Last mile delivery in the food and beverage (F&B) sector is more mature than other sectors. The F&B sector witnessed steady innovation and evolution in last mile delivery over the last decade, but the pandemic in 2020 turned the stable growth into a rapid transformation, with emergence of new models to meet flooding consumer demand. Pre-COVID, customers were already inclined towards higher convenience and digital connections in the F&B delivery space. The beginning of the pandemic only sought to amplify focus on safety and lead to many ad-hoc innovations, primarily centering on the ‘safe delivery of everything’. Consistent with that, recent Deloitte survey results state, “…more than ever, customers just want to get their food and go. During COVID-19, they’ve started ordering takeout and delivery more often (delivery and takeout orders have continued to increase, up 14% to 68%), and almost half of our survey respondents say they don’t see their habits going back to pre-COVID-19 levels anytime soon.”
The most dramatic last mile disruptions within the F&B space have revolved around digital customer engagement, touchless/contactless delivery, hybrid operating models with high levels of automation, and industry collaborations. In the long-term, F&B delivery innovation, for fresh or prepared goods, is likely to maintain an upward growth trend driven by a permanent shift in customer priorities including:
The difference in maturity of last mile infrastructure and regulations may lead to differences in the growth trajectory of delivery across geographies. Last mile delivery providers are likely to continue investing in post-purchase experience, speed, and flexibility of delivery, as well as solutions addressing safety based on geographic feasibility.
In 2020, F&B players focused on fast, short-term solutions as a response to the COVID delivery demand surge. However, with global economies reopening, the F&B last mile delivery ecosystem is likely to witness fruitful longer-term growth opportunities. But with such possibilities of rapid growth, there are also potential threats. One of the primary hurdles is the substantial competition within the sector, which could pressurize sector players to evolve too quickly.
Observations and trends from the rapidly transforming F&B last mile delivery ecosystem:
Shifting expansion priorities—hybrid models are the new go-to-channel
Addressing safety—key to success in the post-pandemic world
Rebuilding customer trust through lasting customer experience—Can F&B delivery ever match the value associated to a dine-in experience?
Growing F&B delivery—progressing to become a crucial consideration/offering to drive growth and retention
Varying customer behavior—will customers’ willingness to pay a premium for delivery last?
Overcoming challenges and optimizing last mile delivery
F&B players are prioritizing the use of technology, operational restructuring, and network expansion, to respond to challenges and optimize last mile delivery in the sector
According to the recent Deloitte consumer tracker results, delivery intentions for many nascent and mature categories have declined. Variation in online purchases, particularly in restaurants category, vary significantly. Online delivery for restaurants recorded a considerable drop in the AP region between August ’20 to November ’20 but started gaining momentum again between November ’20 and January ’21. In contrast, during August ’20 and January ’21 online purchase intentions from restaurants grew across Europe.
Regional insight and takeaway:
Despite relative improvement in consumer confidence regarding visiting stores and restaurants, emergence of new concepts like cloud/ghost kitchens is gaining traction and driving the need for a strong localized last mile ecosystem. From a category-based differentiation perspective, in many geographies, COVID’s initial peak drove a surge in online grocery spend, while spending on food deliveries witnessed decline. Now in the recovery phase, spend on food delivery apps is nearly double than 2019 levels, while online spending on groceries is approaching pre-COVID levels.
The last mile delivery landscape in F&B in the post pandemic phase appears to be relatively mature, different, and disrupted but evolving in a direction that is innovative and loaded with opportunities for sector players. New concept like cloud kitchens and adoption of innovative technology solutions such as autonomous deliveries could be crucial drivers in the coming years. While many such innovations have already started entering the F&B space, wider adoption of it in the mid-long term will help the sector evolve further and provide new enhanced standards of customer convenience, responsiveness, flexibility, and safety.