Wednesday 28 June 2017

The lunchtime revolution

A new generation of office workers who love their food but don't have time to make lunch or eat out are fuelling the rise of services like Deliveroo

It's just convenient: Vicki Notaro tucks in.
It's just convenient: Vicki Notaro tucks in.
Advocate: MMA fighter Conor McGregor follows a daily grain and refined sugar-free diet.

Alex Meehan

What's in your lunchbox? Is it a ham and cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps? Or are you one of those people who expect a little bit more from their midday meal?

For an increasing number of time poor, cash rich consumers, high end food delivery services are taking off. Deliveroo, the London-based food delivery network, this week was reported to be on track to make revenues of around €166 million around the world in 2016. Its services are now available in more than 65 cities, including Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast and Limerick.

At the same time, a new crop of speciality food delivery services have popped up, offering consumers the option to have more than just Chinese food or curry delivered to their homes and offices.

Low fat, low calorie and paleo meals are all now available for delivery. So what's driving this demand in having it all delivered to your door?

"We've got over 250 restaurants in Ireland and Northern Ireland working with us. There are great restaurants here and there is an affinity for take away food in Ireland, so it's not a big jump to bring the two together," says Oliver Dewhurst, Irish manager for Deliveroo. "It's a proven business model, as we've seen in London and elsewhere around the world."

While unwilling to comment specifically on its Irish figures, Dewhurst did say that the company has been growing month on month by 25pc since it opened for business here in April 2015, and that its success is a sign of general growth in the economy.

"A lot of people are using us every single day for lunch and we have a lot of corporate business coming in at lunchtime, and not just in the evening as you might think. We've become the preferred supplier for a lot of business when it comes to eating in the office," he says. The reason is pretty simple, according to Dewhurst - the range of what's on offer in the average local shop is still pretty limited. "Then there's the fact that for many people it can take 10 or 15 minutes to walk to the shop, so that's 30 minutes out of your lunch break gone," he says.

"In Dublin in particular, there are a lot of big international companies moving here and office space is quite hard to come by.

"It doesn't make sense for them to put in canteens when the same space is more valuable as offices or meeting rooms. So the service we provide is perfect for them."

Dewhurst says that growing awareness of healthy eating is also a factor.

"Healthy eating is an important driver. We work with restaurants that normally don't deliver, but through us, you can order a salad to your desk. There aren't many other ways to order a healthy takeaway for when you're busy but want to eat well."

For some people, restaurant food isn't exactly what they want when it comes to squaring the circle of eating well when they're busy. But a new breed of food company has appeared to service this need.

The Pure Kitchen (thepurekitchen.ie) was set up by ex-accountant John McGovern after a stint training at the Ballymaloe cookery school and working in the well regarded Dublin restaurant Pichet.

Fed up with how difficult it was to support his sports and health diet, he decided to build a business that would deliver healthy food for the week to people who were too busy to cook it themselves.

"We deliver a full range of breakfasts, lunches and dinners including soups and salads - the works. People are much more willing to pay for good quality food than they used to be, and we've seen a lot of growth on the back of that.

"There is a big drive for premiumisation - people are willing to pay more for a product that they know is going to be high quality," he says. According to McGovern, the growth his business has seen has been driven by both increased health concerns and the fact that as the economy picks up, many people find themselves too busy to prepare their own food.

"One in 10 customers are hyper aware of calories but the rest just want to eat clean healthy food and they want someone else to worry about making it for them," he says.

Meanwhile, for those looking for something more specialised, James Statham set up his company Paleo Meal Deliveries (paleomealdeliveries.ie) in 2012 to cater for people who want to follow a dairy, grain and refined sugar-free diet.

His most high profile customer is MMA fighter Conor McGregor.

"I don't see us as a diet delivery service as such - we just make healthy interesting food for people who are interested in supporting their health.

"Our customers aren't all people looking to lose weight. Many of them are just very busy and want to make sure they eat well to stay at the top of their game," says Statham.

When Statham started his company, he says that the idea was so new it had to be constantly explained. "The market has caught up and it's very much a mainstream trend now," he says.

"Our meals average around €6 each, are healthy and nutritionally dense, and take less than five minutes to reheat in a microwave in the office at lunchtime."

Delivery services have changed the way I eat

Vicki Notaro

One of the things I've always loved about New York City is that you can get anything delivered to your door, from sushi to tacos to a protein shake. Here, it used to be only a greasy kebab or calorie-laden curry you could order in.

So when Deliveroo started in Ireland, I was thrilled. Before them, pretty much any food you could get delivered to was well, the opposite of healthy. Now though, I can get a salad, a burrito bowl or even a saintly stir fry at the click of a mouse.

The service isn't without its issues - it's a pity that there's a minimum order fee because it definitely makes you buy more than you intend to or else pay a surcharge. If you're ordering alone, it definitely makes it expensive. However in the past, I've doubled up on salads and just kept one for the next day, easing my conscience about getting my meals delivered and my waistline.

Sure, getting your food delivered is undeniably lazy. But as a busy freelancer, my schedule is pretty haywire and I don't keep regular office hours. Sometimes we just forget to do a weekly shop, and often when we do remember, we get it delivered to our door too. It just works for us. My fiancé loves to cook, but not every single night. Using services like Deliveroo and to a lesser extent, JustEat, is just plain easy. You can order via smartphone, pay with your credit card and voila - you're fed and watered with minimum hassle. I'm not surprised these companies do well, because if there's one thing city-dwelling busy thirty-somethings like, it's convenience.

In these post-recession times, we've no kids, a little more disposable income and a work hard, play hard mentality. I'm sure if we ate out less and cooked, we could afford a deposit on a nice suburban home - but for us right now, that's not a priority. When the time comes to pinch some pennies, and surely it will, I'm sure our monthly food and drinks budget will be slashed. But for now I'm happy to brunch, order in and be merry.

Irish Independent

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