Last month, Food-TT.com, an online aggregator for all the food delivery services in TT was launched – and within six weeks, has seen over 30,000 unique visits to the site. Anyone looking around social media this week would have noted that most restaurants are in a mad scramble to figure out how to retain customers during this lockdown and will no doubt have to tackle a new post-pandemic reality afterwards too. The solution has been largely digital, with some choosing to launch their own service and others choosing to use crowd-sourced rideshare options. Food-TT aims to track all and provide a single entry point for both the discerning and the undecided customer.
The site, as of this week, features delivery service providers that have a combined client base of 71 restaurants, 19 groceries and produce providers, two pharmacies and six supplement stores. And this number is growing. "We knew that for the last few years there was certainly more than just pizza and fried chicken options, but it was tough to figure out who the providers of food delivery were until covid19 happened," Adam Francois, country manager of Food-TT noted.
“So while there were services like foodDrop, restaurants were quite happy to stick to servicing mostly dining and take-away customers. But in a situation where persons were suddenly not mobile anymore or unwilling to dine in or worse yet where dining would be a breach of the Public Health Ordinance, being able to come to one digital location to find all the possible food options you could access certainly made it a lot easier. It was a need and a niche we realised we could build and scale on," he said.
The online aggregator does not charge restaurants, groceries, or any providers to be on the list, but they can choose to advertise on the site or Food-TT social media channels to improve visibility. Instead, the model depends on generating ad revenue by web visits. They can easily opt-in or opt-out by contacting the company too.
Francois said, "In the US, you have sites like Yelp, but in TT you have to seek out each brand's page and message them to find out whether they have delivery options or not. We are a hub for all delivery providers in the country, and we will be adding more in terms of reviews and recommendations as well."
In a few weeks, the company will also launch a mobile app to allow customers to access info even faster. Once a customer selects a restaurant or food choice, they will be directed to the app or the site of the restaurant's delivery service providers – such as Skip D' Line, foodDrop, Neighbourhood Munchies and Hello Food. But has there been sufficient business for the plethora of food delivery apps and providers?
foodDROP started providing delivery services for restaurants in October 2019 as it was seen as a natural extension of its rideshare service, DROPrideshare, which was essentially delivering people. Recently the DROP company also added Pantry under its range of services, testing the market for the delivery of retail and grocery items. Andre Attale, one of the directors, noted that while the initial foray meant having to convince restaurants to sign on to foodDROP, the pandemic saw them double their restaurant base to about 80 food providers in just a few weeks.
"The situation means we are moving faster in line with where the world was going in terms of ridesharing and cashless apps etc. We had been enjoying constant growth with foodDROP which increased during the first phase of the lockdown when people were home but restaurants were still open. We had to adapt when restaurants had to close, but we continued with the bakeries through foodDROP and the groceries through Pantry," he told Business Day. He and his team are looking on the bright side given the situation at hand even as more food delivery competitors enter the market. "Competition grows the category overall, and in the end, it's the consumer who wins with more choices and ultimately better prices. For us, we are happy that people are adapting and taking on food and grocery delivery services as it also shares a bit more around – for the drivers who earn with us to the restaurants who do more business without having to seat more customers too."
Adrian Ramkissoon, one of the listed supplement suppliers on the Food-TT site, launched his company, Supplement Supply in January 2019. Compared to most businesses, however, he said this has been his best month since starting.
"We have been keeping our social media very active during the lockdown, so we are seeing new online customers contacting us from all parts of the country. Customers are keen to maintain their intake regimen as they work out at home, which is great," he pointed out.
He maintained a bright outlook inspite of the fact that he just launched his first physical store at Zion Fitness House gym, just a few days before the lockdown happened.
"We are looking ahead to launching our website in the next few months, even though e-commerce isn't a big thing here right now, we are sure it will be soon. In the meantime, we have continued to communicate with our customers on social media and are looking to get onboard our delivery systems soon too so that we can offer good end-to-end customer service along with our wide supplement product range," he said.
The Industry is Adapting
The explosion of this category will only bode well for Food-TT's online aggregator service and Francois is happy to see that local brands have adapted to the new realities.
"Companies innovate when they see that the revenue is starting to dry up. It becomes a necessity which was also reflected in how they adapted their advertising when, as a food business, they couldn't actively sell food. KFC offered a competition for the best home-made fried chicken photos for instance," Francois noted.
This shift allowed companies to focus on engaging and interacting with their online customers during the past few weeks of the enhanced lockdown. It's also given many food providers and restaurants a space to plan and strategise for the next phase of reopening – when customers will have to collect curb-side only or dine several more feet apart than usual, until a vaccine is approved and widely administered. And for restaurants that were designed to operate as close to peak capacity on crowded weekends as possible to survive the next week – that will be a considerable challenge. Again, necessity will become the mother of innovation, and only those that adapt successfully will survive.