The Future of Food


Innovation in food is not only constant but it is definitive and once you move to the next stage there is no going back. At CMS’s annual technology conference, this year themed Innovate to Survive, Deliveroo's Global Head of Editions, Rohan Pradhan delivered a keynote, which is summarised in this article.

If we look back two thousand years ago, the Roman dining rooms, known as triclinium, only existed in the richest of households and cooking was very much a luxury. Standards of nutrition for the average person at that time were also very poor and if you did not have money you ate in a communal dining hall. Most people back then depended on others to meet their food needs and this situation existed for about the next 1900 years.

Even by 1914, food standards were still extremely poor with the average British working class family spending 60 per cent of income on basic food needs. So what changed? By the 1930s grain mills had made it cheaper to produce high quality flour and that was the start of a host of innovations that helped bring about a dramatic reduction in the price of food. Fast forward to last year and the average British family spent just 11 per cent of their income on food.

But when food has never been cheaper and cooking is no longer a luxury then why do consumers pay someone – be it Pret or Boots – to make our sandwiches for lunch? Or why do entire families eat their chicken rice from the famous Tian Tian stalls at Hawker Centres. These families include children who will have never seen their mothers cook a meal for them at home. Why? Because the food they can eat at hawker centres is really good and cheap.

It is clear that the way people are consuming food has never changed as rapidly or been as disrupted by innovation as much as it has in the past decade. And this rapid evolution helps explain how Deliveroo came to exist. Food delivery existed 20 years ago but consumer choices were limited until Just Eat came along and provided an easy online interface for consumers to order food from restaurants.

However what the founder of Deliveroo – Will Shu – wanted to do was truly innovative as he wanted to have good food delivered, not just food delivered. There were many restaurants that did not do deliveries because they did not want the hassle or simply did not trust the delivery experience enough to ensure the quality of the food was maintained. Deliveroo spotted that need and decided to control that last mile of delivery by building a logistics-enabled market space that would ensure both the quality of food and the speed of delivery. In the 4.5 years since Deliveroo founded its business it now has a presence in 191 cities and has more than 30,000 delivery riders supplying millions of meals every single month. Deliveroo has also, in one fell swoop, created a market that did not exist before expanding its horizons from a $28 billion takeaway market to the $436 billion restaurant market in the 12 countries it operates.

But Deliveroo is not only thinking about the consumer of today, it wants to understand the customer of the future and it already has a good idea of what that consumer may look like. The customer of the future wants good prices and ever faster service levels but most importantly does not want to be constrained by geography. Why should food choices be limited to the 2 mile radius around someone’s home? The customer of the future will want to eat a Philly steak sandwich that tastes just like the real thing, or they too will want their chicken rice to taste like it does at a Tian Tian chicken stall in Singapore . The bar is going to be set much higher and Deliveroo wants to be at the forefront or providing food that will meet the highest standards of cuisine around the world. Deliveroo also plans to get to know its customers even better so it can offer a personalised, well-curated selection of foods that will hit the spot with its customers at a certain time and a certain day.

Deliveroo is already installing the infrastructure needed to meet the future needs of consumers through its custom-built container kitchens, once called “rooboxes” but now known as Editions. These kitchens can replicate the identical equipment of some of the world’s most famous restaurants and can be dropped in any industrial estate or car park which is cheaper than high street. This allows the production of top quality food at lower cost. In one year Deliveroo has gone from zero to 105 kitchens and 125 will be live by March. This is a programme that is quickly scaling up and is an innovation that helped Busaba Eathia to open in Camberwell, entering that market at just one tenth of the cost of setting up in a high street location.

Innovation in food is not only constant but it is definitive and once you move to the next stage there is no going back. Deliveroo is at the forefront of this journey of discovery and while it may not be here yet but there may come a time when consumers trust Deliveroo to provide all three of meals a day and never feel the need to cook another meal again.

You can watch a video of the session below: