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Asia's hunger for mobile food apps

Asia's hunger for mobile food apps

18 Feb 2016

China and India may be the biggest markets in Asia, but even smaller economies in Southeast Asia are showing a big appetite for mobile apps in the food and beverage industry. Furthermore, the growing pool of smartphone users in Asia is projected to be more than one billion by 2015 and will jump to 1.48 billion by 2019. Driven by unprecedented levels of smartphone and web connectivity in Asia, many companies have gone straight to creating one-stop shop digital mobile solutions that do everything from grocery shopping, food delivery, to restaurant reservations.


Most still provide the standard service of food delivery from restaurants and retailers to consumers in the form of smartphone apps. Developers that create these mobile apps typically act as middlemen between consumers and a pre-selected (and usually growing) list of food and beverage outlets. Other examples include apps that help users hunt down the best restaurants, such as Burpple, a food discovery platform in Singapore and Malaysia.  


The developers are part of a generation of startups growing their businesses through a mobile-first strategy. They ride on the trend that Asians are spending more time on their smartphones than personal computers. Monthly, there are more than 1.25 million new Internet users in Asia and most surf the web only on their mobile phones.


When it comes to the food and beverage industry in Asia, mobile apps are even more important than for e-commerce. “Because food and beverage purchase decisions are often instantaneous and made on-the-go, which mobile apps are perfect for,” says Roger Egan, the Chief Executive Officer of RedMart, an online grocer that has launched several apps including a mobile store and, more recently, a mobile-only delivery service. 


RedMart’s apps have been “instrumental to business growth,” said Egan, adding that around 45 percent of its orders are checked out through its grocery shopping app.  For other markets RedMart is considering, such as Jakarta and Hanoi, mobile apps will be even more important as a high percentage of Internet usage and e-commerce takes place on smartphones. 


Mobile-first food startups gain traction in Asia


Food start-ups in Asia have amassed a huge following, especially in markets such as Korea and China where millions of people are relying on apps to have their food delivered.


Baedal Minjok, the biggest food delivery app in Korea, has an average of 2.7 million users every month. Competition between similar mobile-first businesses in the country has heated up in recent years, with contenders including food delivery services Yogiyo, and Baedal Tong.


Such mobile app delivery services are currently worth around 1.7 trillion won (US$1.4 billion) in Korea and this is expected to jump to 2 trillion won (US$1.7 billion) in 2015. There is room for growth as mobile delivery services currently make up just 14 percent of the 12-trillion won (US$10billion) food delivery market. A report by Korea JoongAng Daily said that the apps took off in the country partly due to the increase in the number of single or two-person households that are more likely to order takeout instead of cook. Nearly four in every five Koreans also own a smartphone.


With steep competition, some firms are willing to take a revenue cut just to secure market share. Baedal Minjok stopped charging commission fees that had previously accounted for around 30 percent of the firm’s sales revenue. Subsequently, Yogiyo also differentiated itself through services that allowed customers to order food on their mobiles for self-collection. Both companies have also stepped up marketing efforts in recent months, according to The Korea Herald.


Competition is similarly intense in China, where annual sales from food delivery mobile apps will surpass US$20 billion this year and US$25 billion next year. One of the biggest players in China,, has  around 40 million daily users. It provides food delivery to consumers from tens of thousands of eateries


Food and beverage businesses jump on the mobile bandwagon


Leading food and beverage businesses in Asia have subsequently responded to the popularity of mobile apps by launching their own or partnering with developers.


NTUC FairPrice, a major supermarket retailer in Singapore, launched a shopping app to complement its online store. Close to one fifth of online shopping orders are currently made through this app.


“We launched it to provide a seamless online shopping experience. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to shopping online with their mobile phones,” said Dominic Ng, the Deputy General Manager (Online) for NTUC FairPrice. The company also partners honestbee, a concierge grocery delivery that allows purchases to be delivered in as quickly as an hour. It is available on mobile and web platforms in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.


Said NTUC FairPrice’s Ng: “In Singapore’s competitive and fast-moving retail market, such innovations provide shoppers with more convenience and options. We expect this to continue to gain traction with customers.”


Besides NTUC FairPrice, honestbee also allows consumers to get their purchases delivered from a range of food and beverage businesses, including supermarket chain Cold Storage and gourmet food retailers such as Jones the Grocer and Gastronomia in Singapore.


Such mobile food apps that connect consumers to a wide range of food and beverage businesses are popular because it is more efficient as opposed to downloading many separate apps for each business, said Arrif Ziaudeen, the founder of Chope, a mobile and web platform which allows consumers to make restaurant reservations in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok.


What’s next? Apps that help consumers queue for food


Delivery services and reservation bookings via mobile apps have become established in Asia. Looking ahead, mobile apps that facilitate queuing for food and beverage outlets are likely to take off in the next few years, according to Chope’s Ziaudeen.


Some major mall operators in Singapore, for instance, are pushing for food and beverage outlets to use such apps. This could help increase retail traffic as consumers spend more time in shops instead of queuing and receive a mobile notification when their queue number has been reached. “This is going to be rolled out more and more, especially in malls in Southeast Asia,” said Ziaudeen.


While mobile apps in the food and beverage industry have grown significantly in markets such as China, this trend has been slower to catch on with food and beverage businesses in less developed markets such as Bangkok. Many food and beverage businesses in Bangkok, for instance, do not have websites, let alone mobile-optimised websites, observed Ziaudeen.


“Cities in Asia are in different places in terms of the adoption curve of mobile apps in the food and beverage industry. The adoption rate tends to follow the usual economic development curve,” he said.