A study by Manchester University shows that over 2 billion takeaway containers are being used per year in Europe. If all these were recycled, the CO2e saving would equate to 55,000 fewer cars on the road.
But what if we could better that and do away with single-use containers altogether? Enter DabbaDrop. They serve up DELICIOUS Indian takeaways in returnable tiffin tins. On subscription. Operating in East and South East London. We met with Anshu and Renee and their kids (outdoors, and respecting social distancing obvs) and they told us all about their journey...
What is DabbaDrop? How long have you been running it? What is the idea?
DabbaDrop was born in November 2018 out of the need for a tasty takeaway that doesn’t come at the cost of food quality, the planet or people.
We are a subscription-based takeaway service, freshly making and delivering set meals-for-two to doorsteps across London. Our food is based on authentic recipes from India and South Asia. Because we know exactly how much we’ll be cooking each week – based on the number of orders from subscribers – there’s no food waste. Food deliveries are plastic free and wrapped in our reusable dabbas, emission-free and managed in house – no sharing customer data with aggregators like Just Eat and Uber Eats.
We’re on a mission to make the takeaway experience more enjoyable for people and less harmful to the planet.
I gather the food is inspired by Anshu's family cooking - have either of you been to Mumbai and met any original Dabbawalas?
Anshu was born in Mumbai and grew up there, surrounded by the delightful sounds, smells and tasty treats that came spilling out of her home kitchen where her mother and Grandmother were both great cooks. Some of the dishes on our menus are Anshu’s family recipes that have been passed down through generations.
Fast forward a few years and she’s working as a TV Producer and living in London with her young family:
”Life was busy and there were always lots of decisions to be made. Work, kids, childcare, schools, lunches, dinners, birthdays, holidays…. By the time it got to the end of the week, I didn’t want to make any more decisions, especially for dinner!
My husband and I would order a takeaway and it would usually take a good half an hour to decide what to eat. Trying to find a restaurant that has good vegan or vegetarian options was always harder. By the time the meal turned up it would be 10pm; too late to eat. The food itself was never as fresh or delicious as we imagined it would be. Plus, there was often the plastic that containers you ended up with and we’d feel so guilty.
This got me thinking about the dabbawala set up back home in Mumbai. Unlike a takeaway where you have to choose from an endlessly long menu, these delivery-only kitchens created weekly changing menus of home-style food, so all you did was unpack and eat. Hassle-free dinner just when you needed it most! And no guilt, you just left the stainless-steel tiffin out to be collected next time around”.
Who are your customers typically?
Our customers are a lot like us! We discovered that we weren’t the only ones who were looking for a more sustainable way to do takeaway.
Generally, like most people these days, they are time-poor. They care – increasingly so – about the environment and more importantly their personal impact on it. They try to eat well but it’s not always easy: they would like to eat better. They are not always vegan but they understand the benefits of eating less meat and more plants… but never without compromise to FLAVOUR!
How often do you change your menu?
We rustle up one curry per week from a rolling bank of eight menus – clean, nourishing and vegan friendly – to alleviate decision fatigue.
Each menu typically includes a salad or chaat, a veg-packed curry, a dal, rice and roti and each dabba feeds two people comfortably. We also have a selection of sides like Punjabi-spiced Potato Samosas, Avocado Raita and Coffee and Cardamom Brownies for those wishing to ‘pimp’ their Dabba experience.
We also change the menus as we move in and out of seasons and we completely reinvent dishes that we feel perhaps aren’t as popular as others, so it’s a constant process (it’s a good thing the two of us love experimenting in the kitchen!)
What exciting things are on the horizon for 2021?
We have a couple of exciting projects in the pipeline, including development of some of our pickles and chutneys, a breakfast/brunch offering and expansion beyond our current delivery radius, but we want to make sure we do it right.
Ready-meals and ‘Make-your-Own’ kits are also on the cards. It would be much more simple (and also much cheaper) for us to choose single-use packaging options for such things but that’s not what we set out to do and so the whole process takes a little longer.
Has any other takeaway places started doing returnables after taking inspiration from DabbaDrop - Or are any other businesses doing the same thing that you'd like to give a shout out to?
We have noticed a few places adopt the tiffin tin as a means of packaging which is great and there are loads of original, creative sustainable businesses sprouting up everywhere which is so inspiring – here are just few that we love:
Would you like more takeaway restaurants to start packing into returnables?
Absolutely! In the same way that businesses like @keepcup have found success we would love to see that happen with takeaway containers. We know there are lots of schemes/designs out there
What are you most proud of?
Since we started in November 2018, our customers have helped us save over 50,000 plastic containers from being used by delivering in our reusable dabbas. We’ve also made over 25,000kms of emission-free deliveries. Through this, we hope we’ve offered some inspiration and encouragement to others on their journey towards a more waste-free lifestyle.
What is the big vision for DabbaDrop - if money, time and resource were no issue?
When we’re daydreaming about the future we imagine a world where everyone gets and believes in our way of doing things. Less haste, less waste. It took a while for customers to understand our way of doing things, planning ahead rather than on demand. For us the future would be full of people planning ahead. This allows mindful purchases that’s good for the planet and for us in the long run. It focuses less on profits and more on people and planet. So when we’re dreaming of this new world, we’re dreaming of feeding loads more people, across London and beyond because conscious convenience is the reason why we got into this business after all :)