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Healthy-Meal Subscriptions: Indian Market Edition Meal subscription platforms regularly cater to your health-conscious dietary needs at an affordable price. Users, in a standard course of action, are required to select the meal time (break-fast, lunch, snack, or dinner) and the subscription duration after availing of a free trial.

By Paromita Gupta

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Subscriptions. The term typically brings a Netflix-type pop-up to one's mind. However, it's bigger than that. Subscription-based business models are a successful tried-and-tested thing of the west but are still a relatively newer concept in India. One form of subscription model sprouting in India is the healthy-meal subscription.

Meal subscription platforms regularly cater to your health-conscious dietary needs at an affordable price. Users, in a standard course of action, are required to select the meal time (break-fast, lunch, snack, or dinner) and the subscription duration after availing of a free trial. Apollo Research Report, in its industry report titled 'The Exponential Growth in Meal Kit Subscription Market' shared that the healthy-meal subscription market is valued at $3,732.8 million in 2022 and is expected to touch $13,757.7 million by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 14%.

Startups in meal subscription segment include Growfit, Eatfit, Ripsey, Kwik Foods, Happafoods, Nutriobox, Sprink, Activeat, Instadiet, Soupx, Foodlynn, Hello Green, Wishmeal, Foodhotline, OJO Life>,YOOL, Yumtum, Saladking, Dietshala, Nutridockfit, Fitmeal, Ghar Ki Yaad, Chef's Boutique, SUFIT, and Send My Tiffin (the list is non-exhaustive via Tracxn).

The Untapped Opportunity

As per Tracxn, a market intelligence platform, there are 25 startups in the meal subscription segment. Price and time are the biggest points why someone should opt for meal subscriptions. The biggest advantage meal subscription startups have over cloud kitchens and food aggregators is the pricing of their packages and deals. Since such platforms utilise every resource available, they try not to pressurise consumer pockets. For instance, since aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato receive orders on request and need to deliver them in a stipulated period, they follow a one-rider-one order system. And the consumer ends up paying INR 30-70 more for the delivery charges. Whereas startups such as Sprink, a Bangalore-based venture, work on an efficient model where one rider is required to make a good number of deliveries, such as 50-100.

Furthermore, since it offers a fixed menu for its users, the meal subscription model can work around its sourcing needs and meal preparations. Rather than 100 dishes being prepared in small quantities, they prepare one fixed meal for a large number. Kumar Setu, co-founder of Sprink, emphasises that the higher the price point, the lower the market will be. "Talking about (target customers) transient population and working young singles who primarily earn thirty thousand and above a month, affordability is a key ingredient for them. If you go to Swiggy and Zomato, even if the food is priced at INR 120-130, additional sales tax is 15-20 rupees, delivery charges of INR 40-50, and packaging charges of INR 15-20, so you end up paying INR 180-200 rupees for every meal. There is no way they can get rid of these costs," shares Setu. What a customer pays for a meal subscription includes all such costing at an affordable rate. Sprink is catering to 10,000 meals a day in the city and plans to expand its operations to other cities in the coming months. According to Setu, the startup's 30-day subscription is opted for by 60 per cent of its customers. Meal subscriptions are primarily targeted towards individuals who want to avoid engaging in cooking regularly.

Time is the biggest advantage as individuals who work in a 9 to 5 job want to avoid being engaged in cooking activities. That's the last add-on they need for their stress levels. This was what led Cyrus Driver to co-establish Calorie Care, a 2005 calorie-counted meal subscription entity. While working at a private equity firm in Singapore, Cyrus sought healthy food options, but all went in vain. "For someone who's a working professional, they need to eat healthy meals daily. We design calorie-counted meals with the help of dieticians and chefs so that if someone is looking for a low-calorie meal or a high-protein meal, they can choose from the options which we offer," shares Kalpana Gupta, co-director and a founding member of Calorie Care. While the company grew through word of mouth, the founders, Cyrus and Parinaz Driver, have moved on from the brand. Meal subscriptions are mostly sought after for their calorie specifications. What differentiates between other traditional options and this segment is that meals here are curated and personalised based on your requirements. They are wholesome, diet oriented and freshly cooked. While all meal subscription packages, by default, come as a much healthier alternative, some startups like FoodDarzee let their customers choose a diet type (Keto, vegan, low carb, or balanced). Ankit Nagori, while building realised that just physical fitness was not enough; however, there was a lag in providing customers with healthier food options. When he could not secure a good provider to scale the idea, Nagori decided to take matters into his own hands, and that's how Curefoods and, eventually, EatFit happened. EatFit is a platform to provide healthy meal subscription options to customers and is the anchor brand under Curefoods. "Amongst all the products and categories that we do at Curefoods, we garner the largest share of the revenue from EatFit. Our biggest strength is the range that we offer. If someone must outsource their food completely through a subscription program from a food brand daily, they are looking for a lot of variety and different stock keeping units while keeping their food, nutrition, and health goal intact, and that is precisely what EatFit offers," he shares.

