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As consumers live increasingly demanding work and personal lives, the simple act of putting food on the table can often be a significant challenge. Fortunately, the rapidly spreading universe of e-commerce has now expanded to bring the convenience and speed of online ordering and delivery services to the world of food. Delivering everything from fresh, chilled and frozen food products to meal preparation kits and fully-prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner selections, food delivery services now provide consumers access to a wide range of food products and prepared foods with a simple tap of their smart phone.
Ultimately, however, ongoing consumer acceptance of individual food delivery service options depends on their satisfaction with the quality of the delivered food products and the efficiency of the delivery services. Problems such as extended delivery times, food products that are spoiled or meals that are delivered at sub-optimal temperatures reflect poorly on the delivery service. Consumers may then choose to use competing services with higher consumer ratings on delivery service websites or social media. But how can food delivery services objectively assess the quality of their services and the foods they deliver?
This article will discuss the challenges facing food delivery services, and suggest several steps that delivery service companies can take to help ensure the quality of their food offerings.
The food delivery service business actually consists of a variety of different food industry players. It includes food retailers, supermarkets and restaurants that independently coordinate their own food delivery services. It also includes online food delivery service platforms that offer restaurants order-taking and delivery services. These platforms provide consumers with a single source to explore food choices from a variety of restaurant options, while giving restaurants increased online visibility and potential access to new customers.
Despite relatively modest overall growth in the food industry, revenue directly related to food delivery services is exploding. Worldwide, revenues derived from food delivery services are projected to increase by an average of 32 percent a year through 2021, with 40 percent of that growth originating in the Americas1. In the U.S., estimated revenues from either online food delivery service platforms or restaurants are expected to double in the next five years, from about $15 billion (USD) in 2017 to more than $32 billion by the year 20212.
These growth projections are being driven in part by the growing awareness of food delivery to the home or the workplace as a viable option to food shopping or going out to a restaurant. Although the use of food delivery services is not unique to any particular age group, younger consumers such as millennials appear to be a disproportionate force behind much of the growth. Their familiarity and comfort with the convenience of shopping and delivery services available online or through smart phone apps easily extends to food products and meals.
Often, consumers accustomed to the online shopping experience expect a level of service equal to or better than what they receive at physical retail outlets. This expectation alone can place significant demands on food retailers, for whom face-to-face interactions with customers have represented the only way of doing business for centuries.
But, unlike books or apparel products that can withstand the rigors of transportation and are generally not affected by unanticipated shipping delays, food products are far more fragile. At a minimum, good food safety practices require that food products be held in controlled temperature environments. Cooked foods that cool off have an increased risk of spore generation. Additionally, food packaging increases humidity and contributes to the formation of bacteria and general spoilage, while also shortening shelf-life. And chilled and frozen foods must be maintained at consistent temperatures to help ensure their quality and safety.
Further, all foods are susceptible to contamination and must be appropriately packaged to prevent infiltration from potentially harmful bacteria. These rigid parameters can be hard to control under the best conditions, but can present real challenges for operators handling localized door-to-door deliveries.
In the case of food products and meals from restaurants and food retailers that have been prepared for immediate consumption, there are further challenges. Consumers expect that the quality of cooked food orders will be consistent with what they receive in a restaurant. Lengthy delivery times or unexpected delivery delays can comprise the quality and appeal of cooked or prepared food, leading consumers to seek other alternatives.
Quality issues can also impact consumer perceptions of food and food products delivered from supermarkets and retailers. Under- or over-ripe fruit or vegetables, eggs and other fragile food products that arrive broken or which are otherwise unusable, and food products with expired “best use by” or shelf-life dates can contribute to consumer dissatisfaction with a given food retailer or delivery service.
To address these and other challenges, many experienced food delivery service operators are developing systems and procedures to track delivery service activities and other variables affecting food quality and safety. These actions can go a long way to help ensure that critical aspects of the food products delivered to consumers and the delivery process are consistent with the specifications of the delivery service, as well as meeting or exceeding the expectations of consumers.
Some of the specific steps that food producers, retailers and delivery service providers can take include:
These and other tests and assessments can be used by food retailers and delivery service providers to identify potential vulnerabilities in the quality of their delivery service offerings, and guide them in finding solutions that can help to meet their customers’ expectations.
TÜV SÜD’s food delivery process validation services have been expressly developed to address the challenges facing food retailers, restaurants and independent operators involved in the delivery of all types of food products. Our services involve both qualitative and quantitative assessments of every aspect of the food delivery process, and identify specific aspects of the delivery service operations that can be targeted for improvement.
Subject to prior approval, clients of our validation services are also eligible to apply TÜV SÜD-specific branding to their services. This branding provides food delivery service partners and consumers with assurances regarding the quality and safety of their operations. And TÜV SÜD’s validation services can be extended to include delivery service suppliers, thereby helping to ensure quality and safety throughout the entire supply chain.
 “Online On-demand Food Delivery Services Market — Growth Analysis and Forecast,” a market research report by Technavio, December 2017. A summary of the findings are available at Business Wire (as of 13 June 2018).
 “Alexa, What’s for Dinner Tonight?” article summarising industry research by Morgan Stanley, July 21, 2017. Available here (as of 13 June 2018).