A massive $43 billion meal-delivery system is getting food to your door â and itâs getting bigger
|Toronto Star 12 Aug 2017 at 09:27|
Baskin-Robbins launched a delivery pilot in four test markets earlier this year. On July 6, it expanded to an additional 600 stores in 22 cities, with more planned for the future.Â Â (Christie Hemm Klok)Â Â
Third-party food-delivery companies, such as DoorDash, GrubHub and Caviar, are now delivering everything from pepperoni pizza to duck confit.Â Â (Christie Hemm Klok)Â Â
By Caitlin DeweyThe Washington Post
Sat., Aug. 12, 2017
The temperature in Washingtonâs Columbia Heights is pushing 100 degrees as Armaye Ejigu swaddles space blankets around two precious scoops of Baskin-Robbins ice cream .
Shortly after 11 a.m. on a recent Thursday morning, a woman ordered the frozen treat to be delivered to her house in downtown D.C. And now Ejigu, a driver for the third-party food delivery firm DoorDash, has fleeting minutes to move the ice cream from the Baskin-Robbinsâs counter to his car to her door â all in record-setting summer heat.
âItâs not hot food, so itâs a little more challenging,â Ejigu said, adding that his job becomes much more difficult when he canât find parking in the area.
Delivery is the hottest thing in the restaurant business right now â but as many restaurants are finding, the trouble is keeping it cold. Or crisp, in the case of french fries. Or warm, in the case of pho.
Eager to join a booming food- and restaurant-delivery market, dozens of third-party services have sprung up to address those logistical challenges. Food delivery is already a $43 billion business â and will be worth $76 billion by 2022, according to an analysis by Cowen and Co., an investment banking firm.
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Companies such as DoorDash, GrubHub and Caviar are now delivering everything from pepperoni pizza to duck confit. Aside from Baskin-Robbins, which has recently launched delivery from 600 stores in 22 cities, brick-and-mortar chains McDonaldâs, Wendyâs, Jack in the Box, Red Robin, Cheesecake Factory, Outback Steakhouse and Buffalo Wild Wings have all in the past year partnered with third-party services to launch or expand delivery.
These services donât merely provide drivers such as Ejigu. They also develop the insulation in his red, corporate-branded cooler bag and the algorithms that determine heâs the fastest driver for a job.
DoorDashâs delivery time for Baskin-Robbinsâ products averages 12 to 13 minutes.
âItâs just a little hard because â ice cream melts,â said Carol Austin, the vice president of marketing at Baskin-Robbins. âWorking with a third-party, we believe we can do it.â
Industry analysts and executives such as Austin say a confluence of factors helps explain how restaurant delivery got so hot. For starters, the modern consumer is busy â too busy, often, for a lunch break or dinner at a sit-down restaurant.
Thanks to services such as Uber, theyâre also accustomed to getting things on demand, said Bonnie Riggs, an analyst at the market research firm NPD. And rather than lose those customers to food trucks, fast casual or meal kits, more restaurants, and more types of restaurants, are aiming to compete with delivery.
But most restaurants lack the infrastructure and logistical expertise to launch such operations themselves. That challenge is compounded when their products â think ice cream â donât naturally travel well.
âWe do a lot of research around that,â said Stan Chia, the chief operating officer at GrubHub. âI want to make sure that if we deliver a milkshake in Phoenix when itâs 110 degrees out, it still arrives to the customer as if it was served in the restaurant.â
GrubHub is a heavyweight in the world of third-party delivery. According to the market analytics firm 1010data, the Chicago-based company and its subsidiary Seamless accounted for well over half of all restaurant delivery in the last quarter of 2016.
But the field is growing exponentially more crowded. Yelp has put its full weight and marketing power behind delivery since purchasing Eat24, the No. 3 service, in 2015. UberEats, officially launched a year later, rapidly expanded into more than 20 countries. Amazon has recently entered the fray, as have previously regional players such as Foodler and Caviar.
Representatives from several of these delivery companies said frozen items are far from their only challenge.
