Harish Sarma

VP Marketing

So we have all used the Sodexo meal coupons at some point or the other. Tell us little bit about your other products as well, and what your vision with these products is? (Talk about the Global company, countries present in, products, vision etc)

Sodexo BRS India is a fully digital employee benefits company offering solutions that are designed to deliver best-in-class employee experience. We offer solutions that allow organizations to administer employee benefits digitally on a new-age, technologically scalable platform.

Sodexo Meal Card is a 100% digital meal benefit solution that can be used by employees across geographies & age groups to buy food items at local stores, eat at restaurants or to order food items online. It helps employees save taxes over and above 80C & 80D of the income tax laws and is accepted at 100,000+ unique points of acceptance both online and offline.

Sodexo Premium Pass is a suite of gifting solutions that organizations can give their employees, sales force and channel partners to offer greater freedom of choice. It’s built to offer ease of gifting, simplicity of ordering digitally and the flexibility of being accepted at 50 lakh+ Rupay-powered outlets and online portals.

With Sodexo Multi-Benefit Pass, a flexible, digital employee benefit solution, organizations of all sizes can administer multiple benefits like meal, rewards, fuel, communication etc. through a single solution (card and app). It also brings the option of extending new-age benefits like health & wellness, learning & development, books & periodicals, gadgets & equipment and much more to employees. It is the only employee benefit solution in India that operates on two networks (Sodexo’s proprietary network and Rupay).

Sodexo’s solutions have been trusted and used by 11,000+ organizations across public & private sectors in its 24 years of operations in India. Our expertise is recognized by millions of daily users across small towns and cities in the country. All our solutions have physical as well as virtual card variants to enable greater access to our consumers and help enhance their quality of life daily.

2020 has been hailed as a year of many things – losses, transformation, tech advancements. How has it been for you, what have been your learnings?

2020 has been a year of challenges and opportunities. The Covid-19 outbreak triggered lockdowns across India and disrupted card production and delivery. This posed a challenge for Sodexo clients who wanted to ensure seamless delivery of employee benefits to their workforce. At the same time, digital and contactless payments, which had become increasingly popular in recent years, experienced an unprecedented surge. With a strong focus on consumer safety and satisfaction, the Sodexo team rapidly accelerated roll-out of digital solutions for Sodexo clients and cardholders to purchase food and daily essentials.

Faced with the disruption of card delivery, Sodexo quickly adapted by offering digital issuance of cards to provide safe, contactless payments for food and daily essentials. The completely digital card issuance process was developed and deployed within 10 days after lockdown came into force, even as our employees were working from home. Multiple teams came together to create a seamless process.

Welcome letters are sent out to cardholders in a digital format (email or SMS) within 24 hours of order placement. The team also planned for a scenario to resume card production and delivery process post lockdown, offering great flexibility. This innovation ensured clients could continue to administer Sodexo Meal and Multi-Benefit solutions for employees. In addition, the Sodexo Merchant Relations team acted quickly to ensure thousands of QR codes were deployed across India for ease and efficiency of acceptance for the end consumer.

I understand that you have been working with your partners in both Hospitality and HR at various organizations to digitize a lot of your products. When did this journey start, and how has it been so far?

Sodexo Onsite Services caters to and manages some of biggest canteens, hospitals and facilities in India. The common mission for the Group is to improve the quality of life of the people we serve. Both Onsite services and Benefits and Rewards Services have been working jointly to offer new-age, digital-first solutions to clients in a way that transforms the food consumption habits of the multi-generational workforce. In fact, during the pandemic, the two companies have been working in unison to listen carefully to the needs of the organizations pertaining to meals and digitizing the post-Covid cafeteria experience.

Has 2020 helped accelerate some of these digital transformation pieces that you have been pushing to your partners? (contactless dining, payments etc). How have you helped some of your partners get back on their feet in 2020?

