Dark kitchens, drones and the post-cooking world

As Just Eat and Deliveroo continue to pioneer the irresistible rise of on-demand food delivery, are we heading for a dystopian food future?

Deliveroo featured image
Credit: @deliveroo

Just Eat is worth more than Marks & Spencer. That’s right, the fast food delivery company has muscled its way into the FTSE 100 with a valuation of £5.5bn, putting it ahead of the department store chain, as well as the likes of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

Since starting out in Denmark in 2001, Just Eat has cashed in on the demand for convenient, fast food, expanding to the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland. Just this month the company completed the £200m acquisition of food delivery rival Hungryhouse.

The business model is relatively simple. Get people to download your app and entice them with delicious restaurant quality food delivered seamlessly to their door at the touch of a button.

Just Eat has even taken that seamlessness one stage further, enabling customers to order food with their voice courtesy of the Amazon Echo. Oh and don’t forget the bots. In 2016 the company began trialling self-driving delivery robots in London.

Rather than being slowed down by a cumbersome store estate, the Just Eat business model is truly streamlined. The company works with 28,000 restaurants across the UK to deliver more than two million meals a week. The service takes a hefty commission on each order – 13% for existing restaurants and 14% for new restaurants – as well as extracting a £699 sign-up fee.

While rivals Deliveroo and UberEats have their own riders and drivers, food ordered via Just Eat is delivered by the restaurants themselves keeping overheads to a minimum. Clever right?

Staying top of mind has also been crucial. In a bid to get the nation ordering their next dose of Chicken Pad Thai, Just Eat splashed out £10m to sponsor ITV’s X Factor. Small change for a business that made £385m in sales this year alone.

The rise and rise of Just Eat, and competitors Deliveroo and UberEats, is a clear indication that our collective passion for convenience has reached fever pitch. Happily cannibalising both the ready meal market and the eating out economy, our desire for home delivery genuinely shows no signs of abating.

According to the BBC, UK consumers spent £6.6bn on takeaways in 2015-16, almost a fifth more than in 2009. And if market research expert Statista is to be believed, the global online takeaway segment will hit 985 million customers by 2022.

The Dark Kitchen rises

Dark kitchens – a term which likely entered the English language in 2016 – describes the delivery-only kitchens set up in prefabricated containers where chefs create food for Deliveroo customers on behalf of established restaurants.

These fully-functional satellite kitchens, also known as Deliveroo Editions, are helping restaurants like pizza chain Franco Manca, burger outfit MeatLiquor and Thai brand Busaba expand their businesses to different cities without having to open customer-facing premises.

Deliveroo uses data to identify “cuisine gaps” in the local market and predict customer demand, before deciding which restaurants are likely to succeed. Currently operating in London, Leeds, Reading and Hove, Deliveroo expects to have 160 Editions in the UK by the end of the year.

Deliveroo

These dark kitchens are also preparing meals for Deliveroo’s new Lunchbox service, the deliver-to-your-desk £6 meal deal created in partnership with London-based restaurants including BabaBoom and Mother Clucker. The Lunchbox service operates from 12 to 3pm, Monday to Friday in The City and Canary Wharf, with plans to roll out wider in the capital. 

And if you thought it was impossible for Deliveroo to ingratiate itself any further into your life, in August the food delivery brand launched its £8 a month subscription service, Deliveroo Plus. Available in 45 towns and cities across the UK, the Plus service incentivises consumers to sign up with the promise of unlimited free delivery and offers from selected restaurants.

Dark kitchens, algorithms analysing “cuisine gaps” and dinner delivered by drone, can it really be the case that the UK has evolved past cooking? 

Discussing the irresistible rise of takeaway food with the BBC, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Nicholas Hyett described how the pressures of modern life mean that – for some people at least – cooking has become a “pastime rather than a necessity”.

This feels hard to believe, and yet the delivery-only, dark kitchen phenomenon epitomises our dystopian food future. Whereas once Franco Manca or Busaba would have been sizing up options to expand to new cities, there’s now no need to find a location on your local high street. They can just install chefs in a Deliveroo Editions kitchen and serve customers via their mobile. Welcome to life in a post-cooking world.

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