âWeâve seen every type of food,â said Nick Adler, who leads Caviarâs market operations. âWeâve had people say, âYou canât deliver burgers and fries.â But then we put them in touch with someone who has.â
Anything that pairs wet and dry ingredients â such as soft-shell tacos, loaded gyros or avocado toast â risks getting soggy in transit, delivery executives agreed.
Restaurants and delivery services have also struggled with hot, crispy foods, such as grilled sandwiches, thin-crust pizza and french fries â the white whale of delivery. The insulation that keeps these foods warm while they travel also locks in steam, risking sogginess and overcooking.
âSome restaurants are very proud of very crispy fries,â Chia, of GrubHub, said with a sigh. âBut they have a short shelf life.â
To address these issues, delivery services undergo lengthy consultations with restaurants when they partner up, advising them to change how they prepare âproblemâ foods or cut them from the delivery menu all together.
GrubHub recommends that Neapolitan pizzas spend seven more minutes in the oven crisping when theyâre being delivered, for instance. And Caviar has designed instructional stickers to help customers reassemble foods such as pho and ramen.
The company also swears by standup to-go cups for fries â clamshell containers are essentially a Styrofoam steamer, Adler said.
On top of the emphasis on packaging, delivery services have also invested heavily in their logistics technology â algorithms designed to improve the timing of delivery pickups and minimize how long it takes a driver to get from point A to B.
Many use cutting-edge mapping tech to match drivers with orders based on traffic, travel time and distance. Caviar, a subsidiary of the business tech start-up Square, even tracks how long its restaurants take to prepare each menu item to better time driversâ arrivals.
That sort of technology is beyond the ambition of all but the largest restaurant operators, said Riggs, the NPD analyst.
âThatâs why weâre seeing such strong growth in delivery right now,â she said. âThere are so many of these third-party providers and theyâre giving more opportunities to operators who didnât want to take on the responsibility for getting into this market.â
Not all restaurants are eager to embrace those âopportunities,â of course â particularly since they may come with costs. Delivery services typically charge a per-order fee for their services, which can bite into tight margins.
Some restaurants have found that delivery checks tend to run a lot lower because customers donât buy alcohol. Franchisees also worry, Riggs said, that given the option, customers may choose to order in rather than go out. On top of that, thereâs the risk to the restaurant brand if an order arrives late, soggy or melted.
For Panera Bread, which plans to offer delivery at 40 per cent of its chains by the end of the year, that was all too much.
âManaging quality all the way to the consumer is one of the biggest concerns for us,â said Blaine Hurst, the companyâs president and the overseer of its delivery operations.
In contrast to the vast majority of its peers, the soup and sandwich chain has built out an in-house delivery system of its own, hiring 10,000 new employees in the first half of 2017. When theyâre not dropping off orders â mostly at lunch â those drivers return to the mothership for food prep and cleaning.
Itâs not a â100-percent efficientâ system, Hurst acknowledged. But it has yielded a sales increase, on average, of 10 per cent or $5,000 per week at the franchises that have adopted it.
Hurst, who helped launch the first national online delivery service at Papa Johnâs when dial-up was still de rigueur, is confident those numbers will continue to grow.
âDelivery is all about convenience â getting what you want, how and when you want it,â Hurst said. âI think our lives are increasingly busy, and weâre getting increasingly used to that convenience.â
Baskin-Robbins is certainly hoping that will be the case. The company has spent the past year working out how to deliver ice cream, said Austin, the marketing executive, and calculating whether there would be enough demand to even support such an ambitious project.
After researching and testing the available third-party providers, the company launched a pilot in four test markets earlier this year. On July 6, it expanded to an additional 600 stores in 22 cities, with more planned for the future.
Most urban consumers can now order Baskin-Robbinsâ full menu on-demand â minus the whipped cream. The company found, to its âdisappointment,â that it deflated during delivery.
But customers donât seem too upset: Baskin-Robbins is finding that people order more toppings when they order online. Ejiguâs Thursday morning order is for a mint ice cream cake and two scoops of ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.
The 34-year-old delivery driver orders at the counter, like any other customer. The credit card he pays with is a company card; it charges to DoorDash, which will then charge the Baskin-Robbins orderer. The ice cream goes into a takeout bag, which goes into a silver space blanket, which goes into a cooler bag, which goes into the trunk of Ejiguâs car.