It used to be that “on demand” was something you could only get from your cable box. But as technologies such as GPS, smartphone apps and data are converging, the ability to get any number of goods and services where you want them, when you want them is exploding. From package delivery to home repairs to ride services or groceries, just about anything you could possibly desire can be delivered to your doorstep these days at the touch of an app.
Of course, food delivery is no exception in the new always-connected economy. And today’s new on-demand food services ain’t the same old luke-warm pizza, boxes of pork fried rice and plastic tubs of wonton soup of yore ordered from your favorite local restaurants. In the new food economy not only can you get your favorite falafel sandwich from the deli across town, but you can have the perfect-portioned ingredients and recipe for Coq Au Vin delivered to your doorstep so you can make it yourself.
Business Insider predicts that near real-time delivery of services on-demand will usher in a paradigm shift similar to what happened in the early 1990s when the Internet first began to take off. But for that to happen, on-demand services will have to prove that their business models are sustainable lest they suffer the fate of companies like WebVan and Kozmo, startups that became the poster children of late 1990s dot-com excess and failure. They will also have to reach beyond early adopter populations in urban areas like San Francisco and New York to become more accessible.
In the meantime, on-demand food companies in a variety of flavors are sprouting up in cities all over the country and investors are making early bets on which will come out on top.
Many local restaurants offer their own delivery services. But managing and hiring drivers is not always an economical choice for small mom-and-pop operations. Enter consolidated delivery services like Seamless, Eat24, Bitesquad and Grubhub. All serve as delivery clearinghouses of sorts for a variety of local restaurants. Customers order their favorite foods online or via an app using the company’s interface, then the order is sent to the restaurant. Company-provided delivery drivers pick up and deliver the food. Seattle-based Peach has focused on restaurant delivery to offices during lunchtime.
Taking things up a notch are Caviar and DoorDash, which go beyond the meatball sub and pad thai set by offering delivery from the type of high-end, local restaurants that traditionally haven’t delivered. Postmates, on the other hand, delivers from a mix of local and chain restaurants—the company also offers delivery of other goods, such as groceries and other sundries.
Fresh, gourmet delivery
Not hungry for restaurant food and want something healthy but are too tired to cook? That’s the thinking behind a number of services offering delivery of fresh meal options geared toward the health conscious set. Services such as Munchery and Lish offer a variety of different entrees created and prepared by local chefs. Sprig employs its own culinary staff—including the former executive chef for Google—to create two or three daily lunch and dinner entrees.
Not just for food
And lest you think that upscale delivery services are only geared towards eating, a number of startups are offering on-demand services for adult beverage. After all, if you’ve had a hard day at work, why stop at the liquor store on the way home if you can have your margaritas and Manhattans brought to you, straight up? As opposed to some of the food delivery services companies that are based on the West or East Coasts, many of the cocktail delivery services are popping up in the Chicago area (perhaps a commentary on the long winter of 2015?).
DrinkFly, for example, partners with local liquor stores to offer app-based alcohol ordering and delivery in under an hour. Deliveries are currently made by store employees, rather than by the company, and delivery fees, minimum orders and ID checks are mandatory. Cocktail Courier, which is actually based in New York but also delivers in Chicago, is capitalizing on the current craft cocktail movement by featuring “cocktail kit” deliveries. Bartenders from New York’s best restaurants compete to have their cocktail recipes featured, then the recipes and ingredients—right down to fancy garnishes—are boxed and shipped. Pricing, however, is by the drink, and you must order for at least four friends. Per drink prices are comparable to what you pay at a bar, so the kits are not necessarily any more economical than going to your favorite watering hole and having someone make the drink for you. Foxtrot, on the other hand, offers “curated” drinks, food and everyday items geared toward the well-heeled. Boasting “The Good Life—Delivered,” the app takes a cue from Uber by including tips for drivers in the fee.
Prefer to cook your own meals but hate to grocery shop? Meal kits might just be for you. Delivered kits come complete with recipes and the portioned ingredients to make meals billed as healthier and fresher than restaurant take-out or microwaved meals. Best known in this category are Blue Apron and Plated, but other services (Meezmeals, Platejoy, PeachDish, HelloFresh) are also serving up kits as well. Most services offer selections catering to special diets, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free and many boast that they source ingredients locally. Some services are trying to differentiate themselves by offering speed and ease (one-pan, 10 minute meals by Gobble), restaurant recipes (Forage), smoothies and juice only (Green Blender) or kosher meals (KitchnSynch).
If you want the chef experience, but don’t want to go out, consider instead bringing the chef to you. Kitchit Tonight, for example, offers high-end, personalized meal services for private events with professional (some well-known) chefs, almost like a matchmaking service for hungry foodies looking for their own personal culinary adventure. EatWith, which is geared toward giving travelers (and locals alike) a local eating experience, includes chefs who cook for private guests a la the underground supper club concept. Finally, Feastly features community on a plate with chefs and home cooks inviting diners to private homes where they can meet and enjoy a meal with strangers.
If you’re a food delivery start up, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. More information available at www.bonappetech.com