Virus crisis fuels food delivery bonanza

Virus crisis fuels food delivery bonanza

Special report: Amid the economic devastation wreaked by Covid-19, some businesses are thriving, writes Dumrongkiat Mala

A delivery man calls his customer as he waits to pick up his order in the Siam Square area.  Arnun Chonmahatrakool
A delivery man calls his customer as he waits to pick up his order in the Siam Square area.  Arnun Chonmahatrakool

With more and more Thais practising social distancing and staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, food delivery companies are seeing their business surge.

Food delivery is cited as among the few businesses that will benefit from the outbreak. Others include the medical industry, medical supplies, hygiene sanitary services, life and health insurance policies, food packages and digital technology.

The industry has been riding a wave since last year. KResearch (a division of Kasikorn Bank) reported the food delivery business in 2019 was worth 33-35 billion baht, up 14% from the previous year.

This year, the business will surge even more, as people who face lockdown or are required to observe social distancing are relying on food deliveries for their daily meals.

Most delivery operators interviewed by the Bangkok Post say their work has increased at least 100% since the Covid-19 executive decree came into effect on March 26 which bans sit-in dining, but allows restaurants to sell takeaway food.

Eerily empty: The streets surrounding the famous clock tower in downtown Nonthaburi are eerily quiet yesterday evening after the provincial authorities told residents to stay home during an 11pm to 5am curfew. The order is part of an intensifying effort to combat the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

"In the past two hours, I've done about 15 deliveries, which is at least twice as much as normal," said Kaweewat Yoopanya, 43, who's been riding for the food delivery app GrabFood for about a year.

He said the number of orders coming in as well as his income has significantly increased in the past couple of weeks, which is why he'll keep working even if it might mean exposing himself to the virus.

"Of course, I'm scared of catching Covid-19, but I have to make a living, so there is no choice left for me," Mr Kaweewat said while sitting on his motorcycle outside a noodle restaurant in Bangkok's Pattanakarn area.

When asked how he protects himself besides wearing a mask, "I just wash my hands many times a day and try not to get too close to other people," he said.

"The number of orders has doubled since the government invoked the emergency decree," said Jakkrit Kamwan, 35, who also works for GrabFood. "The money has also improved,'' said Mr Jakkrit, who didn't want to reveal the exact figure but said he made twice the amount he earned before the outbreak.

He said he was "not too worried" about potential exposure to the virus. "I don't think I am at high risk of contracting it because I don't touch or talk to people when running orders," he said as he showed the hand sanitisers which he uses to rub on any surfaces he comes into contact with.

GrabFood last week introduced its "Contactless Delivery Policy" in response to a campaign launched by the Public Health Ministry to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and promote hygienic habits among 200,000 food deliverymen working for delivery firms nationwide.

Under the policy, deliverymen wear face masks as they follow the customer's directions via an chat app as to where to place their food order. They'll then let the customer know when they arrive with their food. They will place the food and wait for the customer to pick it up. Both parties should maintain a 2-metre distance.

If cashless payment isn't possible, the customer will be asked to place the cash in an envelope then put it where the food order was placed.

Pongsatorn Chuaychart, 29, who works for another food delivery application LINE MAN, said its no-contact policy helps to encourage customers who might be reluctant to use a food delivery service for fear of being infected.

Even more, it make those carrying out the deliveries feel protected. "The company's contactless delivery policy makes me feel safer, but I'm also taking my own precautions. I plan to keep delivering as long as orders keep coming in. People still have to eat," he said while loading a food order on to his bike.

According to LINE MAN, orders from customers via its platform have increased threefold, and the number of restaurants registered with the delivery service has risen by five times over the past 30 days.

"During the same period, the average income of our couriers has doubled," Waranan Chaungcham, head of marketing and business development said.

Tarin Thaniyavarn, country head of Grab Thailand, said Grab's food delivery business has increased fourfold since the government's decree was announced.

"A key priority for us now is to help businesses stay afloat by bringing more food merchants online, working with existing merchants to elevate their food hygiene standards, and finding creative ways to promote local food businesses. This month, we have brought 30% more food merchants on to our platform compared with the previous month," he said.

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