You are on page 1of 8


The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (NMTBSA) is a streamlined 120 year old organisation with 5000 semi-literate members providing a quality door to door service to a large and loyal customer base. It was started by Mahadeo Havaji Bacche, a migrant from north Maharastra in the year 1890, the service was started with 100 dabbawalas, It was registered as charitable trust in the year 1956. A dabbawala is a person in India, most commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is collecting the freshly cooked food in lunch boxes from the residences of the office workers, delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning the empty boxes to the customer‟s residence by using various modes of transport. Instead of going home for lunch or paying for a meal in a café, many office workers have a cooked meal sent by a caterer who delivers it to them as well, essentially cooking and delivering the meal in lunch boxes and then having the lunch boxes collected and re-sent the next day. This is usually done for a monthly fee. The meal is cooked in the morning and sent in lunch boxes carried by dabbawalas, who have a complex association and hierarchy across the city. A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects tiffin from homes or, more often, from the dabba makers (who actually cook the food). The dabbas have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a color or symbol (most dabbawalas are illiterate). The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains, with markings to identify the destination of the box (usually there is a designated car for the boxes). The markings include the rail station to unload the boxes and the building address where the box has to be delivered. At each station, boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala, who delivers them. The empty boxes, after lunch, are again collected and sent back to the respective houses.

Team work
The entire system depends on teamwork and meticulous timing. Tiffins are collected from homes between 7.00 am and 9.00 am, and taken to the nearest railway station. At various intermediary stations, they are hauled onto platforms and sorted out for area-wise distribution, so that a single tiffin could change hands three to four times in the course of its daily journey. At Mumbai's downtown stations, the last link in the chain, a final relay of dabbawalas fan out to the tiffin's destined bellies. Lunch hour over, the whole process moves into reverse and the tiffins return to suburban homes by 6.00 pm. In a way, MTBSA's system is like the Internet. The Internet relies on a concept called packet switching. In packet switched networks, voice or data files are sliced into tiny sachets, each with its own coded address which directs its routing. These packets are then ferried in bursts, independent of other packets and possibly taking different routes, across the country or the world, and re-assembled at their destination. Packet switching maximises network density, but there is a downside: your packets intermingle with other packets and if the network is overburdened, packets can collide with others, even get misdirected or lost in cyberspace, and almost certainly not arrive on time.

Coding System
Most of the dabbawalas have migrated from villages to Mumbai in search of jobs. Due to economic hardship or lack of interest a majority of them have been educated up to primary school level. Hence, the dabbawala delivery system has adapted the coding system accordingly. Instead of technological solutions, the coding system is based on the exchanges of dabbas between dabbawalas. The system uses unique codes for the railway stations, origin/destination points and identity of the dabbawalas handling each dabba. For this, signs, different colours, numbers and a few letters are used and same is clearly marked on each dabba. The codification system ensures complete traceability of lunch boxes in the system. It enables material flow and tracking of individual boxes by detailed information which integrates the

knowledge and information of individual dabbawalas on route, origin, handling agent, destination address, etc. The “address” of the customer is painted on the top by the dabbawalas. The home address is not marked since the dabbawala knows by heart to which places in his collecting area he has to pick up his dabbas. If a new customer appears in his own collecting area, he will do the complete journey to check the address of delivery in order to fix with the other dabbawalas in which manner it will be then delivered. He will have to find , who on the way, will have a free place in his freight to take one more tiffin box up to which place, and so on up to the very place of delivery. Once the chain has been established, with all the necessary stops for exchange decided, it is possible to mark the address.

Economic analysis
Each customer of the dabbawala system is charged between Rs. 400 to Rs. 700 per tiffin per month for the service depending on customer requirements, transport distances and economic condition of the customer. Customised offerings (larger lunch box, special diet requirements, etc.) are charged separately. The customer only needs to invest upfront, a token sum to purchase the tiffin box to store the meals. Further negotiation of the price and collection timings will be done between the customer and team leader. Generally, lower income customers are charged lesser than others. It is up to the team leader to decide on the final rates based on his judgement and consideration of the economic status of the customer. The main cost items are wages, rail passes and rail freight charges. The members use the rail network which charges Rs. 100 per crate and Rs. 180 per member per month. Each member is paid a reasonable compensation of between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 7,000 per month net wages after meeting all expenses like railway monthly passes and capital costs incurred for purchase of carts, crates and bicycles. The exact wages for each dabbawala varies according to the total customers serviced, services provided and total origin-destination distance. There are no large investments in the services of the dabbawala delivery system, since it is primarily a labour intensive service. When a member is recruited he is obliged to buy his own uniform and purchase a bicycle for himself New recruits are initially hired on a salary. After evaluating their performance they are offered membership (shareholders) of the trust and assigned to one of the groups by the member who introduced him to the group. Each dabbawala is guaranteed a monthly income and employment for life. As there is no retirement age, he may work as long as he is

physically fit. Each team is financially independent and serves its own customers without hampering the interests of the others, but work together in the delivery process. Each member pays Rs. 15 per month as contribution to the welfare fund which acts as an insurance cover. The association provides various services to its members from this welfare fund, including loan facilities for emergencies, education expenses for members‟ children, health care, etc. The balance of the savings goes to a charitable trust. Other sources of revenue come from marketing. Realising the large customer base to which the dabbawalas are in direct contact with, a number of business enterprises use the dabbawalas to market their products and services by sending flyers to the end customers through the dabbawalas. Donations from philanthropic institutions and fees received from public speaking and presentations also constitute other revenue sources.

