Not allowing the decline to enter

In other words, Ola is betting that food is a commodity and customers don’t really care where it’s from as long as it’s good.

Unlike Swiggy and Zomato who are currently fighting to bring in restaurant chains via exclusive partnerships, Aggarwal believes that a customer ordering food online doesn’t really care much about the restaurants themselves. Since the customer is sitting at home, and not dining-in, Aggarwal believes that food, not restaurant is the point of interest.

Analyzing the trend of food delivery

“Bhavish believes that the entire trend of food delivery can be converted into a commodity. So, if you look at Foodpanda’s homepage on its app, the first thing you notice is not restaurants, it is biryani, it’s snacks, desserts. And that is how he [Aggarwal] is trying to differentiate,” adds the source mentioned above.

With both a willing backer and a clear gameplan under its belt, the execution was all Foodpanda needed to ace to make its comeback official. But while Foodpanda came out all guns blazing with a ramped-up delivery force and incredible discounts, its inability to manage the volume of orders it received left it with egg on its face. A serious loss of credibility in the eyes of customers.

Teething troubles

Worse, the rider protests that resulted from this botched attempt at gaining customers may actually lose Foodpanda an equally precious asset—restaurants.

A restaurant chain owner based out of Bangalore told The Ken that although Foodpanda reached out to them for a deal, it put the final proceedings on hold after they noticed protesting riders at the Bengaluru office of Foodpanda “We have signed the final papers, we have finalized contracts, but we are waiting for their platform to stabilize,” he says.

However, Foodpanda can take heart in the fact that online channels such as itself are vital to the survival of restaurants. Today, according to various restaurateurs, food joints in India rely on online channels for more than half their business, making avenues like Foodpanda a need more than a choice.

Investments in the cloud kitchen

But Foodpanda is also trying to minimize its reliance on restaurants by investing in cloud kitchens. We saw this with its acquisition of Mumbai-based Holachef. Holachef sells food prepared by in-house chefs stationed across a network of dark kitchens. Dark kitchens are dedicated kitchen-only spaces set-up to pool resources and reduce expenses.

Two industry sources confirm that the Holachef buyout was an acqui-hire and not an acquisition. With Holachef, Foodpanda wants to build its own network of cloud kitchens. The focus on cloud kitchens isn’t unique to Foodpanda, indeed it has caught the imagination of both Zomato and Swiggy. The reason is simple. Cloud kitchens, where the company has control from ingredients to delivery, allows for higher margins than a pure-play food tech model.

Additionally, the source close to Foodpanda’s management quoted earlier in the story said that Foodpanda is aiming to launch its first dark kitchen by January 2019.

Ultimately, though, according to industry experts and analysts, all of this is geared towards one thing—Ola’s overarching goal. To be the country’s go-to mobility platform. For people, for objects, for food. You name it.

In that sense, Foodpanda is less like Ola’s attempt to challenge Zomato and Swiggy and more like Ola throwing down the gauntlet to similar platforms to itself such as Indonesia-based GoJek, and Singapore-headquartered Grab, and to a lesser extent Uber.

Interestingly, both Grab and Gojek already has subsidiaries in India and are expected to launch before too long. With their entry on the horizon, it’s increasingly looking likely that Foodpanda wasn’t Ola’s addition to the food delivery battle, but another weapon in its arsenal for the impending mobility wars. If that is, it can finally get Foodpanda back on track.