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Regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Salad days on the Net

Want some wholegrain snacks, mixed vegetable juices or fruit salad sandwiches? Click, and a healthy meal will be delivered on your doorstep, reports Kavitha Shanmugam

TT Bureau Published 21.06.15, 12:00 AM

He misses his mother's Mangalorean fish curry the most, living away from his home in Mumbai. But the next best thing for Kartik Shetty, who works in a sports company in Bangalore, is the dinner he gets from an online meal provider.

It is different from the oily, spicy food he orders in the afternoon in his office from a dabbawala. The site, nutritown.com, offers him "nutritionist endorsed" planned meals.

He gets the menu on WhatsApp a day before. For Rs 150, he can get a meal of carrot roti, spinach dal, chicken with greens, cauliflower and peas, a watermelon salad and a high fibre drink such as a carrot and beetroot watermelon mix.

"It is value for money," Shetty says.

For a while, food ordering and delivery apps and sites - such as foodpanda, tinyowl, freshmenu, swiggy.com and faasos - have been active in the e-commerce space, attracting, according to Chennai-based Venture Intelligence, funding worth $35 million. But these are largely restaurant aggregators or sites who list the restaurants they have tie-ups with and deliver their food for them in return for a percentage of the sales.

In recent times, a new segment has come up - and offers what can be called nutritious food - fibre rich, protein packed, calorie counted, low carb, gluten free and so on - to clients.

Among them are iTiffin.in, freshpressery.com, caloriecare.com, soulcare.com and cyberchef.com. They work mostly on a subscription model (you sign in on a weekly or monthly basis) and deliver all kinds of food and cuisines.

For instance, Pune-based restaurant Stew Art, which offers broths from the Hungarian goulash and Moroccan stew to Mangalorean coconut stew, has tied up with foodromeo.com to get their stews delivered to any Pune home or office.

Or take iTiffin.in, triggered by cricketer Robin Uthappa's request for a specially designed fitness meal, which offers curated "balanced diet" meals.

"We are growing rapidly, as more and more people migrate to bigger cities. Technology is helping to capture the market for us," says iTiffin CEO and co-founder Tapan Kumar Das, who earlier worked with a nutrition company.

Eat well: (From left) Stuffed chicken, quinoa salad, cajun chicken and a machine for counting calories

Its Munch Box consists of snacks such as ragi sweets and millet savouries. Lunch box menus - with south Indian, north Indian or continental food - specify the fat, protein, calorie and vitamin content.

Itiffin, which works on a weekly or monthly subscription basis, caters to 1,500 customers in Bangalore alone, Das says. Food is cooked at a central kitchen by 15 cooks and distributed from five centres. The company, he adds, earns Rs 50 lakh a month, raking in a 20 per cent profit.

Clearly, enterprising people are cashing in on the metro Indian's growing obsession with "eating right". These online food sites have nutritionists on board as consultants and offer meals to fight weight management, diabetes, calcium deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases and geriatric-friendly meals.

According to Tracxn, which tracks online companies, there are 150 online food tech companies operating with different models. Of them, 50 or so are online health food start-ups which are referred as Internet-first food restaurants.

Some focus on purely health drinks. Bangalore-based freshpressery.com offers a vegetable and fruit "detox" juice for customers, along with instructions on when they should be drunk, and how.

"The juices are different and have been created with the help of two nutritionists," says Rishaad Vazir Ally, CEO and co-founder of this site. For example, the 9am Green Flush is prepared with bottle gourd, cucumber, celery, ginger, spinach and lemon, while the 9.30pm one is a blend of almond, vanilla, honey, cinnamon, sea salt and filtered water.

Ally adds that the company seeks to give customers the nutrition they lack. "It is for people who have a weight or a hyperthyroid problem or are deficient in vitamins. Or it could be for a person who needs a shot of protein or sugar at the end of the day."

Started a year ago, it is now available only in Bangalore (with 5,000 regular clients) but will start operating in Chennai shortly, he adds.

With the help of 100 chefs across four cities, faasos, a food ordering app, has started delivering calorie-specific lunches, low salt diets and health salads on their site. Its scrumptious breakfast - comprising parathas, poha, eggs and sausages, and flavoured muesli, available in Bangalore, Delhi and Gurgaon for Rs 150-200 - has turned out to be a game changer for them.

"We saw a surge in our customers after the introduction of the breakfast. People in metros don't have the time to make breakfasts and it is an important meal," says Revant Bhate, co-founder and head of marketing, faasos.

It is not just the busy executive who tap these apps and sites. The companies say their clients include people who are tired of rich restaurant food. That is what prompted the founders of cyberchef.com in Gurgaon to sign up 45 homemakers known for their cooking skills.

"We describe ourselves as a marketplace to connect home chefs with hungry diners," says the site's founder and CEO Neha Puri. The women, she points out, have recipes passed down through the generations, and come up with delicious and healthy dishes such as cheese salads and paneer stuffed chilla cooked with low oil.

Some of the sites seek to educate their clients, too. Food website caloriecare.com in Mumbai, which started in 2009, slips in health notes in lunch boxes. Catering to executives with demanding schedules, it designs a meal plan specific to their requirements.

"The calorie-counted meals are designed by our team of chefs and nutritionists," says its director, Sujay Naik, who adds that it serves 1,200 meals a day across Mumbai. They charge Rs 185-350 per meal or Rs 450 for a three-meal deal. Their fruit salad sandwich is most popular, Naik adds.

Bangalore-based nutritown.com also gives tips to customers on healthy food.

"It is not enough to count the calories, you should know the source of your calories and its impact on your metabolism," says engineer-turned-entrepreneur Kushal Sharma, who set up nutritown.com in July 2014. "We don't use fried items, use soya chunks for higher protein and add a sabzi with fibre if the meal lacks it. And we send a sprouts or some other salad with all our meals." His green pea twister - with green tea extracts, lime and ginger - is a big hit.

But not everybody believes that this the way to health. Dr Ritika Kalra, naturopath and nutritionist at Qua Nutrition in Bangalore, warns against short-term dramatic diets without expert advice.

"You need to modify your lifestyle first, that is the way to go. Bounce back weight from detox diets can be dangerous for one's health, for example," she says.

Swati (name changed) - who read about a juice diet and ordered some - would agree. "They did not interview me but sent me an email about what to avoid and the risks involved." They had recommended a small lunch, and Swati had a small homemade pizza in between juices, but ended up with a splitting headache and vomiting. "It might have been my mistake but you have to be careful before getting into these liquid diets," she says.

But the figures show that not many are complaining. For most people, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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