'Changing food habits hit Mumbai dabbawalas biz'

PTI Tiruchi | Updated on October 19, 2011

Craze for fast food and growing trend among the youngsters to eat out have led to near stagnation in the customer base of famed Mumbai dabbawalas, who deliver lunch boxes to over two lakh Mumbaikars every day, according to a management consultant.

“In recent years, there had been no significant increase in the customer base of the 120-year-old business as the new entrants to the country’s commercial capital have different tastes and perception of food habits,” Mr Pawan G. Agrawal, President of Mumbai Dabbawala Education Centre, said.

He attributes the trend to the change in food habits, especially among youngsters who prefer fast food and snacks than homemade lunch, which resulted in mass exodus of Mumbaikars to other cities across the country and overseas.

Besides, in-house eateries and restaurants established by large corporates and factories have also contributed to the stagnation in the growth of clients for the dabbawalas, known as the masters of supply chain management for their precision work in reaching the food in time to office-goers.

However, their loyal customer base continues with over two lakh customers served by 5,000 plus dabbawalas, whose average literacy rate is only eighth grade, Mr Agrawal told PTI during a visit here recently.

“The main reason for the success in maintaining 99.99 per cent accuracy was the inculcation of service motive than claiming labour rights,” Mr Agrawal, who has made extensive research on the working of the dabbawalas, said.

In its 120 years of service, the ‘dabba’ business have neither witnessed a single day strike nor closure of activities be it heavy rains or when terror struck the city, sans the only time when they struck work expressing solidarity with Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in August.

Over 25 per cent of the dabbawalas are uneducated but still do not make any slip in their efficiency, which has earned them praise from the likes of Prince Charles.

“They are teetotallers and most of them do not smoke or consume non-vegetarian food. Most of them have recently evinced interest to learn other languages and even want to become computer literates,” Mr Agrawal said.

Interacting with participants at a B-school function organised by the local chapter of CII, Mr Agrawal also credited the excellent suburban railway network in Mumbai to the success of dabbawalas in seamless transportation of the lunch boxes criss-crossing 75-80 km every day in just three hours.

“The scheme of lunch box distribution and return of empty boxes accurately before evening cannot be replicated in other cities,” he said.

Published on October 19, 2011

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