Jan 19, 2016
At 33, Divya Shetty is a successful banker. After a nine-year long career in transaction banking, the Mumbai girl is now on a mission to deliver healthy lunch boxes to office-goers. Called 3SqrMeals, it is aimed at working professionals who are looking for wholesome and delicious food on a daily basis.
With a selection of gourmet dishes from across the world such as quinoa and couscous salad, pan seared tofu, broccoli soup, whole wheat kathi rolls and pastas, this could save office-goers from the trouble of ordering in from restaurants every day. But, can it sustain the competition in an industry that is booming with similar services?
Divya Shetty, founder of 3SqrMeals talks to us about the idea behind starting a healthy lunch delivery service, the challenges she faced and what lies ahead.
What made you quit your banking job?
As a kid, I loved accompanying my Mom to the local markets to source seafood and vegetables. Although my education steered me towards banking, my true calling was food.
What was the idea behind starting 3SqrMeals?
The idea was conceived during my time working in the corporate world after trying every single tiffin service provider in the market. Most of the services would not provide the customer any flexibility in terms of ordering. Or, any cancellations had to be confirmed the previous day. The worst thing was if the food tasted great, it did not match the health quotient and vice-versa.
The idea of 3SqrMeals came about to solve the problem that most working professionals face, and that is of organising good quality, tasty and healthy meals on a daily basis. We are looking at building a model where they can completely outsource their kitchen to a trusted entity and be stress free about nutrition, taste, quality and service. Currently we have started with lunches only and intend to extend to all three meals shortly.
How does the business model work?
3SqrMeals is primarily a subscription-based model. We offer meal plans for a week (5 meals), 2 weeks (10 meals) and a month (20 meals). Our website gives the customer the flexibility of buying a single meal too. The subscription plans are however discounted in comparison to the single meals. Our plans also give the user the choice to select their meals from our daily menus basis their availability and schedule.
After having tried our meals, most customers move to the subscription-based model. The subscription plans give users an extended validity period. For instance, the plan with 20 meals to be consumed in 45 days means you can space out the orders across 45 days enabling customers to avail of the discount.
At a time when the industry has several online food delivery services, how does 3SqrMeals stand out?
We have two unique concepts. First being that we cater to healthy meals with a great variety, and second is convenience. Moreover, our food is not particularly diet food. We ensure that the meals are balanced in terms of nutrition. We plan our menus in a way that we have low calorie meals, low carb, high protein-high fibre meals on a daily basis. Customers can take their pick from the dishes basis their requirements. As against other meal service providers, we offer the user complete flexibility. Our customer can buy a single meal or discounted bulk plans. Hence, we cater to the impulsive eater as well as the planned professional who prefers to go in for a set plan.
How do deliveries on the pre-order model work?
Yes, we do work on a pre-order basis in certain locations. Currently, we operate from a central kitchen in Mahim and extend our deliveries until Nariman Point. The deadline becomes critical to optimise operations and delivery costs, which is crucial for us to maintain the quality of our food, and yet provide it at reasonable prices so that users can afford it on a daily basis.
Tell us about the chef (s) or who runs the kitchen?
We run our own kitchen. Our executive chef, Chef Siddharth Chaphekar is responsible for complete operations. He comes with good experience and has worked in various star properties across Mumbai with his last and longest tenure at Four Seasons in Worli.
How do you plan the menu?
Health being our prime focus, the menus are planned to ensure balanced nutrition, less oil and cooking techniques that optimise nutrition. Other factors like seasonal ingredients, transit time, the weather etc. are all considered before planning the week’s menu. Our recipes are categorised into four broad categories – 1. Indian 2. International 3. Salads and 4. Soup-Sandwich combos. The categories have been planned keeping in mind most relevant dietary and nutrition requirements. Some of the international cuisines on offer are Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Cantonese, Italian and Japanese.
Did you face any challenges before and after setting shop?
The biggest challenge in the food industry remains staff, and I think this will continue to stay. Although we have now set up a core team for the kitchen and deliveries, as we continue to scale, we foresee sourcing the right staff and retention as our biggest challenges.
The competition is also intense. With offers and deals being thrown around by everybody, culling a market by commanding a price for quality is a slow and steady process. Delivery and logistics comes with its own set of issues.
What do you have to say about your competitors? Are they here to stay?
The food industry is extremely dynamic and we need to keep evolving to stay in business. We do not believe in the model of discounts and offers as we think are not a sustainable proposition especially in the food business. It may help bring in the initial customers, but sustenance requires a consistent and reliable service.
How does the future look for 3SqrMeals?
Our immediate focus is to revamp our website and launch our apps for Android and iOS. We are keen on enhancing the customer experience on our website in addition to the food and prompt service.
In terms of locations, we are looking at covering the western suburbs with an additional facility. Once we have set our footprint across the city, we will look at adding the number of meals during the day i.e breakfast and dinner.
The average price of a meal on 3SqrMeals range from Rs 180 to Rs 200. Check out their website for subscription plans and locations they deliver to.