[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Ex-Paytm Director Prerna Kalra’s visit to China changed her outlook on home-cooked meals

Prerna Kalra’s busy schedule meant it was a constant challenge to bring home cooked meals to work every day.

“I barely had time to prepare breakfast or lunch and wanted to eat fresh, homemade food. Food delivery was just getting tedious, expensive, and just didn’t fit my schedule between meetings, ”she says.

During one of her working visits to China, she came across vending machines that dispense almost all types of fresh food – from fruit to momos and more.

Upon her return, she and Vidya Bhushan, her colleague from Paytm, went into research mode to see if the idea of ​​setting up food kiosks in India was feasible. She found that even with over 3,500 home services in 2017, getting food into the home was not easy.

Daalchini co-founder Prerna Kalra knew from the start that providing fresh food from an unmanned kiosk would be a technology intensive and operational endeavor.

An inspired Prerna, with Vidya, began Daalchini Technologies in August 2017. The Delhi-based startup offers instant, affordable and healthy home-cooked meals to professionals through its IoT-enabled phygital vending machines (physical and digital).

The need for solid service was clearly there – and this is what Daalchini wanted to exploit.

“There were several reasons for this. The logistics infrastructure of tiffin services was not in place to meet high demand. The lack of affordable distribution channels doubles the final cost to the consumer. Customers are willing to pay this additional cost for restaurant food, but are unwilling to pay for home-cooked meals that meet their daily nutritional needs, ”said Prerna.

She explains that there was a variance of Rs 40 on each delivery cost and a delivery time of 40 minutes, which was not acceptable to customers.

Starting with two smart vending machines in April 2018 in Delhi-NCR, the foodtech startup has now installed over 140 machines in offices, hospitals, hostels, and more, to instantly deliver healthy and affordable homemade food.

Since its inception, DaalChini has experienced a steady increase in the number of orders per month. In 2019, the start was 7,000 orders per day and saw growth of over 15% month-over-month.

The impact of the pandemic

In March 2020, the team was considering further geographic expansion when the pandemic struck.

“In the beginning it was about determining survival and thinking about how we might grow our business. We started our business in April 2018 after developing the product for about six months. We went from two kiosks to 50 in FY19, and from 50 to 200 in FY20. That’s when the pandemic hit the country and we had to go from 77% in corporate offices to a much wider range of hospitals, manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies, transit options. like taxis / buses and residential complexes.

“In the fourth quarter of fiscal 21, we went from 200 to 310 and now to over 510 kiosks by expanding the reach of our solution and registering Rs 3 crore + GMV. As we grow, we should be able to achieve a monthly turnover rate of Rs 12 crore by the end of fiscal year 22. “

Daalchini was able to achieve this growth by convert its 90 pantries at the Reliance Industries factory in Jamnagar into digital contactless kiosks. These are 100% cashless, app-based and contactless.

The company recently outlined its plans to increase the number of vending machines from 400 to 600, in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Chandigarh, Mohali, etc.

It also creates a sub-99 food store to enable brands of all food and beverage categories (frozen, chilled, meal kits, snacks, bakery, immune boosters, healthy / energy drinks, yogurts, etc. ) to reach their target customers and help them evolve rapidly in several geographies.

“When the pandemic struck, the first order of business was to see how our team was doing. We kept working to make sure they stay safe and have no issues. The health and safety of the team has been a priority for us, ”says Prerna.

Daalchini co-founder Prerna Kalra says hard work and resilience always pays off.

Focus on homemade meals

A typical day for home chefs working with Daalchini starts around 3 a.m. They prepare fresh food daily with prescribed recipes and ingredients and make sure it meets food safety standards.

The food is then refrigerated, packaged and transported to the respective kiosks by the distribution force through bicycles and vans. Daalchini Quick Bites are priced at Rs 34 and meal combos cost up to Rs 79. Other packaged snacks and drinks are between Rs 10 and Rs 99. The average order value is around Rs 29. .

Prerna knew when she first started that offering fresh food from an unmanned kiosk would be a technology intensive and operational business.

“As we (Vidya and I) both came from product, technology and operational background, we knew we would need someone to bring food expertise to our end,” said Prerna The team roped people with that expertise to start.

Daalchini provides professionals with instant, affordable and healthy home-cooked meals through its IoT-enabled vending machines.

Daalchini was started with funding from the two founders. He has so far raised Rs 11 crore over the past two years from Micro-VC Artha Venture Fund and a few well-known angel investors like Ajay Kaul (former CEO, Dominos India), Renu Satti (VP, Paytm and former CEO, Paytm Bank), Pradyumna Agarwal (Director, Temasek) and Amit Lakhotia (CEO, Park +) and a few others.

“As we adapt to the pandemic, we plan to raise new funds to expand our solution beyond 10 cities and the form factor to more use cases,” Prerna said. She adds that physical retail remains strong in India, and Daalchini “wants to be a big part of that growth.”

Today, despite the pandemic, Prerna says the team and the company are working on a high growth trajectory.

Counseling women, Prerna says, “Hard work always pays off. Whether you are funded or not, whether you are in the media or not, hard work and resilience always works. These things have always worked for me.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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