Indians have a penchant for travelling and the Railways is, by far, the most popular and accessible mode of transport in India. A lot of milestones have been achieved since the first rail journey took place in 1853. But we still shudder at the thought of eating train food. Getting quality, tasty and hygienic food (that too all at once) on Indian trains is a tall order.
Coming with nearly two decades of experience in the software and technology industry, Pushpinder Singh, an alumnus of IIT BHU and BITS Pilani, founded Travelkhana in 2012 to address this very problem. He founded the company when there were only apps or services that tended to pre-journey or post-journey requirements like booking tickets and accommodation. He says, “My work demands a lot of travelling and very often I had bad experiences when it came to food on trains.”
Since inception, the company’s sole focus has been to tackle the pervasive problem of providing fresh and quality foods to travellers anytime anywhere on all major trains routes. And it can be done in a few easy steps through its website, app or helpline number. The automated platform tracks trains in real time across India and ensures that fresh food is delivered to the passenger on time.
When the first-time entrepreneur founded Travelkhana, he knew he had a first mover advantage in this newly discovered segment. But, it also meant that Travelkhana had to overcome a lot of barriers, as there were no competitors to follow or learn from, and especially so, since the service involved entering a dreaded space that was, until then, operated solely by the government or government-backed players.
Opportunities and Challenges
Singh conducted a small pilot project in Jaipur in early 2012 before launching Travelkhana in September that year. He says, “I had to make four trips to Jaipur to convince the vendors and get things running.” He adds, “We also did our legal groundwork in this time and found that there was no law or regulation that stops private companies from delivering food on trains.” But that, of course, didn’t stop the government-backed players from creating friction. Travelkhana has come a long way since then, as last year the Indian Railways came out with a policy framework that allows private players to deliver food on trains. In fact, earlier this year Travelkhana tied up with IRCTC to enlist its service on IRCTC’s e-catering website. But certain obstacles still remains – managing logistics according to train schedules, educating and enabling vendors, standardising food quality, acquiring new users, and making the service more inclusive.
The train food market is estimated to be worth about INR 2000 Crore annually. And, with more than 23 Mn passengers travelling every day, the Indian Railways definitely presents a huge market for the food-tech industry.