CLOUDY KITCHEN
Business Today|December 12, 2021
With significant user traction and investor interest, the cloud kitchen business is entering the inevitable phase of disruption, but with no clear winners yet
BINU PAUL

$7.5-8 BILLION

Estimated value of India’s online food ordering market by 2022, according to a 2020 report by Google and Boston Consulting Group

$2-3 BILLION

Estimated value of the cloud kitchen industry in India by 2025, according to RedSeer Consulting

“THERE ARE 28 meal occasions in a week. You cannot expect one brand to be fulfilling every customer’s needs on all occasions.”

With that thought, Ankit Nagori found the key ingredient in the recipe for his next venture. Curefit, the health and fitness startup Nagori co-founded in 2016 with Mukesh Bansal, hived off its cloud kitchen vertical, EatFit, in October last year. Nagori swapped his stake in Curefit for majority ownership of EatFit. And EatFit became the first and the largest brand in Curefoods, the parent entity he created in 2020 to roll up popular food brands. Today, Curefoods owns and operates 10 brands from 90 kitchens across 10 cities.

“Food is very diverse. Within every category, there could be different flavours and price points. We feel if we have to do justice to a full-fledged customer base, we need as many brands as possible,” says Nagori.

The consolidation of food brands is the newest business model promising to spice up the cloud kitchen party, similar to how e-commerce was redefined by Thrasio—the USbased start-up, valued at $10 billion, which rolls up popular brands on Amazon’s marketplace. What was a private party comprising a handful of internet-first restaurant players a few years ago is now the new growth frontier that almost everyone in the food services business wants to have a stab at.

And it is a beast of a market, with enormous headroom for growth as people increasingly prefer ordering online to cooking or visiting restaurants, especially since the pandemic. India’s online food ordering market will be worth an estimated $7.5-8 billion by 2022, according to a 2020 report by Google and Boston Consulting Group. The cloud kitchen industry alone is expected to be worth $2-3 billion by 2025, according to research and consulting firm RedSeer Consulting. Food is one of the largest internet business opportunities today and, therefore, there are going to be multiple business models, companies and brands.

In fact, most cloud kitchen pioneers, including Rebel Foods, BOX8 and FreshMenu, began their cloud kitchen journey as single-brand platforms and functioned on a full-stack model. Rebel Foods, which pivoted from a quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain to a pure-play cloud kitchen model in 2016, was among the first to capitalise on the multi-brand strategy.

“We have gone through this journey ourselves,” says Ankur Sharma, Co-founder, Rebel Foods. “What we have seen is that the more you spread out your assets, the better it is. Many of our initiatives were born out of that, right from creating multi-brand cloud kitchens. It helped us not only serve many customer-first missions but also ensure the economics make much more sense for us.”

Today, the Mumbai-based company is valued at $1.4 billion and operates more than 45 brands—including its own such as Faasos, Behrouz Biryani and Ovenstory—across 350 kitchens in 10 countries. BOX8 turned to multi-brand much later, while FreshMenu stuck on to its single brand, losing some of its sheen, with both revenue and profits taking a hit. On the other hand, QSRs such as Wow! Momo Foods and Biryani By Kilo have also boarded the cloud kitchen bandwagon. Their low operating expenses and high optimisation allow them to easily convert their offline presence to online orders.

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