How Targeting ‘Strict Vegetarians’ Put This Indian Delivery Giant in a Difficult Situation


A prominent food delivery app in India found itself embroiled in controversy and made a swift retreat following the launch of an initiative aimed at attracting vegetarian customers.

Earlier this week, Zomato unveiled plans to curate a selection of restaurants exclusively offering “pure vegetarian food.”

Zomato’s founder and CEO, Deepinder Goyal, announced on X that this list would exclude any restaurants serving non-vegetarian items, which typically include meat, poultry, or seafood.

Citing India’s status as having the highest percentage of vegetarians globally, Goyal emphasized the discerning nature of many vegetarian consumers regarding food preparation and handling.

To better accommodate these dietary preferences, Zomato introduced a dedicated fleet for delivering vegetarian orders, distinguishable by their new green uniforms, distinct from the red uniforms worn by other delivery workers.

Goyal clarified that this initiative aimed to ensure that vegetarian meals, untouched by non-vegetarian food, are delivered exclusively by the green fleet.

India’s cultural and religious landscape heavily influences dietary practices, with adherents of Jainism and many Hindus following vegetarian diets rooted in the principle of “ahimsa” or non-violence.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four in ten Indian adults identify as vegetarian, underscoring the significance of dietary choices in the country.

However, Zomato’s move faced criticism on social media, with some users labeling it as casteist due to the historical association of vegetarianism with dominant Hindu castes, contrasting with marginalized castes where meat consumption is more common.

While Goyal asserted that the initiative was not intended to alienate any religious or political groups, concerns were raised about the potential risks for both meat-eating customers and delivery staff.

Responding to the backlash, Zomato swiftly reversed its decision to dress vegetarian delivery riders in green uniforms. Goyal clarified that all delivery partners, regardless of the food they deliver, will wear the red uniform to avoid any misperceptions or safety concerns.

Acknowledging the potential repercussions faced by customers with landlords, Goyal expressed regret and emphasized the paramount importance of rider safety.

In light of the backlash, Zomato opted to prioritize inclusivity and safety, highlighting the complexities surrounding dietary preferences and social dynamics in India.

The episode highlighted the delicate balance between catering to consumer preferences and navigating the socio-cultural nuances in India’s diverse society.

Zomato’s retreat underscored the challenges companies face in addressing dietary preferences while avoiding inadvertently reinforcing societal divisions.

Moving forward, the company pledged to uphold inclusivity and ensure the safety and well-being of all its customers and delivery partners.

The incident served as a reminder of the complexities inherent in navigating cultural sensitivities and societal norms, especially in a country as diverse as India.

As Zomato and other businesses continue to innovate and adapt to changing consumer demands, they must tread carefully to avoid inadvertently alienating or marginalizing any segment of society.


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