India’s gig economy chefs turn their homes into 'cloud kitchens'

India’s gig economy chefs turn their homes into 'cloud kitchens'
India’s cloud kitchens are expected to be valued at more than $1 billion by 2023. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 January 2020

India’s gig economy chefs turn their homes into 'cloud kitchens'

India’s gig economy chefs turn their homes into 'cloud kitchens'
  • Aid by cheap mobile data and abundant labor, the gig economy is opening up new markets across the country
  • So-called cloud kitchens, with no physical presence and a delivery-only model, are rising in popularity

MUMBAI: Rashmi Sahijwala never expected to start working at the age of 59, let alone join India’s gig economy.
Now she is part of an army of housewives turning their homes into “cloud kitchens” to feed time-starved millennials.
Asia’s third-largest economy is battling a slowdown so sharp it is creating a drag on global growth, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday, but there are some bright spots.
The gig economy, aided by cheap mobile data and abundant labor, has flourished in India, opening up new markets across the vast nation.
Although Indian women have long battled for access to education and employment opportunities, the biggest hurdle for many is convincing conservative families to let them leave home.
But new apps such as Curryful, Homefoodi and Nanighar are tapping the skills of housewives to slice, dice and prepare meals for hungry urbanites from the comfort of their homes.
The cloud kitchens — restaurants that have no physical presence and a delivery-only model — are rising in popularity as there is a boom in food delivery apps such as Swiggy and Zomato.
“We want to be the Uber of home-cooked food,” said Ben Mathew, who launched Curryful in 2018, convinced that housewives were a huge untapped resource.
His company, which employs five people for the app’s daily operations, works with 52 women and three men. The 31-year-old web entrepreneur hopes to get 1 million female chefs on board by 2022.
“We usually train them in processes of sanitization, cooking, prep time and packaging … and then launch them on the platform,” Mathew told AFP.
One of the first housewives to join Curryful in November 2018 shortly after its launch, Sahijwala was initially apprehensive despite having four decades of experience in the kitchen.
But backed by her children — including her son, who gave her regular feedback about her proposed dishes — she took the plunge.
Since then, she has undergone a crash course in how to run a business, from creating weekly menus to buying supplies from wholesale markets to cut costs.
The learning curve was steep, and Sahijwala switched from cooking everything from scratch to preparing curries and batters for breads in advance to save time and limit leftovers.
She even bought a massive freezer to store fruits and vegetables, despite her husband’s reservations about the cost. “I told him that I’m a professional now,” she told AFP.
Kallol Banerjee, co-founder of Rebel Foods, which runs 301 cloud kitchens backing up 2,200 “internet restaurants,” was among the first entrepreneurs to embrace the concept in 2012.

Chef Rashmi Sahijwala serves up a range of Indian staples from her Mumbai home kitchen. ‘I’m a professional now,’ she told her husband. (AFP)

“We could do more brands from one kitchen and cater to different customer requirements at multiple price points,” Banerjee told AFP.
The chefs buy the ingredients, supply the cookware and pay the utility bills. The apps — which make their money by charging commission, such as more than 18 percent per order for Curryful — offer training and supply the chefs with containers and bags to pack the food in.
Curryful chef Chand Vyas, 55, spent years trying to set up a lunch delivery business, but finally gave up after failing to compete with dabbawalas, Mumbai’s famously efficient food porters.
Today Vyas works seven hours per day, five days per week in her kitchen, serving up a bevy of Indian vegetarian staples, from street food favorites to lentils and rice according to the app’s weekly set menus.
“I don’t understand marketing or how to run a business, but I know how to cook. So the current partnership helps me focus on just that while Curryful takes care of the rest,” Vyas told AFP.
She pockets up to $150 per month after accounting for the commissions and costs, but hopes to earn more as the orders increase.
In contrast, a chef at a bricks-and-mortar restaurant takes home a monthly wage of between $300 and $1,000 for working six days per week.
With India’s cloud kitchen sector expected to reach $1.05 billion by 2023, according to data platform Inc42, other companies are also keen to get a slice of the action.
Swiggy, for example, has invested 2.5 billion Indian rupees ($35.3 million) in opening 1,000 cloud kitchens across the country.
Back in her Mumbai kitchen, Sahijwala is elated to have embarked on a career at an age when her contemporaries are eyeing retirement.
Over the past year, she has seen her profit grow to $200 per month, but more importantly, she said her passion has finally found an outlet. “I’m just glad life has given me this chance,” she said.

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Updated 03 December 2020

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal

Oil prices rise as market awaits deal output deal
  • OPEC and its allies create uncertainty with two-day delay to meeting to decide whether to increase production

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Wednesday as the market awaited a pact from producers on output, which many traders expect will continue to be reined in, and Britain’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine gave hopes for a demand recovery a boost.

Prices were hit earlier by a surprise build in oil inventories in the US and as OPEC and its allies created uncertainty with a two-day delay to a formal meeting to decide whether to increase production in January.

Brent crude oil futures were up 1.9 percent at $48.31 in late afternoon trade in London, while West Texas Intermediate crude was also up about 2 percent to $45.46.

Industry data from the American Petroleum Institute showed US crude inventories rose by 4.1 million barrels last week, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a draw of 2.4 million barrels.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other allies, a group known as OPEC+, postponed talks on next year’s oil output policy to Thursday from Tuesday, according to sources.

The group this year imposed production cuts of 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) as the coronavirus pandemic hit fuel demand.

It had been widely expected to roll those reductions over into January-March 2021 amid spikes in COVID-19 cases.

But the UAE said this week that even though it could support a rollover, it would struggle to continue with the same deep output reductions into 2021.

“Energy markets will remain on edge until OPEC+ gets past tomorrow’s meeting. Oil prices should continue to have underlying support as vaccine makers announce start dates for beginning immunizations,” he added.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, jumping ahead of the US and the EU in what may be a first step toward a return to normal life and boost to oil consumption.