India's Swiggy, Zomato start booze deliveries during COVID-19 lockdown

Slideshow ( 3 images )

BENGALURU (Reuters) - India’s top two food-delivery startups, Swiggy and Zomato, will begin delivering alcohol in some cities starting from Thursday, as they cash in on the high demand for booze during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

India was among the few countries to restrict liquor and tobacco sales as it announced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March. Hundreds of people started queuing up at liquor stores earlier this month when the country eased some restrictions, leading police to resort to baton-charges to disperse crowds in some cases.

The companies will roll out the service in select cities in the eastern state of Jharkhand, starting with its capital of Ranchi from Thursday, Swiggy and Zomato said in separate statements.

Swiggy said it was in advanced talks with multiple states to launch the service in more locations, and both firms said the move to allow alcohol orders through smartphones will promote social distancing and customer safety.

“By enabling home delivery of alcohol ... we can generate additional business for retail outlets while solving the problem of overcrowding,” said Anuj Rathi, vice president of products at Bengaluru-based Swiggy.

The new service also comes as both Swiggy and Zomato face sharp declines in their core business, with restaurants remaining shut during India’s two-month lockdown, forcing the companies to cut hundreds of jobs to save cash.

Reuters reported earlier this month that Zomato was aiming to branch out into delivering alcohol.

Swiggy is backed by South African internet group Naspers Ltd, while Ant Financial, an affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, is a major investor in Zomato.

Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta