The future of foodservice delivery will be shaped by brands that can improve food quality while streamlining operations
KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- As foodservice delivery becomes commonplace for consumers, their expectations are rising.
- Typical consumer complaints about food delivery include taste, texture and temperature issues.
- Many sensory-related foodservice delivery challenges can be addressed and improved through innovative ingredients, preparations and packaging.
- With the foodservice landscape changing—possibly permanently—ghost kitchens will likely become more common.
- As brands balance consumer needs with operational costs, increased attention will also be directed towards sustainability and variety.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
Last week, more than a dozen members of Kerry’s global foodservice team analysed the scope and size of the world’s foodservice delivery market in the article “The Global State of Foodservice Delivery”. The piece reveals how the delivery market continues to grow at a rapid pace due to advances in technology, COVID-19-related restrictions on dining out and a growing consumer interest in the convergence of convenience, comfort and delicious taste.
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To help foodservice operators plan for the future of foodservice delivery—which is sure to be competitive and innovative—these Kerry experts examined what consumers want from the delivery market and weighed in on the best solutions to improve foodservice delivery.
Foodservice delivery challenges and solutions
There’s a consensus amongst consumers worldwide as to why they order delivery:
- To get good tasting food they might not have the time (or ability) to cook at home
- To improve convenience (versus driving to a restaurant or queuing in QSRs or food courts)
- To access a variety of cuisines of choice
- To enjoy a restaurant-quality experience from the comfort of home
There’s just one problem: the food that we love to eat in restaurants does not always translate in transit.
Maintaining food quality is the biggest challenge operators face when offering delivery services. Taste matters, as well as temperature, texture and the overall look and feel of the product.
Consumers will not accept moist foods when they’re expecting a crisp and crunchy bite, nor do they want squished burger buns or lukewarm soup. If foodservice locations deliver food that’s found to be lacking, consumers will bring their business elsewhere.
We listened to common consumer complaints and issues associated with delivered food. Because these generally align across the regions, most of the observations and recommendations in this article have a global application.
Improving the taste of delivered foods
Foodservice delivery fulfills the need for taste and flavours that are hard to replicate at home. But aromas and flavours can get muddled together and become muted during delivery.
Some foods are more susceptible to these problems than others. For instance, a grilled chicken patty that sits for too long in steamy packaging can develop a stale or old aroma while a coated or fried piece of chicken may start to smell greasy or boiled. This can give consumers the perception of food that was prepared in advance and re-heated, even when the products are actually fresh, aside from the delivery time.
Likewise, a more effective coating can help a product retain its succulence, flavour and restaurant quality appeal. Marinades increase succulence and flavour longevity while allowing a product to hold moisture inside and maintain flavour impact. Even seasonings or sprays can be used to enhance flavours and aromas, such as the charred flavour of grilling.
Foodservice operators can also harness the power of sauces and condiments to deliver top-notch flavour. Whether pre-mixed, added to a dish or served on the side as part of an “assemble at home” initiative, such solutions can play a part in solving delivery taste challenges.
Maintaining texture, temperature and appearance during delivery
At dine-in restaurants, keeping food pristine between kitchen and consumer is a non-issue. With delivery, food must often withstand numerous adverse conditions during transit, from lengthy routes and bumpy rides to changing temperatures and wrong-size containers.
As a result, foodservice operators face production and formulation challenges as well as the need for new packaging and transit innovations.
For texture, maintaining crispness and crunch are often an issue during foodservice delivery, particularly for QSR operators. Coatings can address texture challenges, in addition to taste, by preventing products such as a coated chicken or French fries from absorbing extra moisture while retaining succulence.
When delivering products with optimal appearance and at a ready-to-consume temperature, packaging comes into play.
In the kitchen, chefs are trained to keep, ‘hot food hot and cold food cold’ until go time. This trend could continue during delivery.
For example, if an operator wants to deliver a burger, they could promote consumer satisfaction by keeping the hot components of the dish separate from the cold ones. Packaging the lettuce, tomato and pickle together would mitigate moisture from seeping into the burger and bun while maintaining freshness and temperature. Sauces can also be separated from other components, allowing for customisation.