Most certainly! Virtual Cards which were being issued from before the lockdown accelerated during this period. New merchant partners were brought in to give more choice to customers, especially in delivery of food items. Sodexo Premium Pass Celebrations – Dining launched in September 2020, is a solution that is ideal for organizations to gift meals as an experience to employees. It is accepted across Sodexo’s proprietary network of partner restaurants, cafés, bakeries, food franchises, sweet shops and online food delivery portals.With this solution, our aim has been to support our partner restaurants by helping them bounce back in the post-Covid world as an extension of our Quality of Life promise to the communities we operate in.

Follow up – Digital payments/Wallets – your thoughts on the uptake of these solutions in 2020? Is this behaviour sticky or will India still remain a cash market by and large?

Indians have been sensitised to the importance of contactless payments during the lockdown. Across age groups and sections of the society we have seen the shift to online shopping for daily essentials. Sodexo has been a front runner in the “Digital India” mission and has managed to educate and have its consumer base pivot to a mobile experience with the Sodexo-Zeta App using which they can order meals online, track transaction history, avail deals and lot more! In fact, all cards issued are auto-linked to the next-gen Sodexo-Zeta App for consumers to enjoy their benefits on the go! During the lockdown to bring more value to our online shopping consumers, we launched Sodexo Delights Premier, a one-stop platform which hosts 200+ deals across 15+ categories offering more value with a unique platform cashback feature.

In terms of advertising and marketing, what kind of channels do you use. Since this is a typical B2B business, what does your media plan look like?

We are a B2B2C Business. While lot of focus and media spends are directed to Digital Marketing for targeting and communicating our value proposition to clients, consumers and supporting our merchant partners, a part of the media budget is also allocated to events and engagement drives. In 2020 with all activities going virtual, our media efforts have been primarily digital. What sets us apart, is our service-first mindset. We are dedicated to extending whatever support our clients, consumers and merchants need, be it online or offline.

As covid hit a lot of businesses hard, empathy, retention and loyalty were buzzwords. What are your thoughts on the importance of Loyalty programs in the Indian economy for brands?

Sodexo offers consumers a platform called Sodexo Delights Premier which we recently launched in partnership with Benefit Hub. Loyalty is an important factor to drive stickiness and retain our consumer base. At the same time offers and discounts extended need to be meaningful and relevant to the younger, always-on working population. We are always looking at enhancing our value proposition to consumers and making Sodexo an integral part of their lives. That led us to launch an innovative platform cashback feature on Sodexo Delights Premier to reward consumers.

Online shopping in 2020 has skyrocketed, almost doubled last years numbers. Not surprisingly, this growth has come from Tier 2 towns and cities, what is the opportunity that you foresee here? (for the industry and for yourself)?

A lot of employees are working remotely from their hometowns. The pandemic has enabled people to pause and spend quality time with loved ones while maintaining a business as usual outlook from wherever they are. Online shopping, e-learning courses, new eating habits by ordering meals online, focus on health via virtual sessions are some of the trends that have seen a surge of sorts due to the work from anywhere scenario and this could be attributed to today’s lifestyle. From contactless payments to offering more healthier meal options to new-age employee benefits like wellness and bringing health-centred partnerships to consumers, these are exciting times for Sodexo and the industry.

The online food delivery sector is expected to grow at around 30% YOY. What role have you played to enable this?

Sodexo Meal Pass is accepted at 100,000+ unique points of acceptance including multiple online food delivery partners. During the pandemic, we have been on overdrive to ensure more and more online choices for our consumers. Every partnership is built to offer 100% compliance while ensuring best-in-class user experience. With the Sodexo-Zeta App, employees can order meals online from wherever they are. From online food delivery to facilitating contactless payments for groceries for our consumers, we have been driving and leading this phenomenal transformation in the way Indians go about their daily lives.

What is your outlook for 2021? Will it be business as 2019 or are you planning any new strategies? How are you planning to up or maintain the digital transformation momentum that you achieved in 2020?

Sodexo will continue to drive digital-first experiences where every consumer gets access to best-in-class employee benefits, great freedom of choice and get more out of our partnerships with merchants and platforms. With 2020 teaching us lessons on how businesses with strong purpose thrive, in 2021 we will continue to accelerate to deliver our quality of life promise to everyone we serve.