Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias

Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
CEO of Hunger Box explains how cafeteria food will change once the lockdown and everyone is headed back to officeFlickr

  • The institutional food-tech company, HungerBox, is behind the cafeterias in most white-collar companies in India.
  • In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, co-founder and CEO Sandipan Mitra explains how digital cafeterias are now a necessity for companies to use — not just a vanity product.
  • He explains how going for lunch at some of the big wig companies is going to change as their new cafeteria management solution kicks into gear starting today, May 19.
If you’re wondering what going back to work is going to be like after the coronavirus lockdown lifts, food is probably not too far from your mind. HungerBox, an institutional food-tech company, caters to some of the biggest white-collar private sector employers in India is probably going to be the company behind some of the changes you may see in your cafeterias.

In an exclusive interview with Business Insider India, co-founder and CEO of HungerBox Sandipan Mitra explains how the company is helping some of the big wigs in the corporate world ensure that their cafeterias are COVID same and how menus are going to change.

“Ten out of 11 of India’s largest white-collar private sector employers are our clients today, In total, 126 of the largest corporates in India are our clients. Through them, we manage over 550 cafeterias across more than 20 cities,” he said.
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Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
Co-founder and CEO of HungerBox, Sandipan MitraHungerBox

During the lockdown, HungerBox has seen a 50% increase in clients — with higher demand for small and mid-sized companies. “This is now a necessity, not just a vanity platform. Not just in the corporate world but food courts and malls — we are even in discussion with movie theatres,” said Mitra. He said that HungerBox is 3.5 times larger than their closet competitors, like Zomato Food at Work or GoKhaana.

Going for lunch in the post-COVID world
There are three main differences that employees are going to have to face as they trickle back into offices. The first is that cafeterias are going to use a shift system to ensure social distancing and avoid overcrowding. “We build AI and ML algorithms on our platform that ensure that — say like if say a cafeteria has 500 seats — at any given point of time, only 250 will be accessible,” said Mitra.

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Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
Times Internet food courtTimes Internet

Everyone will be allocated at a particular time. Only once you leave will your colleague get entry. “So at no point of time, is there more than 250 people in the cafeteria,” he added.

The second difference will be in the food items. “The entire food palette is undergoing a revamp, all these immunity-enhancing items will be available in the cafes,” said Mitra. The team at HungerBox looked at the Aarogya Setu App and took inputs from other stakeholders, which listed out all the immunity enhancing food items. “Ironically, it indicated all the traditional food items — like turmeric and jeera,” he said.

And, if you’re one of the people who orders food directly to your desk, expect the food to be a little less messy. “Parallelly, desk delivery is something that has picked up where food is delivered to your cubicle. So what is delivered at the cubicle, cannot have a lot of gravy, cannot have a lot of liquid items. So we had to change the menus to more drier items,” Mitra explained.
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Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
Food Court at TCSTCS cafeteria confessions/Facebook

The last, and probably one of the most important changes, is that paying with cash will no longer be an option. “There are 3.2 lakh currency notes that are exchanged at a cafeteria — a midsize cafeteria — in a month. We have tied up with all contactless payment methods, put it on the app so all employees can pay for the food without using cash. We said that we will not have any more cash transactions,” said Mitra.

How do you know that your food is “COVID safe”?
HungerBox claims that they were listing out some of the main vulnerabilities in the system two days into the lockdown. Their entire management suite, from start to finish, is aimed at ensuring that the food is prepared in a safe manner, delivered at the right temperatures, and remains contactless on its journey from where it was made till when it reaches your platter.

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Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
Food Court at WiproWikimedia

“We built an entire product suite where the guys have to upload time-stamped photographs wearing their mask, hand gloves and headgear during the preparation of food and that they wash their hands every half an hour,” explained Mitra. All of it will be uploaded to ensure that there is evidence to back up the claims, so that the administration and the employees don’t have to depend on hearsay.

But, won’t most of the people still be working from home?
Work-from-home isn’t a new concept, it’s just a necessity of the lockdown. According to Mitra, the end result won’t be more than 10% of employees continuing to work from home once the lockdown lifts — even if some are looking to employ the 50/50 or 25/25 work model.

Turmeric and jeera highlight office lunches in the post-COVID world⁠— spicy details from the caterer to some of India’s biggest corporate cafeterias
Infosys food courtWikimedia

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“In our projections to our board is that we have assumed that there are going to be 10% people who would permanently not come back due to more flexible work from home opportunities,” he said.

Even if there’s 20% attrition in the market, Mitra claims that HungerBox will more than make up for it with its client growth, the platform becoming more relevant and margin will widen.

HungerBox is the second venture for Mitra after Just Eat India. Even before Swiggy and Zomato were in the online food delivery system, Just Eat India was already swarming the space. When the smartphone market exploded in 2012, Just Eat India was at its peak. Come April 2015, the platform was sold to FoodPanda in an all-cash transaction. From B2C, Mitra decided to go into the B2B space because he through the institution's food space needed to be redone and evolve through the use of deep technology. That’s when he launched HungerBox in 2016.

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