Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce company launched in October 2007, with the simple and unstated goal of being “the Amazon of India”. By June 2013, when e-commerce giant Amazon entered India to claim for itself that mantle, Flipkart was way ahead.
Ola, India’s largest ride hailing company, started out in December 2010. Everyone saw it as the “Uber of India”. Which meant that by August 2013, when Uber launched its India operations, Ola had already cemented its lead.
Which brings us to Chai Point, India’s largest tea café chain. Co-founded by CEO Amuleek Singh Bijral in 2010, Bengaluru-based Chai Point has grown to 141 stores across 10 Indian cities in nine years. Its closest rival in the space, Delhi-based Chaayos, which started two years later, has 62 stores across seven cities.
But, like Flipkart and Ola before it, it wants to be something much bigger. It wants to be the “Luckin Coffee of India.”
Luckin Coffee, founded in 2017, in less than two years, has become the second-largest café chain in China, with 3,300 outlets—after Starbucks, which has nearly 4,000 stores. It’s now gunning for the number one spot, pushing aggressively with offers like delivering coffee in under 30 minutes, deep-discounting and an order-online-pick-up-at-store service. No surprise then that 90% of Luckin’s stores are for pick-ups; they’re not cafés.
Chai Point sees a kindred spirit here.
“When I met [Bijral], he said he wants to make Chai Point the Luckin of India,” said an industry expert, requesting not to be named, as they are working with the café chain. “[Bijral] had been tracking Luckin for a while.”
There’s a fair bit the two have had in common thus far—competitively priced beverages, smaller stores, tech-enabled consumer data gathering. That Chai Point prioritises technology over the usual fare of big stores—as with café chains like Cafe Coffee Day or Starbucks—reflects in its delivery-first policy. Chai Point stores have dedicated kiosks for delivery personnel to collect from, as opposed to crowding at the payment counter. Its app, available on Android and App Store under ‘Chai Point Food & Tea Delivery’, other than deliveries and offers, has a GPS-enabled map to locate stores.
Chai Point’s novel business model, which steps away from in-store seating, focused on data reading and sophisticated tech, could prove disruptive in the specialised tea and coffee retail space in India. That’s a market that stood at Rs 2570 crore ($358.5 million) in 2018, according to a study by market research firm Euromonitor, and is set to touch Rs 4540 crore ($633.3 million) by 2023. Specialisation aside, the Indian tea retail industry alone is valued at Rs 18,000 crore ($2.5 billion), more than twice as big as coffee’s Rs 7,000 crore ($976.5 million) market.