Amid rising competition, Zomato, Swiggy play the differentiation game

Topics Food delivery | Zomato | Swiggy

The two big brands in the business, Zomato and Swiggy, are striking out in many directions. While Zomato is streaming videos (food-related shows) and building a sustainable framework for its operations, Swiggy has rolled out a pilot project for concierge services, offering to pick up everything from lost keys to groceries, for patrons.

Both Zomato and Swiggy are being propelled by the huge volumes that the apps now generate, not just in big towns but also the tier-2 and 3 cities, and the need to expand and differentiate their services. The danger, however, said experts, is that the rapid expansion into new services may mask an attempt to raise valuations, rather than build useful differentiators for the brands.

Swiggy says that all its brand extensions are yoked to consumer experience, be it the nature of the meals served or the additional services under its name. And encouraging them to go down this road is the growth the brand has amassed for itself. Vivek Sunder, COO, Swiggy said, in the last one year, Swiggy grew from 40 to 500 plus cities, its delivery partners grew 2x and transaction and restaurant numbers by 2.5x and 4x respectively. Its logistics operations helped take the brand deeper into the country, but to go wider, the brand needs value-added differentiators.

Swiggy has launched a service that caters to people living alone or ordering just for themselves, listing such restaurants and menus under a special format. It also has a cloud kitchen and other services that overlap with rival Zomato, but the concierge service that competes with Google’s Dunzo, called Swiggy Stores, is what separates it from Zomato. It picks up anything consumers want from anywhere they want, within city limits in select cities. 

Zomato, through its services and communication narratives through the year, has sought to build an aura around the name. It has set up a special platform for farm fresh vegetables, appealing thereby to young, urban households with their food ethic. 

It is also building up a content platform and an events portfolio—the food festival launched under Zomaland is in seven cities now. The company has also launched an initiative to collect used cooking oil from restaurants, process it and deliver it to biodiesel manufacturing facilities to ensure that it is not circulated back into the food chain. Nearly 130-150 tonnes are collected every month in Delhi NCR alone and it will be expanded to other cities, the company said.

Differentiating the brands is important, because despite the rising volumes, both have had to deal with pushback from partner restaurants and keep newcomers (UberEats and Ola Food) at bay. Zomato's spokesperson said that its monthly volume rose 40 million plus from 28 million last year. While volumes in the top cities doubled, other cities contributed around 35 per cent to its volumes. Zomato is in 550-plus cities, of which 400 were launched in 2019. The breakneck speed of expansion has attracted much attention and rumours of a deal with rival food delivery companies, but more importantly it has pushed the brand to separate its identity from the rest. 

Zomato said that in 2020, it will continue to focus on profitability, but look closely at opportunities within the larger purpose of ‘better food for more people’. 

"We believe that as we add more meal occasions and get smarter in personalising the experience for consumers, growth will continue," Sunder said. 

It is not going to be easy though. As newer ventures join the flock, margins and loyalties are going to be under pressure for the big two. 

For instance, Sandipan Mitra, co-founder and CEO HungerBox, an institutional B2B2C food-tech company says daily orders have tripled for him in the past year. The company plans to expand beyond corporates to other institutions, co-working spaces and food courts.  To do that, he will increasingly be encroaching on the ground that Zomato and Swiggy have pitched their tents in.

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