OpScoop Issue 5: THE DABBAWALAS: Mumbai’s efficient supply chain model

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Amongst the billions of startups that the country has seen until now, The Mumbai Dabbawala has emerged as one of the most successful and sought out ventures. A Parsi banker wanted to have home-cooked food regularly in his office, and that is how the entire concept of Dabbawalas arose 125 years ago.

A dabbawala is a part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the morning, delivers them to the workplaces utilizing various modes of transport like bicycles, trains, etc, and then returns the empty boxes to the customers’ residences that afternoon. The journey of the Dabbawalas has been an intriguing and a fascinating one, where they have proved their mettle time and again.

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The Bombay Dabbawalas have been widely recognized as an outstanding example of excellence in logistics. The Dabbawalas are said to have a nearperfect delivery rate – one error in six million transactions, which is in fact better than six sigma, that allows 3.4 errors per 1 million transactions. This system of barefoot men, public transports and reusable containers has attained the level of efficiency that large corporates have not been able to, and companies globally are intrigued.

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The reason for this sustained efficiency is the simple and easily understandable logistics system followed by the Dabbawalas, wherein the working staff is aware of the gravity of the business leading to timely deliveries, and there is limited reliance on technology. Moreover, there is an integrated performance system, and therefore, the focus is on the entire system rather than the individual elements of the supply chain. The Bombay Dabbawala Operations (BDO) is a network of 5,000 Dabbawalas delivering 350,000 lunches every day to commuters across Mumbai. Recently, they had teamed up with KFC to announce the launch of KFC’s 5-in-one Meal Box, and had surprised their customers with these complimentary meal boxes, along with their ordinary meal. The Dabbawalas, due to their efficient supply chain methods, became a subject for the Harvard case study as well, to explain the management behind this efficiency, and excellent customer service.

The Mumbai Dabbawalas, because of their operational efficiency, have certainly created an impact in the minds of the people nationwide. Needless to say, they are here to stay.


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