Crisis forces food companies to leverage online platforms

Consumer-based industries including the food-service sector, have been expanding their reach via digital platforms in the last few years.  Delivery platforms like Foodpanda and Grabfood lent a new dimension to service thanks to rapid, lifestyle changes, writes RAJESWARI RAMANEE.

Now, movement restrictions and social distancing has caused food-service to turn a sharp corner, warranting more investment in online sales. Asian Agribiz explores some regional trends.

Malaysia and Singapore

Long before the pandemic, Singapore had adapted to food delivery due to long working hours and higher disposable income. In Malaysia however, the cheap food culture prevailed.

But when the Malaysian government banned all dine-in and allowed only takeaway or delivery services, a new landscape surfaced.

Grocery stores were overwhelmed with orders and new players jumped on the bandwagon. Ready-to-eat (RTE) meal producers such as Ezee Foods saw a spike in sales on e-commerce platforms. “We have scaled-up production and halted exports,” Ezee Foods Chief Operating Officer Syed Aziz told Asian Agribiz.

Meanwhile, poultry producers such as Aqina Farms started B2C sales. Group CEO Steve Wong told Asian Agribiz that they wanted to widen their distribution channels. They added eggs, pineapples and curry powder to their “care” packages.

Singapore’s Toh Thye San Chicken with farms in Johor saw an increase in online sales in for their French Poulets. Owner Kenny Toh told Asian Agribiz that while their B2C flourished, their B2B was severely affected by restaurant closures.

CG French Poulet is Toh Thye San’s signature chicken brand on LittleFarm.com site.

Indonesia

In Indonesia food-service has shifted online as well. Some restaurants are offering discounts of up to 40% and free delivery.

Data from Statistics Indonesia stated that more than 70% of medium to large-scale restaurants have been affected by the slowdown.

E-commerce players mostly provide instant noodles, biscuits and beverages, and not groceries. On the other hand, players who ventured into online sales before the pandemic have fared well with record transactions.

Companies such as etanee and Meyer Food told Asian Agribiz that chilled/frozen chicken, meat, fish, shrimp and eggs are best sellers since more consumers prefer to cook at home.

etanee’s landing page showcases cut, portioned chicken for online/delivery sales.

The Philippines

This organic meat and poultry purveyor in the Philippines woos customers on FB.

Sources in the Philippines have told Asian Agribiz that there is a spike in food ads from cooking ingredients to RTEs and prepared menus. Facebook and Instagram advertising has spiked as larger suppliers join smaller/medium businesses.

With logistics being disrupted and lockdowns extended, demand for online orders exceeds the availability of riders causing delays. Where it took Pizza Hut just 30-minutes for delivery, it now takes two hours.

The consensus is this could be a reactive response as Filipinos, who also spend 35-45% of their income on food are cost-conscious and delivery is expensive. Unfortunately, spending a bit more on delivery is unavoidable for some while others welcome it.

Thailand

Covid-19 might have caused tourism to plunge, but it has paved the way for e-commerce to flourish as consumers switch to online channels.

Pinya Nittayakasetwat, CEO of GET application said that food delivery in Thailand could grow by 31% in 2020 to a value of USD 55 million.

“In the past 12 months, GET has seen more than 2.2 million downloads while over 40,000 delivery staff have joined our fleet,” he said.

“The worries about air pollution and the virus outbreak have driven up orders. We continue promotions by adding discounts and offers to attract new users.

“We have provide all delivery staff with sanitizer and face masks, and monitor their health closely.  Restaurants are obliged to use sealed packaging for all food to assure customers of the safety of the food we deliver,” he said.

Meanwhile, CP Foods which owns the 7-Eleven chain in Thailand has put-out a call for 20,000 delivery staff. Delivery services for the convenience store are available through apps such as GrabBike.

In addition, back-end suppliers such as Fastfood All, a cutting plant in Bangkok has turned to online sales to compensate for losses with restaurants shut.

“When restaurants were forced to close our customized cuts were left unsold. At first, we sold them at a discount via Facebook Live to raise money to buy hand sanitizers and face masks for hospitals. But we received overwhelming response and decided to proceed with online sales,” Witthawat Prajantasen, Fastfood All’s Managing Director told Asian Agribiz.

Thailand’s 7-Eleven has become the neighborhood foodservice and sundry shop with delivery service.

Sri Lanka and India

In India, Bangalore-based online grocer Big Basket acquired local milk delivery app DailyNinja to expand its capacity for food delivery. The need for online food delivery has become essential as the country went into lockdown on 25 March.

Meanwhile, the ongoing curfew in Sri Lanka forced many poultry companies to expand online sales and home delivery. The nation has been under curfew since 20 March. Companies such as Pussalla Meat Producers and Maxies quickly moved into delivery while others are turning to agent networks.

“We take orders via Whatsapp as it’s convenient and so far orders are booming,”  Maxies Managing Director, Nipuna Perera told Asian Agribiz.

Crysbro meanwhile, has taken to supplying direct to retail chains and working with their agent networks.

Big basket is wildly popular in India and is set to become even more popular now with Bollywood endorsements such as this with superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Marketing Manager, Amores Sellar told Asian Agribiz that they work with existing online retail networks. All major grocery chains in the country have switched to online sales.

Sri Lankans have also turned to RTE meals but companies are finding delivery difficult. Gourmet Lanka recently promoted their RTE range as the best option during the lockdown.

“We have been inundated with requests and demand has grown ,” Managing Director, Roman Scott told Asian Agribiz.

The biggest hurdle however, has been getting delivery companies to pick up and deliver the meals. Companies such as Uber have shut down whilst local company PickMe struggles to cope with demand.

The immediate solution has been to turn to franchises like ‘Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’ as a distribution center, from where customers can pick up their orders.

Being responsible citizens and keeping the vulnerable at home, Gourmet Lanka.