Dunvegan Thought Spot


In the research The Dunvegan Group conducts to support our CCR™ (Customer Care & Retention™) programs, we discover articles, blog posts and videos which, although not directly related to our work, are thought provoking or concern matters you may want to think about.  ‘Thought Spot’ covers a broad range of subjects.

The posts in ‘Thought Spot’ are selected by Olev Wain, Ph.D., VP of Research at The Dunvegan Group. 

We welcome your feedback!



Office Lunch Indian Style – A Study in Supply Chain Management

I have a lingering visual memory of my visit to Bombay (now Mumbai) India.

Just after 11:00 am on a weekday morning, hundreds of bicycles and carts emerged from the commuter railway station carrying wooden trays filled with canisters and quickly disappeared into the downtown business district.

Each canister (also known as a tiffin or dabba) contained a hot meal prepared by an office worker’s wife or mother, at home that morning, to be delivered to his place of work. The logistics of this delivery system are simply mindboggling . . . and it operates with neither an electronic trail nor paper trail!

The delivery person is known as a dabbawalla – someone who delivers dabbas – loosely translated as “lunch box man”.

The dabbawallas  are a cooperative network of more than 5,000, largely illiterate, rural workers who use the metropolitan train system to bring dabbas (the food canisters) from home to the office in time for lunch and then return the empty dabbas home at the end of the day through the same network.

Dabbawallas use nothing more than 3-4 symbols painted on the dabbas to create an unparalleled food supply chain that’s famous for its incredible punctuality and reliability.

They don’t use any technical devices to support their service. Bicycles, carts, and trains are used to transport and deliver the collected dabbas.

Writing on popupcity.net in 2010, Joop de Boer explained how (edited version) the system works:

The first dabbawalla picks up the dabba from a home and takes it to the nearest metropolitan commuter railway station.

The second dabbawalla sorts out the dabbas at the railway station according to destination and puts them in the luggage carriage.

The third one travels with the dabbas to the railway stations nearest to the destinations.

The fourth one picks up dabbas from the railway station and delivers them to each individual’s office.

The process is reversed in the evenings with each dabba completing a distance of 60-70 kilometers and changing hands eight times.

Customers pay $5 to $9 a month for this service, which also explains why Western cities hardly know these kinds of services . . . it would be too expensive.

The system is a cooperative, which means that all the workers collectively own the business, are paid equally and share equally in the profit.

Every work day the dabbawallas pick up and deliver 200,000 lunch boxes within only a couple of hours, in a traffic-congested city whose population is more than 20 million.

It has been estimated that the dabbawalla’s on-time service delivery standard was 99.99998% . . . which exceeds Six Sigma standards! That is one late/missed delivery for every 6 million deliveries!

It has been said the Dabbawallas are the envy of Fedex.

The dabbawallas have started using internet technology to build their customer base. They are now carrying mobile phones. Their monthly delivery fees have increased and business is growing.

They have a long tradition in India, but how long will the dabbawallas last as an occupation?

There is a trend to eat out more often and use take-away food vendors at lunch time. And, women in younger generations are more likely to be working themselves so they are not at home to make mid-day meals for their husbands.

But, the strict dietary requirements of the various different religious groups in India make home made meals a necessity for many workers.

As in all countries, dining out is expensive, and the trains will continue to be overcrowded making it difficult for workers to carry their lunch dabbas in the passenger cabin.

I think it will be some time before the dabbawalla disappears.

Your thoughts?

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

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