Uber Eats is not a giant meal that you serve your teenager.
It is a service to deliver food to urban dwellers in a hurry through the Uber system of loosely collected, non-taxi drivers. It is just one of the companies, along with Amazon and Google, that are in the food business.
Google in food?
You bet. Google claims that its real competition does not come from another search engine, it comes from Amazon because when anyone wants to buy an item, they go to Amazon first. As a result, Amazon was challenged by Google Food on the delivery front. Both companies started with dry goods and now will be stretching into fresh food delivery. Google has captured the likes of Costco and Whole Foods for product. Both Costco and Whole Foods are on the list of the Top 10 retailers in North America.
If it is partnerships that bring about massive change, then Uber Eats has that captured. In Toronto, it carries a full menu of 100 restaurants for delivery within the hour and has a quick food delivery system of 10 minutes or less. How do folks use it? Well with an Uber App, of course, that puts meals at your fingertips faster than you can make KD (and without the mess).
So just how much is the e-commerce food area worth?
In the U.S., that is a neat US$10.9 billion and growing by more than nine per cent annually. Uber, between its taxi service and other add-ons such as health care, is worth US$62.5 billion. This year Uber partnered with pharmaceutical companies and delivered flu shot kits to American doorsteps. Company officials are so confident in the future generations demanding instant everything that they are invested heavily in the development of driverless cars.
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Between the drones at Amazon, the driverless cars at Uber, and the data collected by Google, one has to wonder what the future meaning of a home-cooked meal might be. Add to this the shift in eating habits and you have a quagmire of food bits to chew through. Food delivery isn’t the only trend changing to meet consumer demands.
Ancient foods such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans are all the rage, and in 2016 they are getting a power boost by the United Nations International Year of Pulses. As the price of meat protein went up over the past couple of years, the idea of plant-based protein took hold — even in the most carnivorous places. Look for proteins on the plate that challenge the meat counter.
In Canada, 81 per cent of our fruits and veggies come from the U.S. With the loonie now mirroring the peso, we can expect to pay more for food at the counter. Even food hubs, which are springing up in urban centres to feed the working public, will not be cheap. Meals starting at $10 for delivered lunch add up. All in all, the cost to Canadians will be steeper and as the dollar falls, food inflation will be our handicap.
Fuel is cheap and maybe that idea of food delivery isn’t such a bad one, but the hidden cost may be more damaging. It is another gap between the consumer and the producer.
To put it frankly, I’m confused.
The consumer wants a closer relationship with the grower and more transparency in food, no additives and sustainable systems while we also develop a cure for climate change. As farmers, we are used to being able to walk on water, and fortunately have the tools and technologies to do this.
On the other hand is the demand for cheap food both fresh and processed. We do not know the high cost of cheap processed food in terms of human health and wellness. Also, there is a demand for fast food and for quick delivery. What is the environmental cost of millions of delivered meals compared to one shopping event and cooking at home? What are the societal consequences of always staying in and not creating a family memory or never adding a dish to a social event because you can’t cook? There are new apartments in Toronto without kitchens and there are families, even in our community, who have food delivered every night.
How will consumers respond to the added cost of improved animal welfare, and where will they choose to save on the grocery bill?
There is a chance that the move toward a higher vegetable diet will evolve but that being said, veggies are not always easy to deliver or prepare. Is the combination of all of these changes, delivery with drones and driverless cars; easy access to prepared foods; and increased processing of foods for shelf stability and flavour going to benefit a narrow demographic of the food map — namely high-sugar and high-additive food-processing companies?
Meanwhile, it is lunch time at Google and its chefs are busy preparing free gourmet food for the employees in the 30 cafeterias at headquarters. The tab of over US$80 million a year is not of consequence as there are bigger nets in the food delivery arena to cast that translate into billions.
Tech companies have discovered which side their bread is buttered on.