Zomato faces heat over 10-minute delivery

Indian food-delivery giant Zomato is facing a backlash on social media for its plans to roll out a 10-minute food service that critics say raises road-safety risks for delivery riders.

CEO Deepinder Goyal said in a post on Monday the service "Zomato Instant" would rely on a densely located network of so-called food "finishing stations", which will house bestseller items from restaurants and use a sophisticated demand prediction algorithm.

"Nobody in the world has so far delivered hot and fresh food in under 10 minutes at scale," Goyal wrote on LinkedIn and Twitter. "We were eager to be the first."

Initially, Zomato will target densely-populated urban areas to serve low average order value (AOV) products that can be quickly prepared and delivered.

The move to venture into the instant model was driven by consumer preference, Mr Goyal said.

"Customers are increasingly demanding quicker answers to their needs. They don't want to plan, and they don't want to wait. In fact, sorting restaurants by fastest delivery time is one of the most used features on the Zomato app," he said.

Within hours, Zomato's announcement sparked a flurry of responses.

A lawmaker questioned the business model, while executives raised concerns about rider safety on Indian roads.

Zomato, which counts China's Ant Group as an investor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Many on social media urged a rethink, saying food can wait as even ambulances in India take longer to reach patients.

Some on LinkedIn questioned the need for such a model.

"I don't want to eat food that someone has brought to me while keeping his life at risk," wrote Mr Gunjan Rastogi, a researcher at India's RSB Insights & Analytics.

Mr Karti P. Chidambaram, an Indian lawmaker, tweeted: "This is absurd! It's going to put undue pressure on the delivery personnel."

The Zomato CEO's Monday announcement started by saying: "We will start with a clarification... we do not put any pressure on delivery partners."

After it failed to convince many, Mr Goyal issued another tweet on Tuesday stressing that delivery will be "safe" for riders who will face no penalties, urging people to understand the model "before the outrage".

Quick commerce grocery startups in India have been a rage with SoftBank-backed Blinkit and rival Zepto expanding rapidly.

Reuters reported in January that delivery bikers said they faced pressure to meet deadlines, which often led to speeding, for fear of being rebuked by store managers.

Critics say risks are too high on Indian roads.

Even in cities, most roads are riddled with potholes and motorists violate basic rules.

The World Bank says India has a death every four minutes on its roads and crashes kill around 150,000 people each year.

Nevertheless, many customers have been hooked to quick commerce grocery services to meet their instant shopping needs.

"I would be happy to get my food in 10 minutes," said LinkedIn user Sonu Sekharan.



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