Welcome to Pinto 4.0!
On a daily basis, in the central business district (CBD) of Bangkok where I work, many working professionals would stop by street food stalls and shops to purchase lunch and snacks to-go. These actions generate waste in the form of styrofoam containers, polyethylene bags and bottles, utensils, and more. I would know – I am one of these people.
Some of the reasons I give myself for taking food to-go; I was in a rush to go back to work, I had no one to sit with, there was no place to sit, it was hot outside (I’m in the tropics), and I was saving the food for later. Whatever the case, it was clear that our professional lifestyle – and those in my position – makes this behaviour inevitable for the majority of us.
Another observation I made during the work day is that our office has a dedicated cleaning service who provides clean glasswares, plates, and utensils as well as take out trash and cleans the floor – even though we are an office of less than 20 people. Perhaps other offices in my area would have a similar service.
Solution: Pinto 4.0
Taking a page from Thai history, I would like re-introduced a modernized idea and service for durable food containers, “Pinto 4.0”. The “pinto” is a food container that was used to carry food to-go in my parent’s generation. It is basically a stackable set of containers, locked in place by a handle bar.
For Thai people, it also invokes a feeling home-cooked, family meals, and reminds us of the love and warmth with which the food is made.
There are, of course, modernized versions of this “pinto”, both in Thailand and abroad. However, the best pinto or modern lunch boxes does not address the problem of lack of time for homecooking. This, I imagine, would be a very similar system to food delivery in Mumbai, facilitated by Dabbawala delivery men, with the added benefit of cleaning.
By providing a service to deliver, collect, and clean pintos, I think it is possible to reduce plastic waste in the system while maintaining the convenience for professional office workers and keep up businesses for local food retailers.
This is how current system of stakeholder works. Entities in orange are existing stakeholders (food retailers, consumers, and company) while entity in blue is the proposed solution (pinto 4.0). The arrows indicate value flow between two stakeholders.
Theoretically, this is how the new system of stakeholders would work. Pinto 4.0 would provide environmental benefits which can be monetized into savings on delivery logistics, increased exposure, and other environmental benefits by food retailers as well as environmental/PR value for company who employs office workers.
In addition, Pinto 4.0 will provide convenience for the office professionals through delivery and cleaning service.
Update 7/3/17: User Journey
In response to some very constructive feedback, I am updating this post to include the user journey before and after implementation of the Pinto 4.0, as follows:
- It is lunch time. Young office workers goes to a nearby food stall to order food to-go in plastic/foam containers and drinks in plastic cups with straws.
2. They proceed to consume them in a dining area away from those stalls i.e. Common area, office desk, etc. which is usually very close by (<10 mins by walking)
3. After the meal is done, all the plastic containers are placed in the same bins as all the other containers and general waste
4. Recycling is done post-disposal in an informal economy (i.e. trash trucks operators sort out recyclables in the waste that they collect on the streets)
5. Neither the company (where the young professionals work) or food stalls have any stake in this system
Pinto 4.0, a service that provides reusable utensils and containers for offices, delivers clean products in the morning. The same containers would be assigned to each office, personalized in a way.
2. Young office workers takes food and drink containers to food stalls of their choice and place an order
3. Food stalls cooks the food and place it in the container directly, avoiding the use of plastic containers. Drinks, sauces and condiments can be added to specifically designed containers.
4. The office workers takes the containers to their usual place to eat
5. After the meal is done, they can place the containers in a collection bin provided in their office. If they wish to keep the meal or drinks for the next day, they can!
6. Pinto 4.0 collects used containers everyday to avoid spoilage, cleans them, and prepare them for next-day delivery.
Again, I look forward to hearing any feedback or suggestions! Has anyone bee in this situation before? I'd love to hear from you.
Update 8/25/17: Refinement through Ethnography
In the refinement phase, we took into account the feedback from the OpenIDEO community, our mentor, and our team members to form an agenda and decided to prioritse our action items for this stage as follows:
1. Current Behavior around Food Consumption: Conduct preliminary ethnography research of our stakeholders such as office workers and street food establishments, and making observations about take-away food usage in the workplace and in particular the role of plastic containers. What is the current status quo?
2. Potential Business Models: Based on our observations, we can identify the stakeholders, their needs and motivations, and explore the potential viable business models that leverages the stakeholders towards maximum impact. What is the best model to benefit our stakeholders and to reduce the use of plastics in the current system?
In the past week and a half, the following observations are made by team members based in: Bangkok, Thailand; Boulder, Colorado and San Francisco Bay Area, USA. Though the original proposal is based on local observations and pain points in the CBD area of Bangkok, it has been an incredibly meaningful to share perspectives from abroad.
