Zomato's 10-minute food delivery plan faces backlash in India

Food-delivery platform's chief executive Deepinder Goyal responds to concerns over 'Zomato Instant' plan

A Zomato delivery worker prepares to pick up an order from a restaurant in Mumbai, India. Reuters

Indian food-delivery major Zomato is facing a backlash on social media for its plans to introduce a 10-minute food service that critics say raises road-safety risks for delivery riders.

Chief executive Deepinder Goyal said in a post late on Monday the service "Zomato Instant" would rely on a densely located network of so-called food "finishing stations", which will house bestseller items from restaurants and use a sophisticated demand prediction algorithm.

"Nobody in the world has so far delivered hot and fresh food in under 10 minutes at scale," Mr Goyal wrote on LinkedIn and Twitter. "We were eager to be the first."

Within hours, Zomato's announcement sparked a flurry of responses. A politician questioned the business model while executives raised concerns about rider safety on Indian roads.

Zomato, which counts China's Ant Group as an investor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Many on social media urged a rethink, saying food can wait as even ambulances in India take longer to reach patients. Some on LinkedIn questioned the need for such a model.

"I don't want to eat food that someone has brought to me while keeping his life at risk," wrote Gunjan Rastogi, a researcher at India's RSB Insights & Analytics.

Karti P Chidambaram, an Indian politician, tweeted: "This is absurd! It's going to put undue pressure on the delivery personnel."

The Zomato chief's announcement started by saying: "We will start with a clarification ... we do not put any pressure on delivery partners."

After it failed to convince many, Mr Goyal issued another tweet on Tuesday stressing that delivery will be "safe" for riders who will face no penalties, urging people to understand the model "before the outrage".

"Quick commerce" grocery start-ups in India have been a rage with SoftBank-backed Blinkit and rival Zepto expanding rapidly. In January, Reuters reported that delivery bikers said they faced pressure to meet deadlines, which often led to speeding, for fear of being rebuked by store managers.

Critics say risks are too high on Indian roads. Even in cities, most roads are riddled with potholes and motorists violate basic rules. The World Bank says India has a death every four minutes on its roads and crashes kill about 150,000 people each year.

Nevertheless, many customers have been hooked to quick commerce grocery services to meet their instant shopping needs.

"I would be happy to get my food in 10 minutes," said one LinkedIn user.

Updated: March 22, 2022, 11:58 AM