Will food delivery really take flight?

Market research company Statista recently said that the global online takeaway/home-delivery food segment will reach 985 million customers by 2022. And since about 2015, there has been so much talk about how all this food would soon be delivered by drone.

Nevada-based Flirtey, which proclaims itself as one of the first and largest drone-delivery services in the world, has declared that “soon, delivery drones in the sky will be as common as trucks on the road”.

So is this really happening – or will it ever happen in the real world?

A short history and some recent events

2015: Deliveroo launches in Australia, and announces intentions of drone delivery.

Late 2015, Singapore: Global food delivery marketplace Foodpanda tests drone delivery for customers in the “heartlands”
(ie, not the CBD).

2016, UK: Deliveroo uses “dark kitchens” – delivery-only setups in prefabricated containers.

2016, London: Food delivery platform Just Eat, through which consumers can order via Amazon Echo, trials self-delivery robots.

Late 2016, NZ: Domino’s and Flirtey partner for world first dronebased pizza delivery – to the backyard of a suburban house outside of Auckland. Domino’s is now trialling in six other countries.

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December 2016, US: 7-Eleven and Flirtey complete 77 drone deliveries, including hot and cold food, to suburban houses.

December 2016, UK: First Amazon drone delivery of TV and popcorn (OK, it’s not foodservice per se but I included it for context).
Delivered in 13 minutes using Amazon Prime Air subsequent to the British government giving Amazon access to airspace.

Late 2017, Australia: Guzman y Gomez start drone trials in Tuggeranong, ACT, with a launchpad based in a field and a mobile kitchen container. At the same time, GYG announce CASA-approved commercial delivery trials to homes in a 10km radius of pickup points in Royalla, near Canberra.

May 2018, US: Uber, now theoretically the largest food delivery business in the world, announces food by drone delivery in San Diego.

June 2018, China: Alibaba’s Ele.me meal-delivery trials in Shanghai, the first such deliveries in China, at 70 metres altitude and a 58
square km radius, launching from an industrial park with 17 routes approved.

August 2018, US: Flytrex and the North Carolina Department of Transport announce a three-year trial in Holly Springs where customers order food through an individual restaurant’s app, with drone delivery in five to 10 mins within three miles (five kilometres) for an up to six-pound (2.7kilogram) package. Length of trial intended to help Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop rules around low altitude UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems).

Late 2018/early 2019: Foodpanda looks to roll out drone services in Singapore and globally with delivery in less than 20 minutes.

Pros

Reduced delivery times. Deliveroo road delivery KPI roughly 30 mins, compared with one to 10 minutes by drone. Labour-saving costs, as a single person can operate numerous delivery drones simultaneously.

Cons

Launch is often from a centrally based launchpad, requiring runners to run food from the kitchen to the launchpad.

Currently drone delivery doesn’t work for high-rise buildings, so office delivery and apartments won’t happen anytime soon. Airspace regulation and rules about things dropped from the sky in heavily populated areas. There are also problems with noise pollution, wildlife threats and problems from job losses.

Where to from here

Drone-based delivery services, whether foodservice or other, is a fledgling industry yet to find its feet (wings). It’s early days, everything is in trial, with no scale rollouts yet in any given market, despite many announcements and promises. Currently the need for centralised launch locations and a given delivery radius per launch location means urban penetration will be curbed.

To paraphrase Foodpanda’s CEO Ralf Wenzel, as far back as 2016: “The politics is behind the technology.” Ultimately drone foodservice, or drone delivery in general, can only move as fast as legislation and airspace approvals allow.

Norrelle has 20 years’ experience in retail, category, channel and customer strategy, marketing and research, working in and with global retailers, manufacturers and research houses.

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