Ethnography research is broken down into three broad categories: observations on workplace facilities, on street food establishments, and current user journeys, each corresponding to our major stakeholders. Restaurants are omitted from this research phase because 1) they usually have seating space for eating in (where minimal plastic waste is generated) and 2) they are in higher price tiers than street food - $5 vs. $1 - 2 per meal - so cost of packaging is less significant. The following links to sample surveys created to capture observations at the workplace and food establishments.
Update 8/26/17: Observations - Food Establishments and Workplace
Observations collected by our team members about their work and at food establishments can be reviewed in this shared folder. The following sections summarize the insights gained from this research.
Key Observations on the Workplace
To simplify the synthesis at this stage, we will focus on the CBD areas in Bangkok as our potential geography to pilot this solution.
- Of the 3 offices surveyed in Bangkok (2 are consulting firms and 1 is a small engineering design unit for an MNC), all of them have dedicated cleaning staffs for the office as well as utensils, dishes, and cups
- The contracted cleaning staff washes dishes and utensils on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day (morning and after lunch)
- Cleaning is done in the shared bathroom sinks or in a dedicated, separate cleaning facility. No dishwasher available.
- Ordering food to-go is common because stalls (and restaurants) are always crowded during lunch hours (12 - 1 pm) - unless the workers take an early lunch (11:30 am, for example), they will order food to-go daily.
- In one case, tight meeting schedules dictate that they order takeaway food to save time. Colleagues only go out 1 - 2 times a week to ‘nice’ restaurants when they have more time
- Some workers will bring home-cooked because/if 1) food preference no available and 2) no cheap option nearby.
- Left: utensils, cups, plates are available at one office, dirty dishes are separated and taken out to clean daily. Right: example of street food with limited space for seating, picture taken before lunch 'rush hour'
Key Observations on Food Establishments
The key concern in engaging food establishments is in how food preparation is unique to each location (portions, process-wise), specifically how portions are measured and how willing they are to change the to-go food containers. The table below summarizes some positive findings:
*The staff were happy to accommodate, though for large orders they would like at least a day notice to make sure they are able to 'have enough ingredients'.
**The staff were happy to accommodate, although they must also give away the plastic cups (below, far left) because that is the company’s policy i.e. counting cups to account for daily sales. They said they would ‘get fired’ if they don’t give away the plastic cups.
- The portions and type of foods vary by shop - such that containers should be big and versatile enough to accommodate sauces, soups, condiments (above, middle image).
- Soups and sauces are packed in clear plastic bags, usually ahead of time for takeout in some cases. Specialized pinto can seal soups (above, far right image).
Update 8/27/17: Observations - Current User Journey
User 1: 31-year-old, father of new born baby, senior visual design engineer, car and train commuter with 2+ hours commute
- 5:40 AM: Leaves house with wife and baby (who’s still sleeping) in own car, drives to wife’s office to park, takes taxi to baby’s nursery, waits for nursery to open around 7:30 AM, then commutes via skytrain
- 8:00 AM: Arrives at office, buys breakfast around the building and takes it up to office to eat because there are no seats. A ready-to-eat box meal is 50 THB (1.5 USD). May grab coffee, depending on the day.
- 11:30 AM: Office collectively breaks for lunch earlier than the 12 PM rush, those who go out (normally about 14 out of 17 people, >80%), including First, talks about their ‘preferences’ for the lunch (“what do you feel like eating today?”). Big groups break off into smaller groups who go to the same vendors, unless there’s a farewell or special occasion, then everyone will join in. Everyone usually picks from the usual suspects of 5-6 vendors.
- 12:00 PM: Lunch eaten at street vendors take about 15 minutes, it is quite hot and uncomfortable most days. Occasionally take to-go options for the afternoon (a second meal, dinner, fruits, snacks, etc.)
- 3:00 PM: Occasionally, he leaves the office to stretch his legs, get coffee or afternoon snacks to-go if he hasn’t done so already.
- Dinner: Sometimes, he will buy food for wife who eats in the car on the way back home to safe time for childcare
User 2: Male, 26-year-old, consultant, lives at home
- Office of 13 people, 2 admin staffs + 11 consultants. Consultants always eat out at restaurants, whereas admin staffs brings home food about 3 days a week.
- Half the office would buy to-go items from local chains or Starbucks as breakfast.
- Busy work schedule means limited to time to eat out. Food available near office are usually full during lunch hours of 12 - 1 pm therefore most of the time colleagues will buy food to-go for people who didn’t prepare lunch. At least get 2 days of takeaway.
- At the office, takeaway foods are put into clean plates and eaten by utensils at the office. These are cleaned later by cleaning staff.
- When staying at work late, usually past 10 pm, employees will eat dinner; similar to lunch, will buy take-out food if the places are crowded although it is less of an issue.
