The pandemic has turned the humble takeaway on its head with many a delivery service thriving during the crisis. As businesses restart, many in the food and beverage (F&B) sector can learn from their retail cousins and vice versa as food e-commerce booms.

Food delivery services have been on an upswing since lockdown measures were introduced. Riders brave most weather conditions to feed famished patrons forced onto their smartphones for nourishment or sustenance.

Online patronage shows no signs of abating – Roy Morgan research shows over 5.5 million Australians used meal delivery services in 2020, up from 3.9 million people in 2019.

Food delivery services including UberEats, Deliveroo, Menulog and DoorDash, coupled with meal kit providers such as HelloFresh and ASX-listed My Food Bag have flourished throughout the pandemic.

Some up-market restaurants have gone it alone and thrived – Josh Niland, who owns the popular Sydney fine dining fish eatery Saint Peter pivoted to start his Mr Niland takeaway service.

Premium restaurant marketplace Providoor launched during Melbourne’s prolonged lockdowns last year and while not a same day delivery service, the food is packed and shipped with cooling technology and refrigerated upon arrival to preserve freshness.

When lockdowns ease pubs and restaurants are expected to hit capacity and food delivery services should see a dip. But make no mistake – usage will not return to pre-Covid levels as customers have been accustomed to the service while cooped up at home.

The main reason is there’s now a new set of standards for people – they’re comfortable, familiar, and easily able to order quality food to be delivered at their doorstep in a timely manner.

On the horizon we expect a shake up in the food delivery market in more ways than one as customers become more discerning.

Technology will play a critical role in the provenance of products for nutrition, allergies and other reasons, while more efficient cooling solutions could be on the way.

My Food Bag, for instance, soldiered on despite the pandemic by successfully rolling out a new enterprise resourcing planning system.

The new platform manages all forms of data – from customer order confirmation to purchasing ingredients, and supplier payments. The system also captures data on nutrition and allergens, and the overall faster work turnaround has increased productivity.

This move has paid huge dividends for My Food Bag’s bottomline.

Meal delivery services can take a leaf out of large retailers’ playbook – their home delivery vans are kitted out with sensors, cooling technology, temperature gauges and the like to ensure products remain fresh throughout the day.

When products get damaged, they can be tracked and recorded while on the move.

In future, new innovation like the Internet of Things (IoT) will become more accessible and consumable for smaller companies. Lightweight, ‘smart’ delivery bags with heating and cooling capabilities for food delivery riders could be in the works.

These bags could also transmit certain product information – either to the providers, a central point, or even to be viewed by the customer – much like how one can track the delivery riders’ movement on screen. Consumers would value guaranteed, quality products with the right temperature delivered to their door.

Over the next 12 months, discerning players in the food delivery ecosystem are likely to increase investments in two broad areas: logistics and manufacturing.

Gaining complete, end-to-end visibility of the supply chain will be key. How can customers track their orders during transit? Not every meal delivery service offers this capability today.

F&B manufacturers and producers can use industry-specific enterprise resource planning systems to manage costs at an extremely granular level. Those relying on legacy systems should take advantage of cloud-based software to improve and streamline processes.

From an end-consumer perspective, the initial success of Providoor has proven Australians’ desire for premium, fine dining products – even though the chef-prepared dishes are finished in patrons’ kitchens.

In future we could see niche restaurants using food marketplaces such as Providoor to expand nationally by offering dishes that can be shipped frozen and/or deconstructed.

The F&B industry hasn’t had much to celebrate over the past 18 months but rest assured that Australia is at the cusp of a food e-commerce boom, with a healthy appetite for growth in the years ahead.

Andy Buckle is food and beverage industry strategist at Infor.