By Priyanka Rana
In this article, we provide an overview of available food delivery services in Japan, key statistics, consumption trends, the major Japanese brands operating in the food delivery service space, and what the future holds for the sector.
A Brief History of Food Delivery Services
The history of food delivery begins back in Ancient Rome, where the concept of takeout begun. This was a common way to eat food that had been cooked elsewhere at home, before food delivery emerged. In ancient Rome, it was common for people to live in a house without a kitchen because they could not afford it. Takeout begun among these individuals.
In 14th century Paris, butchers delivered fresh meat to each residence. During WW2 in England, all the kitchens and cooking materials were smashed devastatingly, and food delivery service became a lifeline for most of the citizens.
From the UK, the idea of food delivery services soon spread to the United States, which adopted it as well in Philadelphia. Apart from delivering food to those who required it, they also aimed to provide food delivery to households that were poor and bounded to their homes. The government made sure that the quota of every house is fulfilled so that people do not stay hungry.
This method soon spread to other parts of the country as well including New York and Columbus. When other parts of the world also came to know about the service and the benefits related to them, they also excelled in this field. In Australia, the food delivery services started in 1952.
On the other side of the world, Indian entrepreneur Mahadeo Havaii Bachche came up with an idea of a lunchtime delivery service, called Dabbawalla which is still a huge industry in Mumbai. Office workers and businessmen had problems finding the right type of place to eat lunch due to religious reasons, so Mahadeo came up with the idea of delivering lunches directly from his house, cooked by his family, in order to solve the problem.
Food Delivery Services In Japan
How about food delivery in Japan? Have food delivery services existed throughout Japanese history?
Food delivery in Japan started over 300 years ago during the Edo period (江戸時代, Edo jidai) or Tokugawa period (德川時代, Tokugawa jidai, 1603-1868 A.D.). Food delivery was called Demae (出前) and it was so common that it was often drawn on Ukiyo-e（浮世絵）,Japanese traditional paintings. Demae continued to thrive during the Showa era, and thanks to the emergence of bicycles, food delivery thrived more and more.
During this time period, Japan’s Demae system delivered more than 20 dishes on each occasion, so drivers often had to stack all the dishes on their shoulders while riding a bike at the same time. They even held food delivery competitions to see how many stacks they could make or to create the most aesthetically-pleasing arrangement.
However once cars were introduced to Japanese society, it became quite dangerous to ride a bike while balancing 50 dishes on one’sshoulders. Therefore, Demaeki（出前機）were invented to stack dishes on the back of a motorcycle. The box in which dishes are contained is called Okamochi（岡持ち）. During this time, food such as fresh fish, vegetables, and soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) were being delivered to customers. As the market has continued to grow over the years, the variety of foods introduced into Japan’s food delivery service market has increased. Some of the newer additions include pizza, sushi, and Japanese curry.
Food delivery services in Japan have been crucial in shaping consumer lifestyles over time, and now food delivery methods are shifting once again. The rise in use of smartphones has changed the way consumers order from food delivery services forever. Before companies like Uber Eats entered the market, most orders were placed by calling or through the restaurant’s website instead of through an app, allowing users to pay once the food had been successfully delivered to their house.
The size of the food delivery market in Japan in 2018 was 408 Billion yen ($3.8 billion USD), which increased by 5.9% from the previous year. The market has been growing well, with more and more options available, especially since Uber Eats expanded its business to Japan in September 2016. Overall revenue in the online food delivery segment is projected to reach US$3,113 Million in 2020.
Revenue is expected to have a CAGR of 6.5% between 2020-2024), resulting in a projected market value of $4,001 million USD by 2024. Restaurant-to-Consumer Delivery comprises the most significant segment of the market, and is forecast to reach a value of $1,793 million USD by the end of 2020.
From ready-to-eat food to pre-cooked microwavable dinners and fresh vegetables, there are many types of food delivery services in Japan.
The three main segments are:
1. Raw and fresh food delivery in Japan
This category consists of “Natural food delivery services”, “Milk delivery services”, “Online Supermarkets”, and “Co-op individual delivery services”, which includes the delivery of meat, fish, vegetables, and other ingredients. A co-op is a type of online grocery shopping site where users can purchase almost anything supermarkets offer. There are also options for consumers to order food one week in advance and have it delivered directly to their home.
Food delivery services like Oisix ra daichi and Pal System deliver their own original food and ingredients. Internet supermarkets, like Shop Aeon Net Super and general supermarkets offer services to deliver food to the customer’s house after they have purchased food at the shop. This service is helpful for the elderly who often experience difficulty carrying their groceries home.
2. Processed and pre-cooked food delivery services in Japan
This category consists of “Home meal delivery services” and partial “Online Supermarkets”. These sell frozen or pre-packaged food, like instant noodle packages, that require some cooking or warming up. There are many companies that deliver both processed and fresh food as the ordering and delivery systems are the same. The only difference is the condition the food is in.
