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Broadening Sri Lanka’s culinary horizons while empowering its women

19 Oct 2019

  • Uber Eats celebrates one year in the island
  • Double-digit growth experienced
By Uwin Lugoda A Sri Lankan’s love for food is one of the many reasons the country’s food and beverage (F&B) industry is diverse and sees the rise of several restaurants each year. Given this strong “foodie” undertone, it makes sense that in October 2018, the world renowned ride-hailing company Uber decided to roll out its food delivery arm Uber Eats, to the Sri Lankan market. The app has a very simple mechanism, similar to that of Uber’s taxi-hailing service, in which consumers select food items they’d like delivered from a restaurant partnered with Uber Eats, after which the order is accepted by the restaurant partner, picked up by a delivery partner, and delivered to the consumer’s doorstep. Having celebrated its one-year anniversary in Sri Lanka earlier this month, Uber Eats is currently changing the landscape of Sri Lanka’s food scene, along with the lives of many of its delivery partners. According to Uber Eats Sri Lanka Head Bhavna Dadlani, the company is working tirelessly to add value to the Sri Lankan market, and empower its delivery partners from all walks of life. Dadlani stated that some of their delivery partners use the app as a way to fund their way through higher education or as an extra source of income. She explained that during its first year of operations, one of their main goals was to empower its female delivery partners who make up a smaller percentage than male delivery partners, as well as delivery partners form other marginalised communities. “We are able to give all our delivery partners opportunities on this platform that they otherwise would not have access to. It allows them to gain financial independence for themselves.” Diviyata Diriya According to Dadlani, the company is focusing on partnering with females and members of marginalised communities under the umbrella initiative of “Diviyata Diriya”. She went on to state that the initiative works with female delivery partners in focus groups and conducts discussion forums in order to understand what challenges they face in the workplace, so as to try and find solutions for those challenges. Dadlani stated that one issue they noticed was the need for sanitation solutions for female delivery partners while on the road, for which the company is currently partnering with several of the app’s restaurant partners in order to find a solution. She also stated that the company has started to teach martial arts to their female delivery partners in order to teach them self defence. “We are continually working with them to understand what their issues are in the workplace and towards coming up with solutions for them.” Dadlani pointed out that one of the biggest benefits of the app for female delivery partners is flexibility, as there are no specific work times. This allows delivery partners with other responsibilities, like single mothers, to earn flexibly when they want to and can, thereby enabling them to gain financial independence. “One of our female delivery partners on the platform managed to gain financial independence just a year after joining the platform. She managed to pay off three loans, and was even able to throw a birthday party for her mother who just turned 89.” Dadlani explained that the app not only provides opportunities for its delivery partners, but its restaurant partners as well. Progress in the Hill Capital Currently available in both Colombo and Kandy, she stated that restaurants from both markets have responded extremely positively during its first year of operations. She explained that compared to Colombo where most restaurant already knew about the app and its benefits, the company had to create a lot more awareness in Kandy and essentially build a market. However despite this, Dadlani stated that the app has seen a good double-digit growth rate in Kandy since its launch. This growth rate has allowed the company to expand further and introduce the app to areas like Peradeniya and Katugastota. She stated that in both Colombo and Kandy, the company has seen that the benefits the app provides its restaurant partners is vast, and has even gone on to help certain partners expand their restaurants and menus, as well as open new outlets. According to Dadlani, one of the biggest challenges faced in markets outside of Colombo is creating a market as they go along. However, the company has seen their initial steps positively impact their restaurant partners in the short to midterm, allowing them more opportunities, thereby opening more doors for the company as well. Behind the scenes She explained that despite their presence in all these locations and the numerous restaurant partners signed up with the app, the team on the ground helps them find localized solutions to any local problems that may occur. She attributes the team’s hard work and passion as the root of its success. “While geographically not stationed in Sri Lanka, we have constant access to the tech team, and our team is very passionate about what they do on a daily basis; helping find more solutions for our consumers and our partners, despite facing challenges given the scale of the app.” According to Dadlani, the app has 34 unique cuisines and has seen several big orders with the biggest order being valued at Rs. 51,000. The highest number of orders from one consumer is currently over 700 and the average number of cuisines tasted by a single consumer is two. The highest number of single-handed orders by one delivery partner is over 4,900. She also pointed out that the app has also showcased that the preferences of consumers differ from region to region, with consumers from Nugegoda preferring options different from ones in Wattala and Rajagiriya. “We see a lot of very interesting local market nuances across many different areas. For example, we’ve had a number of requests from restaurants to align their Uber Eats inaugurations with ‘nakath’, so that they launch at an auspicious time.” Speaking on the after-effects on the company of the tragic Easter Sunday attacks in April, Dadlani stated that the company primarily worked on getting all its delivery partners off the road, and shutdown operations up until authorities gave a green light to say that it was safe for their delivery partners get back on the road again. She explained that after restarting operations, the company focused on changing operations significantly in order to meet the needs of the market at the time. “The way we handled the marketplace around all three sides was very carefully, so we didn’t do too much when consumers weren’t ready for it. So by the time we started operations again, things had died down a little bit; we had messages going out to our consumers and restaurant partners just to highlight some processes, for example, we advised them to go outside to meet their delivery partner and make sure the boxes are sealed when leaving the restaurant or when the consumer receives it. These were put in place to help the marketplace recover.” Successful completion of one year Despite this setback, Dadlani stated that the response from all three segments of the market in the app’s first year has been good, with the service seeing double-digit growth since its launch. She explained that the company is very much for the current competitive environment as it ultimately improves the market place, resulting in a higher quality product for the consumers. Dadlani stated that the company is currently working on several features for the Sri Lankan market, including better filtering to make it easier for consumers to select exactly what they want in terms of cuisine, price, and dietary preference, as well as a scheduling option where customers can schedule deliveries from one week prior up until an hour before. “This will be perfect for people who work fulltime, because they can now schedule their meals without having to worry about what to order while at office.” Dadlani also stated the company is looking into cloud kitchens and virtual restaurants, in order to help drive the future landscape of food in Sri Lanka. She stated that this is something the company is hoping to see in 2020 and something restaurants seem excited by. In addition to all the new app features, Dadlani stated that they look forward to continuing their work with Diviyata Diriya, enabling female partners as well as members of marginalised communities by giving them access to economic opportunities. As for expanding to newer areas in Sri Lanka, Dadlani stated that while there are no specific cities they are targeting, expansion is in their plans for the future. “At the moment Colombo and Kandy are keeping us very busy, but we are very excited to keep expanding in Sri Lanka, because we see a lot of potential in the country overall.” PHOTO PRADEEP DAMBARAGE

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