The Lingering Hurdles

The system of subscription-based models is the backbone of direct to consumer meal startups. However, while players in the segment are trying to find a balanced approach through permutation and combination, the Indian public, at large, is wary of it. The four main challenges faced by the segment are funding, food inflation, geographical limitation, and consumer scepticism. Tibrewala's one of the two tried subscription start-ups entered an indefinite break in late 2021. As per reports and data consolidated, only a handful of players are funded. Play-ers such as EatFit, Calorie Care, Growfit, and Sprink have raised funds one way or another. But why is there a lack of funding in the segment? The answer is past events and preconceived notions. "Foodtech comes with its own baggage. Back in 2015, it was a very glorious space, just like edtech and fin-tech like now. And lots of large venture capitalists invested in close to 50-100 startups at that time which went bust due to flawed business models," Setu adds.

Since the segment operates in a challenging model rather than a traditional one, the biggest concern is to have a tech-leveraged right business model. Pricing, logistics, timing, and tech-oriented backend need to align in order to bag funds, which the majority are struggling with. The 2018 founded, Ripsey, a food tech platform, moved its business model away from meal subscriptions in 2020. As prices of things rise during inflation, food produces are not privy to it. Nagori shares that the biggest challenge in operating in the segment is food inflation. "We are facing a big challenge with the food inflation for the last three quarters. The food inflation has been extremely high, which has made it difficult for us to keep the cost and price points intact," he adds. Furthermore, he adds that "very few people in the industry have built the functional technology required for operating a meal subscription model. Building such tech is expensive and needs dedicated resources to build it.

With the financial and other constraints of companies, it is difficult for them to upscale their operations to adhere to this model. Investors may not find it worth to invest in a company if the technology is not already built. It is a vicious circle."The majority of meal subscription startups are based out or operate in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, etc. Is the concept of meal subscription only limited to tier 1 cities and towns? From a long-term perspective, no. Pranay Jham, the founder of ACTIVeat, a Mumbai operating startup, believes that the idea of entering tier 2 and tier 3 cities and towns will take a while for the segment. "To be honest, we'll have to enter with slightly lower price points. But the market is quite big, and things are catching up. It's evolving," he adds. Setu further believes that the target consumers of Sprink are expanding to over 60 years of citizens as well and that a large population of this category resides in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, opening a scope of expansion.

However, a major hesitation stems from the lack of a public favourite payment model of cash on delivery. The subscription models by large, work on the usage of credit cards in the west. The traditional way of seeking a known expert for dietary advice might be the preferred choice for many. After entering the world of a healthy lifestyle and gyming a year ago, Delhi-based Mayank Tyagi finds it hesitant to opt for online meal subscriptions, even if they align with his diet requirements. "I would prefer going to my known local dietician. Social media and online modes have a few barriers; you would need a person-to-person conversation to understand the diet requirements," Tyagi shares.

Road Ahead

The subscription market is a challenging one to exist in, since people do not wish to commit to some-thing for a long time, but it's changing. People are now more open to subscription offerings, especially when it comes to food and health. Furthermore, such subscriptions are targeted towards endorsing and facilitating a healthy lifestyle, but are people willing to give it a try? Khushboo Jain Tibrewala, nutritionist, diabetes educator and fellow meal subscription user, feels such offerings need to be tried based on their hygiene factor and the health goal they can fulfil. "When done right, getting meals delivered can give you tremendous results. These results can go beyond weight loss or physical transformations. The right service can help you reverse and prevent lifestyle disorders too. I have done some work with two such meal delivery services in the past and in both places the results were absolutely fantastic. We saw multiple people being able to lower their HbA1c levels, reduce cholesterol, and uric acid, improve gut health, improve menstrual health and much more," Tibrewala shares. The segment shows great promise compared to other industries' D2C subscription offerings but certainly needs to overcome the existing impediments in the space.

Paromita Gupta

Features Writer with Entrepreneur India

Covering news and trends in AI and Metaverse segments. An avid book reader running her personal blog on the side. You may reach me at 
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