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Culinary experiences in train travel: With Zoop, Puneet Sharma is offering easy online food delivery on trains



We’re thrilled to feature Puneet Sharma in our exclusive interview. A key player in transforming train travel in India through the innovative service, Zoop. Join us as we delve into Puneet’s journey from conceiving this brilliant idea to bringing it to life—a story of creating a much-needed platform with innovative solutions to cater to train passengers’ needs.

 Puneet, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Can you share the inspiration or motivation behind the e-catering platform specifically for trains? What led to the development of this idea?

Puneet Sharma: During my MBA days in Indore, I faced difficulties in finding quality and hygienic food during train journeys from Delhi to Indore. This personal challenge sparked the idea of creating a solution, given my further experience in Sales and Marketing at LG Electronics, Reliance and Virgin Mobiles. Connecting the dots, I decided to address this issue by establishing Zoop for online food order in train. In 2016, Zoop was launched to provide a convenient solution for individuals facing similar challenges in finding good food during train journeys.

Starting your journey with this unique service, what was the inception of your venture and did you encounter any challenges in the early stages?

Puneet Sharma: In the early stages of our venture, we focused on establishing processes and technology to support our services. We crafted a basic website and initiated order-taking through online channels and phone calls, supplementing our outreach with leaflets distributed outside two railway stations. Simultaneously, we engaged with the Railway Board and IRCTC to validate our model. Fortunately, in 2016, our efforts were validated when the Railway Ministry introduced the IRCTC e-catering policy. Seizing the opportunity, we promptly applied, meticulously meeting all criteria and became an authorized online food aggregator.

During the initial phases, our main challenges involved establishing trust and awareness for our services. Reaching out to people presented a significant hurdle and obtaining authorization and validation from the government was a critical obstacle, especially in an era when online train food order platforms were scarce and people were largely unaware of such services. These obstacles were paramount, given our service concept at that time.

Given that prioritizing safe and hygienic food is a key concern for the IRCTC, how does Zoop ensure the complete safety and hygiene of the food delivered to passengers?

Puneet Sharma: Zoop places an emphasis on ensuring the absolute safety and hygiene of the IRCTC food order delivered to train passengers, aligning with the core concerns of IRCTC in prioritizing food safety. Our commitment to delivering top-notch, safe, and hygienic food is reflected in our adherence to the ecatering IRCTC guidelines. Through our partnership with 2500 FSSAI-certified restaurants, food outlets and cafes, Zoop assures the delivery of high-quality and hygienic food on train. This extensive network ensures that consumers receive food that meets strict safety standards. By choosing Zoop, passengers no longer need to depend on potentially unhygienic station food from vendors or opt for pre-packaged meals during their train journey.

 In India, where people have diverse food preferences and dietary restrictions, how does Zoop cater to these variations?

Puneet Sharma: Zoop effectively caters to diverse food preferences and dietary restrictions in India by offering a broad selection of options, surpassing the limitations of a fixed menu found in train pantries and stations. It allows train passengers to embark on a satisfying food experience, exploring a rich variety of cuisines such as North Indian, South Indian, Punjabi and other popular Indian and international cuisines. This extensive range is made possible through collaborations with 2500 restaurants across the country.

Furthermore, Zoop goes the extra mile by accommodating specific dietary needs, providing options for those observing fasts during festivals. The inclusion of Jain food in our restaurant list reflects our commitment to addressing diverse dietary requirements. We at Zoop ensure that every passenger’s cravings and dietary restrictions are thoughtfully considered and met during their train journey.

How does Zoop make sure that all passengers can easily use its services? What specific features does Zoop offer to ensure accessibility for every passenger?

Puneet Sharma: Zoop ensures that all passengers can conveniently utilize our services. We’ve enhanced accessibility for Indian passengers by offering availability on multiple platforms, such as our official website, app, Instagram, WhatsApp, a dedicated phone number, and even  Google chatbot. These are accessible in three languages: Hindi, English, and Hinglish. The flexibility of our multi-platform access allows passengers to order food in train through any preferred channel and in any language. Our AI chatbots and the dedicated Zoop team further provide assistance, ensuring a seamless experience for all passengers.

What factors do you believe contributed to Zoop becoming the top authorized e-catering partner for IRCTC, especially considering the competitive landscape with numerous players in the industry?

Puneet Sharma: In becoming the leading authorized partner for IRCTC catering, I believe, Zoop owes its success to several key factors. Our commitment to safe and hygienic food delivery, coupled with strategic partnerships with FSSAI-certified restaurants, sets us apart. Understanding diverse dietary needs, including dietary restrictions and festive preferences, further enhances our appeal. The user-friendly interface, featuring a seamless search process using train/station or PNR numbers, empowers passengers to easily select restaurants and meals from a wide range of options on Zoop. Moreover, our multiple payment options, including Pay At Delivery, contribute to building trust among our valued customers.

These elements collectively position us as a standout player in the competitive landscape of the online food delivery market.

To what extent is Zoop currently available, and could you elaborate on your vision for the future?

Puneet Sharma: Zoop is presently accessible at over 180 train stations and on 5000 trains throughout India. Currently, we deliver 175,000 meals each month and have successfully served over 50 Lakh meals to date. Looking ahead, our vision is to provide 100,000 meals daily at more than 250 railway stations across India by 2024. We aspire to emerge as the preferred choice for passengers, offering exceptional customer experiences and convenience. Our commitment involves addressing all train travel-related needs through the integration of intelligent automated technological innovations.

How have you utilized new technologies and innovations into Zoop in response to the evolving landscape of advancements?

Puneet Sharma: In response to the dynamic advancements in technology, we utilize the power of new technologies with Zoop’s Chatbot service, Ziva, which is accessible on platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Google Chatbot. This strategic integration has proven beneficial, facilitating a more efficient ordering process and providing fast assistance to passengers with inquiries related to train and food order.

What are your thoughts on how the tourism industry in India is affecting train travel and the food availability, especially with the rise of e-catering platforms?

Puneet Sharma: The tourism industry in India significantly impacts train travel and food availability. With 13,523 passenger trains catering to an estimated 12 billion annual passengers by 2031, it’s evident that the railways play a crucial role. In my view, this surge in train travel has prompted the growth of e-catering platforms. These platforms adhere to IRCTC guidelines, enhancing the overall train journey experience for passengers in India. The collaboration between the tourism sector and e-catering platforms contributes to the elevation of both the Indian Railways and these catering services. Furthermore, online e-catering options not only enhance convenience but also add scenic and enjoyable aspects to journeys, making them suitable for individual, family or group train travels.

In your perspective, what is your outlook on the future of catering platforms    in the coming years?

Puneet Sharma: In the coming years, catering platforms are poised for growth, fueled by the rising tourism in India, particularly in domestic travel for various purposes such as religious or work-related trips. With the tourism industry expected to thrive, there is a heightened demand for catering platforms to enhance the travel experience. Given that train travel remains a popular choice, e-catering will contribute to convenience, acting as a catalyst for increased train travel. This shift is set to revolutionize the Indian travel landscape, expanding the market for e-catering platforms.

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