delivery fleet of 50 personnel and claims to deliver 5 lakh monthly orders.

“Sprink is a business which came into existence because Covid forced us to change direction and take a path less traveled. We were hesitant, as we were growing well in our QSR space, but we did it anyway. Starting with 0 customers, we are now serving a few lakh meals a month in a span of two years. We have grown 10X in the last 1 year and 2X just in just the last three months,” claims Kumar. 

When asked about the challenges he faces, Kumar says providing variety is the biggest challenge, besides the hassles behind running an online food business. “People want new things now and then. They get bored easily if food is repeated. We try to get over this hurdle by not creating a rigid timetable for our menu.”

During the peak pandemic time, people were forced to stay at home due to strict lockdowns and social isolation, and took to online food delivery aggregators in a big way. While Zomato and Swiggy saw their orders rise phenomenally, many new digital food services also found room to grow. Sample this - according to a study by Statista, Zomato recorded 214 million orders in the first half of 2020 compared to 55 million in the same period in 2019. 

Rebel Foods, an online restaurant company which operates 11 cloud kitchen brands including Fasoos and Ovenstory, turned Unicorn, and newer players including Ankit Nagori-led Curefoods and Delhi-based Big Bang Food Tech also popped up. Both players acquire and scale food brands. 

Sprink competes with other curated meal players, including Food Darzee, a fitness-focused food and nutrition service based in Mumbai, and Delhi-based Parafit. Currently, the firm serves all parts of Bengaluru, except a few remote areas near the new airport road. Some of the top performing areas for Sprink include HSR and Koramangala, which are home to firms including Flipkart, Slice and Cure.fit; Whitefield and Bellandur. 

“Apart from millennials and office going folks, our target audience also includes those over the age of 60. Many of them live alone and have no one to cook for them,” says Kumar. 

The firm, which currently has a team of 150 members, is also in the process of starting operations in Hyderabad. Sprink is also going to focus more on other metro cities including Delhi and Chennai, which attracts a large migrant population in the form of students and working professionals. Kota, a student town in Rajasthan, is also under consideration. 

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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