Satish Kumar sells kachoris on a cart in east Delhi’s Shahdara. It is Saturday afternoon and the cart is surrounded by foodies wanting to sample his unique kachori mixed with dry fruits. During the pandemic, he has opened two more street-side vending outlets in east Delhi and Ghaziabad under franchise model.
“During the lockdown, my business suffered heavily, but eventually pandemic has made me a smarter street food vendor. Soon you will see my brand all over Delhi,” says Kumar who has transformed his business in the past year through a slew of branding and digital marketing initiatives. “ The pandemic has helped me reimagine my business,” adds Kumar who runs Bhola Shankar Kachori Wale.
From savvy social media marketing to providing home deliveries through online food aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato; accepting digital payment; signing up with food tour operators to seeking the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) certifications, street food vendors are reinventing their businesses to survive in the post-Covid world.
It all started during the lockdown last year when most street vendors faced a crisis of survival. According to the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), Delhi had about 60,000 street food vendors before the pandemic , but now only about 30, 000 are left. Many of them are known for their unique dishes. Soon after the lockdown last year, Kumar, known for his dry fruit kachoris, first got himself a logo, a business website to better market himself and take orders and payment online, and even hired a youngster to create and run his social media accounts, partnered with a host of food aggregators and a courier service for food delivery.
“ I realised that it could not be business as usual, and we would not only have to work hard to bring back our old customers, but also expand the customer base to survive. So I went for a franchise model,” says Kumar. “Today, I have more customers than before,” says Kumar.
Gagan Arora,42, who runs Uncle Ande wala on an e rickshaw in west Delhi’s Vikas Puri not just took to Instagram, posting pictures and videos of his dishes regularly, but also came up with a range of new egg dishes to win back his customers. His new dishes include matki omelette- served in an earthen pot and prepared in several layerings of cheese, eggs, gravy and an assortment of spices; and Noora Fatehi – a preparation of scrambled eggs, cheese slice and kulcha. “I offer about 35-plus egg dishes, I invented many during the pandemic to attract new customers.”
During the lockdown, Arora started a food delivery service from home, regularly posting flyers on Instagram. Some of his flyers read ‘Regular hand wash, daily temperature checks, well-sanitised kitchen, hygienic food’. “I know I did not stand a chance if I could not assure my customers that my food is safe to consume. Innovation is the key to survival for street food vendors,” says Arora , who also uses his account to connect with food bloggers, and requests them to write reviews.
“After an initial jolt during the lockdown, the street food vendors adapted well. Unlike in the past, most now accept digital payments, keep disposable plates and bottled water. Before the pandemic, we had a hard time convincing them to maintain hygiene, but what we could not achieve, the pandemic has,” says Anubhav Sapra , founder, Delhi Food Walks, who works with several street food vendors across Delhi .
Jai Prakash, 26, another food vendor who runs a momos stall in Karol Bagh was ahead of the pack in marketing ideas. He organised webinars with the help of an NGO on how to make mouth-watering momos at home. “One of them was attended by over 100 people. I do not know how many of them made momos at home, but a lot of them were attracted to my makeshift stall after the webinar,” says Jai Prakash, who has studied up to postgraduation. “I am creative both in cooking and plating, and showcased my plating skills to market my business on social media sites during the pandemic.”
Like Kumar, he says he is now looking at a franchise model to expand his business. “Why should I not leverage the brand name I have created?” he says.
Dalchand, another street vendor, who runs a chaat stall in Mayur Vihar Pahse -1, is not social media savvy like many others, but he has created a WhatsApp group of his core customers. “I get a lot of orders on it , but business is not as good as it used to be,” he says.
During the pandemic, the Union government has taken several initiatives aimed at helping street vendors. Last year, the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs launched the PM Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) to provide affordable loans to street vendors to resume their livelihoods affected due to Covid-19 lockdown. Under the programme, the government is also collaborating with food aggregators, Swiggy and Zomato, across the country to help street food vendors take orders online.
Starting with around 300 vendors, Swiggy has on-boarded over 7,000 active street vendors across 70 cities
“This initiative is aimed at leveraging our platform and large delivery fleet to bring street food to the doorsteps of customers safely and hygienically as well as helping the street vendors adapt to the new normal and be a part of the digital economy. It has been a fulfilling journey so far; we have taught digital skills, packaging and other best practices to street food vendors,” says a Swiggy spokesperson, adding that it has created a dedicated team to explore and identify iconic, popular, and safe street vendors on the platform. “As a practice, all PM SVANidhi scheme street food vendors must undergo a three-stage training programme before being onboarded,” the spokesperson said.
In Feburary this year, Zomato also joined hands with the government to bring street food vendors on their platform. “We help them procure relevant documents such as FSSAI licence and help their digitisation journey with technology support (smartphone and internet access). Our regional teams work in close alliance with local authorities to identify and bring street vendors onboard,” said a Zomato spokesperson.
Earlier this year, the Union ministry of commerce and industry, in collaboration with the National Institute of Design, Ahmadabad, organised a competition — Covid-19 Street Vending Cart Design — for designing new and cost-effective cart models for vending food, fruits and vegetables, and general merchandise. The NIDs students in Ahmedabad, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh participated in it.
“In the post-Covid-19 era, the requirements have evolved in terms of packaging of goods, display, billing, hygiene, compactness, mobility, accessories such as a dustbin, seat, etc., provision for shade, lighting, power supply, etc,” said a government release about the competition.
NASVI is also training street food vendors across the country. “ We have developed a training module for street vendors to help them adopt technology, understand issues of personal (hygiene) and customer safety in the post-pandemic world. We issue them food safety training and certification (FOSTAC),” says Arbind Singh, national coordinator, NASVI.
Rajeev Goyal, a chef and founder, India Food Tourism Organisation, a non-profit that works to promote food tourism in the country, says that Delhi has emerged as a food tourism destination in the country, and street food played an important part in it,” says Goyal.
“Adoption of technology, branding, issues of safety that the vendors have learned during the pandemic will help give a new fillip to food tourism in the city,” he says.