Business - Issue 8 - Magazine | Monocle

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Dab hands


Every lunchtime in Mumbai, 200,000 office workers have their cooked lunches collected from their homes and delivered to their desks by the city’s 5,000 traditional dabbawallahs. The supply chain – a network of trains, hand-carts and bicycles – is so efficient that just six deliveries in a million go awry (crucial in a city with so many religions, all with different dietary demands). But Mumbai is changing and, keen to ensure that their business continues to thrive, so too are the dabbawallahs.

Raghunath Medge, from the dabbawallahs’ co-operative, says they have started accepting orders by SMS and via the internet, delivering groceries alongside the meals and making money from table mats that carry advertising.

The lunches continue to be packed at home into India’s ubiquitous sturdy and stackable metal lunch-containers (dabba = container, wallah = worker). “The dabba will be transported through the delivery system, its contents consumed and its return journey ensured while passing through the hands of up to six wallahs in each direction,” says DK Choudhary, who has been one set of those hands for over 55 years.

Originally a service for the elite, today middle-class Mumbaikars form the dabbawallahs’ client base. And some of these customers, concerned about the impact of chapatis on their waistlines, are now having their lunches collected from diet centres.

Season's eatings


The Eataly food emporium in Turin is further proof that gourmets are spoilt for choice in Italy. The 11,000 sq m market sells fresh produce, prosciutto and Parmigiano and features eight restaurants, a gelateria, a wine cellar and a wood-fired oven for pizzas and bread. In place of big national brands, the store’s neat, whitewashed shelves carry hundreds of artisan foods, such as handmade pasta from Gragnano, impossible to find in most Italian supermarkets and alimentari.

Eataly is the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti, former president of an electronic goods chain, who saw an opportunity to build on the recent farmers’ markets and Whole Foods phenomenon. Farinetti's aim is simple: give shoppers access to the country's abundance of premium foodstuffs at a low price.

To ensure quality, Farinetti hired Slow Food, the Italian non-profit organisation committed to back-to-basics agriculture, as consultant to help select the farmers used as suppliers. According to Simona Milvo, an Eataly manager, “Wherever possible we get our produce here in Piedmont to cut down on transport distance and we always encourage buying food in season.”

Seven months old, Eataly has welcomed around 1.5 million customers, who spend an average of €40 per visit. Expansion of the model is underway with a space planned for Milan and an 750 sq m food hall for New York’s Rockefeller Center proposed for May 2008.

For more on Eataly, visit

Blade stunner


Hermès is 170 this year but shows no signs of ageing. On the contrary, the company continues to reinvent itself by coming up with fresh ideas, such as an Hermès helicopter. Italian interior and industrial designer Gabriele Pezzini created Hermès interiors for a version of the EC135, a twin-engine Eurocopter. It now comes with calf-leather furnishings, a minibar and sliding doors between the cockpit and four-seater passenger cabin. Only six will be produced a year; the first are set for delivery in 2008.

Eurocopter (whose turnover topped €3.8bn in 2006) is owned by the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Company and makes most of its money from military contracts; but thinks it makes perfect business sense to join forces with the fashion industry.

Laurence Rigolini, head of Eurocopter’s corporate communications says: “Hermès and Eurocopter are two leading companies in their markets so it’s a good match.”

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