A few interesting insights that came up during these interviews and others are:
- People have fairly consistent preferences in terms of food and will be repeat customers, especially when they have a lot of choices
- Takeaway containers are usually not used for eating in, but merely for transport. Likewise, when reusable utensils are available, disposable ones are not used
- Lunch activities are concentrated between 12 - 1 pm; taking food to-go is a function of available seats at each vendor location.
- It can be uncomfortable, even if more convenient, to eat out because of the weather and crowd.
- On the other hand, it is nice to take a break from sitting in the office all day.
Update 8/28/17: Business Model
Pinto 4.0 is a localized street food delivery service for Bangkok's CBD areas using a local Thai container that is reusable, to reduce plastic waste generated from convenient take-away food culture during the work day for office workers.
We are a platform that interfaces between the customers and their favorite street food vendors for a sustainable take-out dining experience; we accept orders from our customers, prepare food with the restaurants in Pintos, deliver the containers at scheduled delivery times, collect and clean the containers.
Our revenue will come from the per-meal markup price i.e. difference between what we can reasonable charge our customers as a ‘delivery fee’ and the negotiated cost of orders from the vendors (especially in bulk). Our stakeholders and the corresponding value propositions:
The following link shows our detailed business model canvas; a concise version of the business model is included later on in this post.
Update 8/30/17: User Experience, Key Questions, and Next Steps
User experience for the Pinto 4.0 food delivery service leverages existing behaviours and concepts that are familiar to our customers to minimize friction in behaviour change, from the ordering process to the use of the Pinto itself.
First, there is precedent in online food ordering through services like UberEats, FoodPanda, and LINE MAN for our customers, which helps build confidence and familiarity in the online user interface. Second, in some food courts and offices with kitchen areas, there are centralized locations where people would return dirty dishes to be washed. Third, the use of Pintos is a familiar concept for most Thai people and street food vendors have no instant objection to the idea of preparing food in them.
Whether or not the cultural value of the Pinto will play a role in its acceptance, the service corresponds well with existing user behaviour. Attached below is an example of an ideal user journey for the new Pinto 4.0 service.
In developing this model, we made several assumptions that must be tested in the next phase, and there are several unknowns about the customers’ willingness to use this service.
- How could we persuade users to join the platform?
- Would our customers be willing to pay extra for a delivery from a local food vendor instead of just walking over?
- What does our delivery system look like (fleet of bikes, or group of delivery staff)?
- How can branding be used to build confidence in the quality of the new service and hygiene?
- What are the beliefs are health issues of eating from non-plastic containers?
- How can we work with the vendors to prepare quality food in a timely manner?
- How much doe the stakeholders care about the positive environmental impact?
- What volume of orders do we need in order to sustain the business?
These are some of the questions we are eager to ask, if given the opportunity to continue engaging the stakeholders and conduct a small pilot program. We will have to prioritise some of these questions and work closely with the food vendors as well as establish a group of users (workers and company offices) from whom we can get feedback, which can be challenging. Admittedly, we will be seeking guidance on how best to approach turning some of these questions into specific and tangible prototypes for our service.
For the next phase of user testing, we created a mock-up of the platform, tentatively titled PintoGo:
As advised by our OpenIDEO mentor, we have looked into the legal issues surrounding the use of stainless steel containers and cleaning service. In conducting this project, we face a low risk of legal liability due to Thailand’s weak consumer protection laws and its compromising culture that disfavors lawsuits. Thailand’s consumer protection law is largely encompassed in the Consumer Protection Act of 1979, which establishes vague standards of consumer rights. More details can be found in Pinto 4.0 - Legal Considerations memo.
System Maps and Value Exchange
In visual terms, the three key stakeholders of this system is illustrated in the diagram below, with the intended value exchange between them. Amongst other questions, the level of enthusiasm for - and therefore effectiveness as a leverage point of - the environmental benefit of this service is something we would like to explore with our stakeholders.
Conclusion and Next Steps
In summary, after the refinement phase, we have developed the Pinto 4.0 idea of using reusable containers to deliver food within the central business district of Bangkok through observational research and stakeholder engagement, and created a business model to be prototyped and tested at a small scale.
In the next phase, we would like to think about the successes and challenges of analogous systems - such as this case study on the Dabbawala system in India - and the process of testing a similar service - such as this case study in prototyping a water retail business in Kenya. While there are many questions to answer, we believe it is important to test the business in its capacity to meet the needs of the stakeholders, while reducing environmental impact, and to build trust amongst the customers as a high-quality food service.
At the end of the day, we would like to adopt the attitude of Tesla towards electric vehicles; we would like our solution to succeed and if we can inspire our customers, other businesses, and competitors to think about the plastic waste generated around food consumption, then all the better.
And lastly, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation for the mentors, team members, and people on the OpenIDEO community who has provided invaluable guidance, observations, and support of this project in the past few weeks of the refinement phase. Thank you very for your time and I hope that we get the opportunity to continue working together in one way or another to make a lasting impact for the plastics economy of the future.