This plays into the restaurant meal kit trend that also came out of the recent rise in takeout and delivery. Meals kits offer consumers the best of both worlds—home cooking and a “made by me moment” without the hassle of having to leave the house. For foodservice operators, kits can potentially cut kitchen prep time while increasing the need for instruction on proper assembly.
A similar formula could potentially improve the quality of delivered beverages. For example, with iced blended products, melted ice can water down the beverage and cause separating before it arrives to the customer. When drinks come topped with whipped cream or foam, extra stability is needed during delivery to maintain the visual appeal without collapse or becoming incorporated with the liquid.
While delivering concentrated solutions that can be diluted at home is one option for beverages, brands may also want to investigate texture products that enhance stability over time and temperature. For example, Kerry’s China team recently helped a brand develop a creamy vanilla syrup designed to strengthen the texture of whipping cream and bridge the consumer experience between delivered beverage and in-store ones.
Other solutions, including better insulated packaging and delivery bags as well as speedier delivery methods and shorter delivery distances could also help products maintain temperature and quality.
Read up on more ways to address technical delivery challenges in Kerry’s Foodservice Delivery Guide.
Providing sustainable and healthy delivery options
Foodservice delivery is intrinsically a less sustainable option than dine-in service. Single-use plastics are often used to package delivered items, and disposable utensils and napkins are a mainstay. On top of that, because many consumers see delivery as a special treat, orders tend the be less healthy, with a strong focus on high-calorie foods.
But as the novelty wears off, consumers are wanting for more environmentally friendly and healthy delivery options. To stay relevant, brands will need to update their offerings and practices.
Menu innovations can address both sustainability and nutrition, such as with items that are plant-based or made from sustainable or local ingredients. To meet growing nutritional needs, foods that are lower in sugar, salt, fat or calories, or that feature simple or functional ingredients could be popular as LTOs or permanent menu fixtures.
For instance, there’s an emerging trend toward functional beverages in foodservice, with consumers looking to boost immune strength and overall health through the products they eat and drink. And as delivery dayparts expand to include breakfast, snacks and other less traditional items, there’s a chance to integrate more healthy options, such as yoghurt parfaits with probiotics, smoothies with reduced sugar or plant-based burgers and sausages.
As for consumer-preferred packaging, some third-party delivery apps now allow users to filter for “eco-friendly packaging”, highlighting the interest in better packaging options. But addressing the actual sustainability concerns is more nuanced.
While compostable and recycled packaging are beginning to replace hard plastic and Styrofoam options in some markets, many recycling centers no longer accept such products. Returnable and reusable packaging are being tested, too, although these models also come with their own challenges.
The race to more sustainable packaging innovations is on, and there’s a good chance some foodservice brands will invest heavily in finding better solutions. Time will tell if these are inspired by current technologies or come from unique collaborations and not yet tested materials.
Optimising variety and efficiency with menu renovations, apps and ghost kitchens
While most innovations for the future of delivery are designed to satisfy consumers, such changes must be balanced with practicality on the part of foodservice operators, many of which are experiencing lasting revenue reductions, needing to modify kitchen practices to meet strict COVID-19-related safety regulations and generally adjusting to a more digital operating model.
Streamlining supply chain and building in operational efficiencies is key. Offerings can be whittled down to include best sellers, easily prepared items and rotating specials, for example, such as seasonal products, LTOs or even theme nights like “meatless Monday”.
Such changes can improve kitchen speed and grow consumer anticipation and demand for occasional offerings. (The current trend is toward nostalgic and indulgent LTOs, which speak to the consumer want for comfort food.) Varied offerings can also help brands attract a new audience, especially if special items depart from the traditional cuisine served by an outlet and are well advertised via social media and other mediums.
Cost is another way to attract a greater market share. For some people, ordering food signifies a cheaper and more value-oriented option than dining out, but with the same taste profiles. Although few foodservice locations are able to drastically cut product prices, brands can create a greater perception of greater value through small discounts and vouchers or via app-based loyalty programmes.
