exploring the horizon the future growth of online food delivery

Exploring the Horizon: The Future Growth of Online Food Delivery


The landscape of food ordering has undergone a profound transformation, especially in the United States, where a substantial 40% of adults now opt for online food orders at least once. This shift traces back to the emergence of World-Wide Waiter in 1995, the pioneering online food ordering service that rapidly expanded across multiple cities. By the late 2000s, major pizza chains were conducting a notable portion—20-30%—of their business through online platforms. The surge continued with the rise of smartphone usage and the sharing economy, catapulting food delivery startups into the spotlight. Snapfinger, a hub for multi-restaurant ordering, witnessed a remarkable 17% surge in mobile food orders by 2010. Subsequently, the momentum led online ordering to surpass traditional phone orders by 2015. This evolution wasn't exclusive to the U.S.; China's online food ordering and delivery market skyrocketed from a mere 0.15 billion yuan to a staggering 44.25 billion yuan in 2015. While in the U.S., online delivery transactions accounted for roughly 3% of restaurant sales by September 2016, the growth of online restaurant ordering outpaced dine-in traffic by a striking 300% in 2018. Globally, the market for online-prepared food delivery stands at an estimated USD 94 billion, projected to grow steadily at around 9% annually, reaching an anticipated USD 134.5 billion by the close of 2023.

Online Food Ordering Trends

Consumer behavior in online food ordering has shifted dramatically in recent years. There's a growing preference for convenience and variety, with consumers increasingly reliant on mobile apps and websites to order meals. The trend is fueled by a desire for speed and ease, seeking options that offer quick delivery or pickup. Moreover, there's a heightened emphasis on customization and personalization, with users expecting tailored recommendations and flexible ordering features to suit individual preferences. Trust in digital platforms for food safety and quality has also risen, leading to a surge in orders from a diverse range of restaurants. This shift reflects a fundamental change in how consumers perceive and interact with food services, placing a premium on seamless experiences and diverse choices within the online ordering sphere.

Meal Delivery Services Growth

The meal delivery services sector, exemplified by Zomato's staggering achievements in fiscal year 2023, has undergone a meteoric rise, capturing 647 million orders from 58 million customers and amassing a total order value of Rs 263.1 billion across 800 cities in India. Zomato's success story reflects the industry's evolution, tracing back to the initial stages between 2015 and 2017, characterized by a gradual adoption of online ordering by restaurants and customers alike. However, the subsequent period from 2017 to 2020 witnessed exponential growth fueled by technological advancements, heightened user adoption, and increased cooperation from restaurant partners. This growth trajectory aligns with global projections, where the meal delivery service market, valued at USD 31.34 billion in 2020, is anticipated to exhibit a substantial expansion, reaching USD 74.01 billion by 2026, showcasing a robust CAGR of 15.40%. The market's allure is further emphasized by a comprehensive analysis encompassing macro to micro perspectives, including industry dynamics, segment markets, competitive landscapes, and the influence of factors like mergers & acquisitions, emerging trends, and the repercussions of events such as COVID-19 and regional conflicts. This holistic view underscores the market's allure for industry players, investors, strategists, and researchers, encapsulating its unprecedented growth trajectory and future potential.

Digital Food Market Expansion

The digital food market stands as a transformative force, witnessing exponential growth driven by several key factors. Urbanization, rising disposable incomes, and a shifting preference toward online shopping have all propelled the industry's expansion. Technological advancements and increased smartphone penetration have revolutionized consumer behavior, fostering a reliance on digital platforms for food ordering and delivery. Furthermore, the pandemic-induced shift towards contactless services accelerated the adoption of digital food platforms, emphasizing convenience, safety, and accessibility. Innovations such as live order tracking, secure payment options, and personalized recommendations have augmented user experiences, influenced consumer choices and further fueled the market's growth. This dynamic landscape continues to evolve, reshaping how people interact with food services, and presents promising opportunities for continued advancement and innovation within the digital food realm.

The Evolution of Restaurant Delivery

The landscape of restaurant delivery has undergone a profound evolution, witnessing transformative shifts in business models and the integration of delivery services with dining experiences. Initially, restaurant delivery was predominantly an extension of traditional dine-in services, often relying on phone orders and in-house delivery personnel. However, the advent of digital technology revolutionized this paradigm, leading to the emergence of dedicated delivery services and the integration of online ordering platforms. Restaurants began embracing diverse business models, incorporating cloud kitchens, virtual brands, and ghost kitchens to cater specifically to the delivery market. This shift expanded their reach beyond physical dining spaces, optimizing operations for efficient delivery services. Moreover, the pandemic accelerated the integration of delivery services with the dine-in experience, prompting restaurants to enhance their infrastructure to accommodate both in-house dining and seamless delivery operations. Concepts like "dark stores" and dedicated delivery areas within restaurants emerged, facilitating the seamless handling of orders specifically tailored for delivery. This shift has significantly altered the traditional restaurant model, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to cater to evolving consumer preferences for both dining in and ordering out.

