Zomato 'pure veg' backlash: Deliberate strategy or marketing misstep?

The colour-coded segregation and emphasis on purity resonated with some consumers, but sparked criticism from others

Representative image
Representative image

Aditya Anand

In a recent turn of events, leading food delivery platform Zomato found itself at the centre of a storm following the launch and subsequent retraction of its 'Pure Veg Mode'. The move, aimed at catering exclusively to vegetarian customers, stirred intense debate on social media and beyond, raising questions about its strategic intent and societal implications.

Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal unveiled the 'Pure Veg Mode' with great fanfare, highlighting features such as a curated selection of vegetarian restaurants and a dedicated fleet of green-clad delivery executives. The colour-coded segregation and emphasis on purity resonated with some consumers but sparked criticism from others, who questioned its potential for discrimination and division.

The controversy deepened when, just a day later, Goyal announced the removal of on-ground segregation based on the colour green. This backtrack came amidst mounting criticism and concerns over potential discrimination against non-vegetarian delivery executives.

Some users cast doubt on the validity of the statistics cited by Goyal to justify the introduction of the 'Pure Veg' feature. Despite Goyal's claim that India boasts the largest percentage of vegetarians globally, internet users pointed out that more than 50 per cent of the Indian population identifies as non-vegetarian.

Quoting NFHS (National Family Health Survey) data from 2019-22, one user challenged Goyal’s assertion, stating, “81 per cent of India's population is non-veg. Don’t know where @deepigoyal is getting data and stats.” Another user wrote, “This has to be the worst marketing stunt ever pulled. To please 10 per cent of India’s veg population, you’ve alienated and offended 90 per cent of India’s non-veg population.”

Despite the controversy, some welcomed the initiative, expressing relief that their food orders would now be guaranteed to be purely vegetarian, avoiding past instances of receiving non-vegetarian items mistakenly.

“This decision will also be good for those delivery agents who are pure veg. The launching of ‘Pure Veg Fleet’ and ‘Pure Veg Mode’ is good for both. Delivery agent and customer,” remarked one user. Another added, “I know a lot of people who do not order online because they are pure vegetarians. I hope this will be useful to them. Kudos to @zomato for always listening to its users.”

Amidst the diverse reactions, many were left perplexed by Zomato’s “Pure Veg” move, prompting numerous questions directed at Goyal. Even Congress MP Karti Chidambaram raised concerns about potential discrimination based on delivery personnel’s dietary choices, questioning, “Will this ‘fleet’ exclude delivery personnel based on their personal dietary choices? – that’s the hidden agenda, I fear.”

Another curious user wondered, “Will there be a ‘Pure Non-Veg’ mode? Delivery fleet will be either ‘Pure Veg’ or ‘Pure Non-Veg’?”

Injecting humour into the discussion, a third user quipped, “Is Zomato going to make sure they take a bath after eating non-veg and before delivering a Pure-veg order? Because the day/night I eat non-veg, I have to take a bath before entering the rooms of my house…”

Marketing professionals weighed in on the situation, offering diverse perspectives on Zomato's strategy. While some applauded the attention-grabbing nature of the colour-coded segregation, others criticised it as a superficial attempt to generate media buzz.

Moreover, the timing of the rollout, just before elections, raised suspicions about ulterior motives behind the move if any. Critics questioned whether the intention was genuinely to cater to customer preferences or to stir up controversy for brand visibility.

As Zomato navigates the aftermath of its controversial announcement, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for businesses seeking to capitalise on societal preferences. It underscores the importance of sensitivity and awareness in marketing strategies, particularly in navigating complex societal dynamics.

So, while the 'Pure Veg Mode' rollout may have sparked debates and garnered attention, its swift retraction underscores the need for businesses to listen to customer feedback and adapt their strategies accordingly to maintain brand integrity and consumer trust.

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