Elegant logistics
In the dabbawalas' elegant logistics system, using 25 kms of public transport, 10 km of footwork and involving multiple transfer points, mistakes rarely happen. According to a Forbes 1998 article, one mistake for every eight million deliveries is the norm. How do they achieve virtual six-sigma quality with zero documentation? For one, the system limits the routing and sorting to a few central points. Secondly, a simple color code determines not only packet routing but packet prioritising as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot. MTBSA is a remarkably flat organisation with just three tiers: the governing council (president, vice president, general secretary, treasurer and nine directors), the mukadams and the dabbawalas. Its first office was at Grant Road. Today it has offices near most railway stations. Here nobody is an employer and none are employees. Each dabbawala considers himself a shareholder and entrepreneur. Each group is financially independent but coordinates with others for deliveries: the service could not exist otherwise. The process is competitive at the customers' end and united at the delivery end. Each group is also responsible for day-to-day functioning. And, more important, there is no organisational structure, managerial layers or explicit control mechanisms. The rationale behind the business model is to push internal competitiveness, which means that the four Vile Parle groups vie with each other to acquire new customers.

Building a clientele
The range of customers includes students (both college and school), entrepreneurs of small businesses, managers, especially bank staff, and mill workers. They generally tend to be middle-class citizens who, for reasons of economy, hygiene, caste and dietary restrictions or simply because they prefer whole-some food from their kitchen, rely on the dabbawala to deliver a home cooked mid-day meal. New customers are generally acquired through referrals. Some are solicited by dabbawalas on railway platforms. Addresses are passed on to the dabbawala operating in the specific area, who then visits the customer to finalize arrangements. Today customers can also log onto the website to access the service. Typically, a twenty member group has 675 customers and earns Rs 100,000 per month which is divided equally even if one dabbawala has 40 customers while another has 30. Groups compete with each other, but members within a group do not. It's common sense, points out one dabbawala. Meetings are held in the office on the 15th of every month at the Dadar. During these meetings, particular emphasis is paid to customer service. If a tiffin is lost or stolen, an investigation is promptly instituted. Customers are allowed to deduct costs from any dabbawala found guilty of such a charge. If a customer complains of poor service, the association can shift the customer's account to another dabbawala. No dabbawala is allowed to undercut another.

Uninterrupted services
The service is uninterrupted even on the days of extreme weather, such as Mumbai's characteristic monsoons. The local dabbawalas at the receiving and the sending ends are known to the customers personally, so that there is no question of lack of trust. Also, they are well accustomed to the local areas they cater to, which allows them to access any destination with ease. Occasionally, people communicate between home and work by putting messages on chits inside the boxes. Of course, this was before the telecommunications revolution.

PORTERS FIVE FORCE THEORY   Network New entrant Competition: Its difficult to replicate their supply chain ts: Fast food joints as well as office canteens. However, since neither of these serve home food, the dabbawallas' core offering remains unchallenged    Bargaining power of buyers: Delivery rates are so nominal (about Rs 300 per month) that one simply wouldn't bargain any further. Bargaining power of sellers: minimum infrastructure and practically no technology is used, hence they are not dependent on suppliers. Threat of a new substitute product or service: No substitutes to home cooked food in Indian scenario, hence threat to the dabbawalla service is not an issue at least in the foreseeable future.

      Six Sigma Performance Guinness Book of World Record Record with Guinness Book of World Record Registered with Ripley's “ believe it or not”. Received ISO 9001 : 2000 Certificate Fie Foundation Award‟s 2007

CASE STUDY made by :     Harvard business school ICFAI Press Hyderabad & Bangalore Richard Ivey School of Business – Canada Also, Included in a subject in Graduate School of Journalism University of California, Berkeley.

Documentaries made by :
      BBC ,UTV, MTV, ZEE TV, AAJ TAK, TV TODAY, SAHARA SAMAY, STAR TV In 1998 two Dutch filmmakers, Jascha De Wilde and Chris Relleke, made a documentary called "Dabbawalas, Mumbai's unique lunch service" and in 2001, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston-based newspaper, covered the Dabbawalas in an article called "Fastest Food: It's Big Mac vs. Bombay's Dabbawalas" The British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have done features on the delivery system as well, while Prince Charles was so impressed with their service that he had even invited a few Dabbawalas to his wedding with Camilla Parker in London

Invitations from :
 CII for conference held in Bangalore, IIML, IIMA, CII Cochin, CII Delhi, Dr. Reddy‟s Lab Foundation Hyderabad, SCMHRD Pune, SCMHRD Nasik, Sadahana – Pune, Rotary Club – Bangalore, NIQR at Chennai.

Management Lessons
       Utmost Dependence on Human Capital Honesty & Integrity Discipline & Time Management Pride towards work Recruitment policies and manpower management Musical Meditation Sustained success will lead to fame.

Author Dhanraj Kumar I MBA „A‟ Section JKSHIM, Nitte

Under the Guidance of Dr. G.V Joshi Professor JKSHIM, Nitte
Date of presentation : 28-11-2011

Related Interests