Technological Innovations and Their Impact

Technological innovations, notably AI, apps, and automation, have fundamentally reshaped the landscape of online food ordering, drove efficiency and enhancing user experiences. AI-powered algorithms analyze user preferences, enabling personalized recommendations and streamlining the ordering process. Apps serve as centralized platforms offering intuitive interfaces for seamless transactions, live order tracking, and secure payments, catering to evolving consumer demands for convenience and accessibility. Automation, through optimized logistics and route planning, ensures swift and efficient deliveries. Case studies showcase how industry giants like Zomato and Uber Eats leverage these technologies. Zomato's AI-driven recommendation engine and Uber Eats' sophisticated app interface exemplifies the successful adoption of technology, revolutionizing the user journey and bolstering the efficiency and scope of online food ordering, influencing consumer behavior significantly.

Statistical Insights into Online Meal Delivery

The US food delivery industry has tripled in revenue in the past five years, with 111 million users and a market predicted to grow to USD 43 billion by 2025. The pandemic has significantly impacted the industry, with 68% of consumers ordering takeout in 2021. Restaurants have also adapted to the changing industry, with 81% of fine dining restaurants adding curbside takeout options. Food delivery and online ordering apps have become popular, with UberEats and McDonald's app seeing 82 million global downloads in 2020. However, UberEats is still unprofitable, and DoorDash has a 45% market share in the US.

Forecasting the Food Delivery Industry

The global food delivery sector, after experiencing remarkable expansion in 2020 and 2021, has transitioned to a more stabilized growth rate of 4.1% in 2022 and continuing into 2023. This shift, attributed to inflationary pressures impacting consumer behavior, marks a departure from the rapid growth witnessed during the peak pandemic period. Despite this, several factors inspire optimism within the sector. EBITDA profitability is anticipated for major food delivery companies in 2023 and 2024, driven by operational efficiencies and economies of scale. Established players are set to outperform startups as the market consolidates around larger operators. Moreover, the sector's penetration into the global market of internet users remains at around 18%, indicating significant untapped potential compared to the 22% penetration of overall ecommerce in 2022. Forecasts project faster growth in online food delivery sales, reaching 23% penetration by 2026, propelled by increased user acquisition and higher order frequency. Analysts recommend evaluating urban density, demographic shifts favoring consumption, market fragmentation, regulatory policies, and market concentration to gauge growth and profitability prospects, highlighting the potential within regions and specific companies poised for opportunity.

Challenges and Considerations

The evolution of the global food delivery sector faces multifaceted challenges and considerations, potentially encountering several roadblocks amidst its growth trajectory. One significant challenge lies in the operational complexities of achieving profitability amid inflationary pressures and fluctuating consumer behaviors. The concentration of market power around larger players might hinder competition, potentially stifling innovation and limiting opportunities for smaller startups. Moreover, regulatory landscapes concerning gig workers' rights, commission rates charged to restaurants, and sustainability regulations pose critical considerations. Sustainability regulations, in particular, demand eco-friendly packaging, efficient delivery practices, and reduced carbon footprints, necessitating substantial investments and operational adjustments for compliance. Balancing profitability, market concentration, regulatory compliance, and sustainability measures remains pivotal for the sector's sustained growth and long-term viability.


The landscape of online food delivery stands at a pivotal juncture, poised for continued evolution and growth. The sector's trajectory, marked by rapid expansion and subsequent stabilization, reflects a nuanced interplay of technological innovation, changing consumer behaviors, and economic dynamics. While the industry has witnessed remarkable strides in profitability and market penetration, challenges loom, including regulatory considerations, market concentration, and the imperative of sustainable practices. However, amidst these challenges lie opportunities—room for further expansion, untapped markets, and the potential for technological advancements to reshape the sector. By addressing these challenges while leveraging emerging trends, such as urban density, demographic shifts, and favorable regulatory policies, the industry can navigate toward a future characterized by sustained growth, profitability, and a redefined consumer experience. The journey ahead demands a delicate balance between innovation, consumer-centricity, regulatory compliance, and sustainability, charting a path toward a vibrant and resilient future for online food delivery.