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The most unfit companies are winning

While Boris Johnson was busy using Downing Street as a nightclub, around 150,000 people died with Covid in the UK. Their average age was 82, but the most prevalent co-morbidity in those who were significantly younger, was obesity.

Without a doubt, the best protection against a pandemic is a nation in good health. 

And the best way to destroy someone’s health, as rapidly as possible, is to lock them up and shut all sports clubs and gyms. And open up all the fast-food outlets. 

The UK is placed, second, just behind Portugal, in the EU obesity league tables. With around 28% of its population obese, type 2 diabetes is soaring and lockdown has considerably worsened the nation’s health.

The UK, however, is not alone. The European Parliament recently called for the better treatment and management of obesity as average obesity levels in the EU have risen by 161%.

A lot of people during the pandemic have relied heavily on food delivery companies, like Deliveroo and Just Eat and they subsist on a daily diet of fatty, salty food that gives them a mental boost in times of distress.

Pizza Hut launched the first-ever pizza online order in 1994 and since then, online food delivery has become a billion-dollar business. Aggregator platforms, like Takeaway.com, have expanded all over the world, through the sale of reliable infrastructure solutions and attractive commission rates for restaurants. 

Platform-to-Consumer Delivery companies like Deliveroo or Uber Eats operate a more cost intensive business model, but take care of all the delivery logistics. 

Deliveroo is one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies, operating in 12 countries, working with around 50,000 self-employed riders. 

There is a fight between the delivery companies for the hearts and stomachs of European consumers. 

Just Eat and Takeaway.com, two veterans of the market, agreed a merger valuing their combined company at £9bn. Uber Eats announced plans to start delivering grocery items. Deliveroo told customers it would be pulling out of Germany, while announcing plans to boost its tech team and to acquire a Scottish software startup. And rumours swirled that both Uber and Deliveroo were eyeing up Spanish delivery startup Glovo for acquisition.

The market is dynamic, but not necessarily profitable.

Most delivery firms have more loss-making markets than profitable ones. Deliveroo has said it is profitable in London and Paris, but won’t comment on the other 500 towns and cities it operates in. Takeaway.com says it has an “industry-leading” EBITDA margin of 50% in the Netherlands, its home turf, but admits that “ as we prioritise growth over profit, most other markets (Germany, Poland, Austria etc.) are still loss-making”.

Deliveroo and Uber Eats have bet on dark kitchens — overflow food preparation spaces to rent out to restaurants which need extra kitchen capacity. In a bid to bring onboard even more restaurants, Deliveroo has recently formed a “Restaurant Rescue Team” which will offer struggling businesses space at its kitchen sites.

Acquisition is the name of the game in food delivery; the largest players in the market have been buying up smaller players for years already. And now, the two oldest — Takeaway.com and Just Eat, are merging to form the largest food delivery company outside of China.

Takeaway.com, founded in 1999 in the Netherlands, has conquered the continent by acquiring rivals.

Berlin-based Delivery Hero, founded in 2011, has also snapped up many rival brands over the years in its home market and further afield. Crunchbase lists 21 acquisitions, including: Hungryhouse (UK, 2013), Foodora (Germany, 2015), Foodpanda (Germany, 2016), Deliveras (Greece, 2018) and most recently, Hungrig (Sweden, 2019).

According to Crunchbase, UK-based Just Eat has bought 28 other companies, including rivals such as Hungryhouse (previously owned by Delivery Hero) and, most recently, corporate catering startup City Pantry.

Between them, Europe’s food delivery firms have neatly carved up the continent. Deliveroo has focused on eight markets in western Europe, while Delivery Hero has, through acquisitions, expanded into much of eastern Europe. It sold off many of its operations in more hotly contested western European markets (such as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) in 2018.

Relative latecomers Glovo and Wolt have strategically avoided markets where their competitors already have a stronghold; Wolt focusing on the Nordics and the Baltics, and Glovo on southern and eastern Europe. 

Glovo founder Oscar Pierre told Sifted last year that he won’t enter a market which already has two dominant players. “If we went to the UK today it would be super tough or impossible to become one of the main food delivery companies. It’s a snowball effect; as you don’t have the volume, you don’t reach the top chains or restaurants, which doesn’t give you the growth,” he said.

That philosophy hasn’t stopped ride-hailing firms from vying for a bit of the pie, however. Uber Eats, the food delivery service from Uber, launched in Europe in 2016, going head-to-head with Deliveroo in its strongest cities, Paris and London. And now Bolt, the Tallinn-based competitor to Uber, is preparing to launch its own food delivery offering, first in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where it will compete with Wolt.

Bolt is hoping to transfer what it has learned delivering people to delivering food — and use some of its taxi drivers as food couriers.

The “gig economy” debate has kicked off across the continent.

As contractors, delivery drivers aren’t entitled to many of the benefits that come with full-time employment, including (in some countries) a minimum wage. Laws do vary between European countries, however the argument against employing couriers is consistent between the delivery firms; they argue that most couriers appreciate the flexibility that comes with the job, and treat it as a way to earn extra cash, rather than a salary.

In Sweden, Delivery Hero has avoided the courts by employing drivers for subsidiary brands such as Foodora, Hungrig and Onlinepizza. In Denmark, Just Eat employs couriers directly, whereas in the UK it works with self-employed independent contractors.

Takeaway.com has “close to zero contractors”. The company told Sifted: “Our couriers are properly employed, insured, and provided with e-bikes in most cities. Takeaway.com pays a decent hourly wage — how much exactly differs per country but on average the hourly costs are €14-15, including taxes, social security etc.”

If more European countries decided that delivery firms need to treat couriers as employees rather than freelancers, it could significantly increase the (already high) operational costs of running a food delivery business. Glovo and Deliveroo would be most affected by such legislative changes, given they work with significantly more couriers than Takeaway.com and Just Eat.

It used to be said you could order cocaine online and get it delivered quicker than food. Not anymore. There is a lot of student accommodation around where I live and Deliveroo drivers are delivering McDonalds cartons from breakfast onwards. 

What is wrong with phoning up your local Chinese, once a month for a treat, placing an order and then going round to wait for half an hour, while your food is prepared? I used to love that.

 

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