It’s lunchtime at Aranyas, a popular eatery in Dhanbad, the coal-rich city in Jharkhand. But while just a few tables are occupied, orders are still being punched in and flying out, courtesy the swarm of delivery personnel. Clad in either crimson or orange, they wait impatiently at the service counter.

Across the city—at traffic signals and outside the many residential townships—the procession of crimson and orange never ends. This is a marked change for Dhanbad, a city that, until recently, frowned upon eating out, forget ordering in. And with food delivery becoming the new norm, many small, unglamorous, delivery-only dhabas have mushroomed.

In Patna, the capital of neighbouring Bihar, this scene repeats. This, too, is a relatively recent phenomenon. As recently as the summer of 2018, food delivery wasn’t this common in eastern India, with Kolkata being the exception.

But it isn’t just eastern India. Cities such as Kanpur, Kota and Thrissur tell a similar story. Of the blitzscaling by Zomato and Swiggy, the two biggest players in India’s food tech space. While Swiggy has expanded its food delivery business to 145 cities (as of 7 May) from a modest 8 cities in October 2017, Zomato is now delivering food in nearly 250 cities, up from 17 cities less than a year ago.

As the two food tech giants expand, they’re finding happy hunting grounds further afield from India’s large metros. Kota, for example, with a population of around one million, is one of the fastest emerging cities for both companies. Largely due to its student population. Ditto for Manipal, says Swiggy COO Vivek Sunder. Bengaluru-headquartered Swiggy has dominated the south since it began operations in 2014.

Smaller cities that actually have many youngsters who are digitally savvy are doing extremely well.

— VIVEK SUNDER, COO, SWIGGY

In his blog declaring the annual report for the year ended March 2019, Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal painted a similar picture: “…70% of our regular users in Kolhapur had never tried food delivery in their life (even over a phone call),” he wrote. Gurugram-based Zomato, which started deliveries in 2015, has always been king in the north.

With both companies fast expanding to cover every Indian city and town worth its salt in the country, it isn’t surprising that Goyal believes food delivery in India will overtake e-commerce soon. But as the tentacles of the two food tech juggernauts continue their unceasing reach, encroaching on each other’s turf is inevitable. Each has its own approach it believes will give it an edge. But who will upstage the other?

Thinning the field

Even as the Indian food delivery space expanded over the last half-decade, it has simultaneously consolidated. According to a 2016 Bloomberg report, more than 400 Indian food delivery apps started between 2013 and 2016.

AUTHOR

Pradip Kumar Saha

Pradip has been a journalist for close to 12 years. In his previous stint at financial newspaper Mint, which lasted over a decade, he switched to reporting from desk and wrote on a variety of subjects, including sports, food, whiskies and all things luxury. Born and raised in Patna, Pradip has a diploma in journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is interested in good stories across beats. When not pursuing a story, he divides his time between food, tea, whisky, watches, Ghalib and Gulzar, in no particular order. At The Ken he writes weekend features and also covers companies like Uber, OYO, Zomato and Delhivery.

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