Mumbai`s Dabbawalas: Moving Beyond Their Iconic Business Model Post COVID-19

Mumbai`s Dabbawalas: Moving Beyond Their Iconic Business Model Post COVID-19
Case Code: CLBS165
Case Length: 5 Pages
Period: 1890-2020
Pub Date: 2021
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.200
Organization: Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (MTBSA)
Industry: Transport & Logistics
Countries: India
Themes: Core Competence, Business Continuity Planning, Organizational Crisis, Service Operations
Mumbai`s Dabbawalas: Moving Beyond Their Iconic Business Model Post COVID-19


The case study ‘Mumbai’s Dabbawalas: Moving Beyond Their Iconic Business Model Post COVID-19’ examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business of the Mumbai dabbawalas, a 130-year-old organization primarily engaged in delivering lunchboxes mostly from customers’ homes to their offices in the city. The case highlights the need for organizations to leverage on their core competence and diversify to survive and grow in a VUCA world.

The case study provides a brief history of the dabbawalas and how they had organized themselves into a cooperative called ‘Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association (NMTBSA). It then touches upon the logistics system of the dabbawalas and the many accolades they earned for their excellence, dedication, and service efficiency. The case study then focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the dabbawalas’ regular business and their struggle to eke out a living during the lockdown period. It goes on to describe how the dabbawalas decided to leverage their core competencies to take a relook at their iconic business model following the lockdown. The dabbawalas entered into partnerships with various organizations to offer different delivery services, including the delivery of fresh vegetables to households from December 2020. They also planned to use a mobile application in future to facilitate their delivery services.


  • Understand how an organization develops a core competence over a period of time.
  • Become aware of the importance of organizational resilience and pivoting to survive in a VUCA world.
  • Learn how organizations can rebound from setbacks if they have a core competence.
  • Understand the characteristics of services.
  • Learn how organizations can leverage their core competence to diversify and grow.


On March 19, 2020, the popular dabbawalas of Mumbai, who delivered lunchboxes mostly from customers’ homes to their offices, announced suspension of their services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was soon followed by the nationwide lockdown ordered by the Indian government on March 23, 2020. With office-goers, the core customer base of the dabbawalas, starting to work from home, the demand for the dabbawalas’ services disappeared overnight. While 50% of the dabbawalas managed to return to their homes in villages near Pune (the second largest city in the state of Maharashtra after Mumbai) before the lockdown and found work on farms, the rest who could not leave Mumbai struggled to make ends meet. The challenge they faced was compounded by the fact that the wives of many of them, who worked as domestic help or cooks, were also laid off by their employers in light of social distancing advisories. Although the government of Maharashtra eased lockdown restrictions from June 1, 2020, only a small percentage of office-goers returned to offices and schools and colleges continued to remain shut. The future looked grim for the iconic dabbawalas of Mumbai..


Core competence; Organizational resilience; Organizational change; Business strategy; Crisis management; Pivoting;Business models; .Operational excellence; Service efficiency;

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