The battle lines have been drawn. On one side is Zomato and the other, Swiggy. Both have successfully become verbs. But both want to be the only verb when it comes to customers, investors and food. And the duo has now found a new way to achieve that: cloud kitchens. Zomato has infrastructure services, and Swiggy, The Bowl Company (for now).

But maintaining a cloud kitchen isn’t an easy business. After all, it takes a restaurant an age to perfect recipes and even then sometimes, it just doesn’t agree with changing tastes. And these restaurants have the advantage of a physical storefront and advertisements. Food tech companies have tried their version of restaurants, with varying levels of success. Delhi National Capital Region (NCR)-based Yumist’s expansion to Bengaluru in 2015 was unsuccessful. It went back to the basics and decided to focus on Delhi NCR. Sequoia-funded Faasos, which championed the concept back in 2015, too, has found life difficult.

For Zomato and Swiggy, these experiments signify different things. Zomato is reducing its losses, and this new cloud kitchen could help by increasing order delivery margins. For Swiggy, it’s part of the quest to build a profitable arm of business. An arm, which will fund its delivery business.

The difference between the two cloud kitchens is stark. Zomato invites established brands to be a part of the kitchen. Swiggy will cook and sell its own food, just like FreshMenu. There is pressure, however, on both companies to show some profitability. There is a reason. It may not be a two-player market anymore. International superstars are eyeing India. Superstars like Google (for discovery, which is Zomato’s strength) and Uber’s food delivery arm UberEATS (Swiggy’s muscle).

Enter, cloud kitchen.

Attack formations

A cloud kitchen can best be described as a kitchen with no storefront. There’s no physical place a customer can walk up to, linger on the menu and place an order. That lingering happens on the web or an app. The kitchen cooks and delivers. It saves the cost of renting or buying property on high street.

The Ken sent Swiggy a detailed questionnaire. The company chose not to comment.

To set up a cloud kitchen, Swiggy tried many variations and price-points. But nothing stuck until it came up on a small revelation. In March 2016, it saw a surge of new users, in the age group of 16-28. They gave Swiggy a cause to celebrate. The company hit a record high of one million orders a month. But few, if not all, had the spending potential. The most they were willing to spend was Rs 200 per order (without a delivery fee).

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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