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Delivery wars elevate Singapore's food mania

Foodie cities across the globe boast a wide range of speedy delivery apps catering to hungry residents but in Singapore, one of Asia's culinary centers, competition is just heating up.

On-demand meal delivery services by third-party firms have been a fixture in the global food-and-beverage industry for a while now, promising restaurants extra revenues without compromising table turnover rates. Even ridesharing start-up Uber has joined the booming industry, with this year's roll-out of UberEats across North America and Paris.

Singapore is a different story, however. Despite the roaring popularity of street cuisine and venues featuring Michelin-star chefs, the delivery market has been fairly quiet. Backed by Rocket Internet, start-up Foodpanda has enjoyed the title of industry leader with little competition since launching three years ago.

Branding itself as a marketplace for vendors ranging from fast food to casual dining, the service offers a variety of options regarding minimum orders, delivery fees and times in order to appeal to a wide base of customer preferences, explained Emma Heap, managing director at Foodpanda Singapore.

But new entrants could give the incumbent a run for its money.

After branching out throughout Europe, Deliveroo's arrival last month has already shaken up the market through an aggressive charm offensive, including free catering for Facebook and Linkedin's offices. Unlike Foodpanda, the London-headquartered business only targets gourmet restaurants, such as acclaimed Potato Head Folk, many of which don't deliver.

"People in Singapore are willing to pay more for premium services. If there is a restaurant that is good but highly expensive, I would still want to have it," said Tristan Torres, Deliveroo Singapore's general manager.

"We're even in the process of speaking with potential Michelin-starred restaurants to work with them."

Torres isn't concerned about the mass market. Rather, he's targeting urban professionals, who often work long hours and may not have enough time to visit the city's quality venues. And that certainly seems to be working—while unable to share daily order volumes, Torres said the firm was experiencing 500 percent growth week-on-week.

Deliveroo also promises a more streamlined structure, with average delivery times of 30 minutes and a flat S$3 or S$5 charge for orders of S$25 and below, respectively. If orders are late, customers are compensated.

Coinciding with Deliveroo's launch, Foodpanda has unveiled a number of improvements, such as an updated mobile app, healthier restaurant options and most importantly, deliveries on average of 30 minutes from 60-70 minutes previously.

"We've been doing 30-minute deliveries thought out this year; it just hasn't been the average so far. We wanted to make sure our technology was top-notch before communicating these updates to the public," said Heap.

The improvements aren't aimed at competing with Deliveroo, but rather to cater to changing customer expectations as speed becomes a priority, she noted.

She's also unfazed by Deliveroo's simpler delivery fee structure.

"We ran a series of A/B tests to compare re-order rates using various price levels and we actually see that more people are sensitive to minimum order levels, not delivery costs."

Six-month old app Hawker Today is yet another new player on the market. Strictly focused on local Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian fare from hawker centers—a staple of Singaporean culture—the start-up marks the digitization of traditional food stalls.

"From October to November, we've seen our returning users grow 173 percent," said co-founder Jonathan Faynop, adding that he hopes to boost hawker stalls' revenues by 10 percent.

Because Hawker Today's target audience differs from Foodpanda or Deliveroo, he doesn't consider them direct threats.

"We're targeting the everyday man so that focus will allow us to stay competitive. Plus, we have a homegrown advantage and networks."

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