Speaking of apps, even foodservice brands that use third-party delivery services would be well-served with a proprietary app. Orders can be placed for pick-up and app-based promotions and notifications keep brands top-of-mind amongst consumers. Micro-marketing, data interpretation and understanding the consumer journey will help bring consumers the right offer and product at the right time.
On the consumer side, ease of ordering is key. Whether menus are listed on proprietary apps or third-party sites, customisation options must be clear for consumers with specific tastes and dietary requirements. Menus should be regularly reviewed, tested and updated for optimal user experience and the option for contactless delivery—such as on a porch or in a locker—should be made available whenever possible.
Once an outlier, dark kitchens—also known as ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens, or virtual kitchens—may become an increasingly tempting consideration, especially for large restaurant chains, given that many dining rooms remain closed and restaurants are operating with a shoe-strong staff.
In fact, present circumstances may make dark kitchens a white knight for the foodservice industry, allowing restaurants to slash costs while maintaining operations.
Dark kitchens work best in densely populated urban areas, where order volume is high and there are plenty of delivery drivers or riders to quickly and efficiently move food. While some traditional restaurants were launching such services as an avenue to test out new menus and concepts, as leases expire and consumers weigh in on the new role of delivery, some dine-in restaurants may shift to this model for good.
Deliveroo Editions, which launched in 2017, takes the dark kitchen model one step further. Rather than convert current foodservice spaces and business models to delivery, this concept creates delivery-only kitchen hubs then populates them with emerging chefs and established brands. The resident businesses share a kitchen and inherit a ready-made infrastructure geared toward providing high-quality food for the delivery market.
Innovations and predictions for foodservice delivery
Although the sharp uptick in foodservice delivery can be directly traced to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, such changes in consumer behavior appear to be in place for the long haul. Technology is coming to the fore in delivery, as consumers demand faster delivery times and better quality of service.
In the short term, much of this may come from more robust apps with increased ease of use as well as the adoption of other user-friendly avenues for ordering. For instance, Domino’s, the multinational pizza chain, continues to grow its Anyware™ program, which allows customers to order via text, tweet, car, Smart TV, Slack and Alexa.
Giving consumers more control over ordering—such as scheduling delivery times—will help increase satisfaction. So may increased variety—foodservice industry players who embrace new partnerships such as group kitchens will be able to satisfy multiple cravings via a single order and could win greater market share.
Foodservice operators may also want to explore offering other essentials along with food deliveries. For example, in LATAM, some operators began offering hand sanitizer as a popular order “add on”.
Longer term delivery innovations may involve drones or robots. Research carried out in the UK found a fifth of customers would be very interested in delivery by drone or robot. The Asia Pacific region is propelling ahead, with drones serviced by retail giant Alibaba taking flight in Shanghai, China, last year. Meanwhile in San Diego, Uber is preparing itself to test out its new drone delivery service for UberEats in 2020. If test flights are a success, a commercial launch is set for 2023.
Such innovations may also help satisfy sustainability focused consumers—in cases when carbon footprint is reduced—although in foodservice delivery, as in all areas of food and beverage, there will be ongoing pressure to make healthier and more sustainable products that are kinder to the environment and its inhabitants.
Brands will likely get even more strategic, quantifying the exact delivery time and distance a product will last and introducing geographical limits for sensitive menu items. For instance, if a consumer is more than 15 minutes away from a restaurant, a certain cheese appetizer won’t appear on the menu, limiting the consumer pinch points and maintaining product expectations.
Competition in foodservice delivery is sure to increase as volume grows. As third-party delivery providers see profits rise, they may invest in their own kitchens, renting spaces to name brands or pioneering their own virtual brands. In the coming months and years, there will likely be an influx of variety-rich dark kitchens backed by delivery services.
The food industry is certainly preparing innovations of its own, such as the data-driven merging of retail and restaurant ecosystems as foodservice, grocery and delivery services all vie for consumer appeal. And, with many foodservice brands feeling the squeeze of delivery fees imposed by large-scale third-party apps, there may be more room for smaller or industry-backed delivery services.
To learn more about the changing landscape of foodservice delivery, read our article “The Global State of Foodservice Delivery”. To learn more about our solutions for foodservice operators, contact us.