From 'Dabba-walah' to boxed meals: Evolution of the corporate food industry
From 'Dabba-walah' to boxed meals: Evolution of the corporate food industry

In India, home-cooked food is not just considered healthy but it also gives contentment. For a fair reason, in most households, lunches have a thali-style concept, which is an assortment of vegetables, lentils, rice, yogurt, pickles, bread, and pudding served on a big steel plate or a banana leaf. For decades, this thali-style meal has been an inherent part of the dietary culture in most regions of India for it provides a wholesome meal to an individual.

Food in a tiffin

Gradually, with evolving lifestyles, this concept gave rise to a new pattern of eating. Meals were now available in tiffins or lunchboxes. Soon, it became prevalent among the working population, who lived away from their home and often craved for home-cooked food. Busy work schedules and limited time left most office-goers with little or no time to prepare a full meal before they leave for office. Thereby, the concept of tiffin/lunch delivery services took off, with a growing number of home chefs taking up the foodservice industry in India.

How did times change?

Tiffin culture became popular all over India.  However, the core concept of providing nutritious and wholesome meals remained, food served on thali was now being packed in tiffin boxes. The separate compartments in tiffin or a lunchbox resemble the katoris (bowls) in a thali-style lunch.

Certainly, it exemplifies that the concept of foodservice started to grow and in no time emerged as a full-grown industry presently known as the foodservices industry. With time, the method of food production and consumption has evolved phenomenally. The key reason for the evolution of corporate foodservices is the paradigm shift in meal consumption trends of modern-day corporates. The consumer’s eating pattern in an on-the-go world led employees to choose foodservices that are healthy and conveniently available.

India’s foodservice industry

Alongside, we can't turn a blind to the fact that the corporate food services industry has been primarily dominated by unorganized players, which holds more than 80% of the market share and cater without adequate food safety standards. This gave rise to concerns about the quality of the food served in offices and others places.  Here is when several organized counterparts came into the picture, striving to transform the country’s unorganized food service market. Moreover, a recent report also highlights that India’s food service industry is rapidly growing and is expected to touch the Rs. 6 trillion mark by 2023.  Such factors have led to the emergence of a number of players in the food service industry who are providing nutritious solutions, especially aimed at employees.

Let’s order a box of meal

India is a country where cuisines and tastes are constantly changing as we cross from one border to another. Also, the growing IT hubs in Indian cities bring a mix of people from different communities.  This is why the demand for customized food mushroomed in the country.  Today, most people look for options that not just fill them up but is packed with proteins and other nutrients necessary for good health and improved immunity. Moreover, the outbreak of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left a large chunk of food lovers wary of what they eat and from where. Therefore, hygiene and food safety have become the top concerns for people.  Especially, with offices resuming operations, employees are now avoiding eating from local vendors or from office canteens. Thus, the concept of box meals has become their new favourite. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst in driving a sudden surge in demand for box meals post lockdown. These meals are now slowly replacing the buffet served in office cafeterias, owing to the current situation.

It is also important that food service startups take cognizance of the fact that consumer-purchasing preferences for food have changed over time. People have become conscious about their intake of calories and the quality of the food they consume. The operators in the food service market are realizing the same and providing healthy food in offices. Thus, for several players in the food service industry, these have become major check-points.

Food and tech

Further, technology is playing a pivotal role in bringing rapid changes in the food service industry. From checking the quality of food products and preparation of food in centralized kitchens to tracking food packages and contactless delivery, technology has been a game-changer. Leveraging technological solutions, a line of players have become the front runners to capture the country’s large food service industry. They are offering customized menus, combo meals, food platters boxed for customers as per their choice, thereby enhancing their dining experience at home or office with a newer outlook.

Thus, the food service start-ups have been proactively embracing these changes and transforming this into a positive evolution of the corporate food industry.

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