The word “Dabbawala” translates to dabba = lunch box, and wala = man or the ‘lunch box man’. It is a 125 year old trade formed by a unique and incredible network of 5,000 men with the complex task of delivering 200,000 homemade lunches each day from suburban homes to downtown offices in the city of Mumbai… all within a period of approximately 3 hours! That’s about 65 million ‘dabbas’ a year with almost no mistakes!

Dabbawalas are largely illiterate rural workers who use nothing more than 3 – 4 symbols crudely painted on their dabbas to create an unparalleled food supply chain by using their remarkable intuition, teamwork and values in contrast to the very sophisticated computerized decision making telecommunication systems costing millions of dollars in the West today.

Here’s how the system works:

  • The first dabbawalla picks up the dabba from a home and takes it to the nearest railway station.
  • The second dabbawalla sorts out the dabbas at the railway station according to destination and puts them in a 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 drops them to each individual’s office.

The process is reversed in the evenings with each dabba completing a distance of 60 – 70 km and changing hands 8 times! Customers pay about $5/month for this service. No computers, RFID, EDI or integration required.  Simple text messaging is the only advancement since trains made it to India.
Impressed? This will amaze you even further!
With absolutely no technology involved (Except SMS) and making round trip deliveries of in excess of 400,000 deliveries daily (Each box travels roundtrip) their performance rating is about 99.999999 percentage of correctness — which means one error in six million transactions.  Compare that to more Retail/CPG suppliers using “State-of-the-art” computer systems. 

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