3. Ready-to-eat food delivery services in Japan
From pizza delivery to catering, this category is made up of “Deli delivery services”, “Meals from restaurant/fast-food chains”, “Sushi delivery services”, and “Convenience store meal deliveries.” It includes food that is fully prepared and ready to consume.
Food Delivery Services in Japan Bring Consumers’ Favourite Restaurant Cuisines Direct to their Doors
Uber Eats is probably the most familiar name of all Tokyo food delivery services, and one of the easiest to use. The service is available in a number of areas in Tokyo as well as cities like Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe and Fukuoka.
In Tokyo, the service runs between 9am – 12am and while Uber Eats’ restaurant coverage is pretty good, there are some extra charges to take into consideration. For example, if customers order at a particularly busy time, there will be a surcharge, much like booking a taxi during a popular window.
This is only temporary and customers are shown the total cost before confirming their order, so it’s completely up to them if they’re willing to pay the extra amount. Unfortunately, they still don’t deliver to other neighbouring prefectures.One positive aspect worth noting is that they are reducing use of disposable items, so customers instead have to actively request cutlery and single-use items such as plastic straws. Understandably, these no longer come as standard.
Maishoku offers a wide variety of dishes from over 300 restaurants. Although the website has other prefectures listed on the drop-down menu for addresses, most restaurants only deliver within the Tokyo area, and non-Tokyo residents may find their options to be quite limited (or the minimum delivery order to be rather high).
Unlike Uber Eats, Maishoku doesn’t charge for delivery, but listed restaurants set a minimum order value, most of which are fairly reasonable (between ¥1,000 to ¥1,200). Just a note, though—the English translations of Maishoku’s menu items can be pretty awkward for foreigners to understand.
FineDine brings customers quality dining at relatively reasonable prices, although the minimum order value is often a little higher than the other services offer. FineDine’s delivery service covers all of Tokyo’s 23 wards as well as a handful of areas in Kanagawa and Saitama. If a potential customer isn’t sure about FineDine’s delivery areas, they can simply enter their address into the confirmation box and check.
With over 20,000 restaurants, Demae-Can has the largest restaurant listing among the food delivery services highlighted in this article. Popular chains like Freshness Burger, Dominoes, KFC and CoCo Ichibanya also list their menus here. Most of the available restaurants have minimum order values below ¥2,000, and the website displays average user ratings for each restaurant, so customers can get an idea of what’s trendy and what others might be avoiding.
Rakuten Delivery is another of the popular food delivery services in Japan. It is home to around 10,000 listed restaurants, many of which can also be found elsewhere, including chains like KFC and CoCo Ichibanya. Pizza chains like Pizza-La, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s are also covered, although they also have their own websites. Users of Rakuten Delivery earn the company’s proprietary ‘R-Points’ as an incentive when ordering and deals and discounts are offered by each restaurant.
Rakuten Delivery is a website from which customers can, depending on the delivery destination specified, order a wide range of cooked foods including pizza, fried chicken, sushi, boxed lunches, curry, hamburgers, Chinese food, Western food, and Japanese food, as well as requesting catering services and alcoholic beverages from more than 7,500 participating stores across Japan.
Restaurant review site GuruNavi has its own food delivery service, but seems to have opted to continue only the premium version of its service, called GuruNavi Premium. This means you have to order a day in advance and there’s a minimum order amount of ¥10,000 stipulated by many places. This concept comes across as being more aligned with a ‘fancy work dinner’ rather than a casual ‘lazy night in’. GuruNavi Premium does also cover prefectures other than Tokyo, which gives customers a great selection!
One of Japan’s biggest telecoms operators Docomo also runs a food delivery service called D-Delivery, featuring independent and chain restaurants including Dominos, Coco’s Ichibanya, KFC and Pizza Hut. When customers are presented with the list of local options, they are also shown limited time deals for specific restaurants—whether that’s a complementary drink for when the customer orders over a certain amount, or a discount. Delivery prices are determined by each restaurant individually.
Are Robots the Future of Food Delivery Services in Japan?
Food delivery services in Japan are also helping autonomous delivery robots to become part of consumers’ daily lives as the social distancing drive amid the coronavirus pandemic makes this push all the more vital. Over the past few months, the onset of coronavirus has significantly boosted the appeal of services that enable reduced human contact and Japanese firms are counting on the ability of robots to deliver a diverse range of products from businesses to consumers.
In August, an autonomous delivery robot manufactured by ZMP Inc. known as DeliRo will deliver soba dishes to customers in Tokyo for a test run. Customers can place orders via tablets during the trial which runs between 12th – 16th August near JR Takanawa Gateway Station. They can make a cashless payment and have their chosen food delivered by robot within a designated area.
DeliRo, which is about one meter high with a maximum speed of 6km per hour, can carry a load of 50 kg in weight and serve around obstacles in its path using advanced autonomous driving technology.
The Japanese government is also making a case to perpetuate autonomous delivery services, hoping it will reduce some of the pressure from the nation’s acute labour shortage, in large part caused by the rapidly ageing population and low birth rate.
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