Hearty appetites recipe for success of Dubai cook-at-home food delivery services

The new food box company Hello Chef!, offers weekly deliveries of ingredients and recipes for home-prepared meals. So, is it a threat to the UAE's bulging takeaway industry?

Olivia Manner, co-founder of Hello Chef!, has a degree in hospitality management and took catering jobs to help fund her studies. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Olivia Manner was still on maternity leave when she decided she didn’t want to return to her office job as a director for a professional services company.

“I was working so hard but not sure if I was making a big difference in anybody’s lives. I was not feeling fulfilled,” she says.

Growing up as part of a family who love to eat and prepare meals, it seemed the natural choice for a career change was a company that would help people cook more at home.

“That’s where it all came from. The whole thing for me is we are together and cooking together in the kitchen. Everyone is waiting for things to be made, setting the table nicely,” says Ms Manner, from Finland.

Every Sunday, her company, Hello Chef, which she set up in August, delivers a bag of ingredients and the recipes to subscribers.

When she first launched, she pre-chopped and pre-marinated everything, but the business model was too complicated. Today she sticks to the ingredients. The only thing subscribers need to have at home is oil to cook with and salt and pepper to season their meals.

Customers can order on and off but most of them – and she says she now has hundreds – are regulars.

Ms Manner, 35, who has a degree in hospitality management and took catering jobs to help fund her studies, creates the recipes herself. The bag contains the ingredients and recipes for four meals – one chicken, one vegetarian, one that is usually beef and one fish. It costs Dh280 for two people, Dh410 for four and Dh560 for six.

“At the moment it’s only in Dubai. We’re trying to grow in a nice organic way. We want to do Dubai really well and then we’ll do Abu Dhabi. That’s the obvious market,” says Ms Manner, whose husband is taking a career break to help her full time. They don’t have any employees but outsource and use freelancers when they can.

She does, however, already have competition in the UAE, with four “strong” food box companies, says Anette Lind, the co-founder and general manager of DinnerTime, which, in 2011, was the first company of its kind to set up here.

The food ingredients delivery trend, which started in Sweden, was brought over here by Ms Lind and her co-founder, who are both Swedish. It is, in effect, an extension of a UAE trend in meal delivery companies, one of the first companies of which was Right Bite, which creates meal plans and delivers the dishes to your doorstep.

Ms Lind, 45, says the ingredients concept is popular in Sweden because both parents are working and they live a busy life.

“But people are living busy lives here as well,” she says. “Even if you are a housewife, it is busy with the school run and after-school activities. Now the concept is in the United States, Europe, all over the world, actually.”

Being a few years ahead of Hello Chef, Dinner Time is more developed, with a team of five chefs to create recipes and four products – a standard box, a gluten-free box, a Paleo box and a vegetarian box. Prices are slightly higher, at Dh320 for a standard box for two people. Among the products, Paleo is the most expensive, starting from Dh400 for two people.

The company, which has a customer database of between 3,000 and 4,000 customers, started in Dubai and began delivering to Abu Dhabi two years ago. Business is slower in the capital, but orders are increasing in both cities.

“I can see [growth] on the number of boxes we are delivering but we have not reached out to the big market yet.”

Diana Jarmalaite, a research analyst at Euromonitor, says ingredients and recipe businesses are a “supplement” to the grocery shopping service providers, as the new players can pay more attention to the product quality and quantity.

“UAE consumers are willing to spend more for convenience,” she says. “The convenience trend translates into the huge popularity of food delivery. For example, in the UAE we have plenty of samples of chained restaurants that do not deliver anywhere else around the world, but naturally add delivery service in the UAE.”

The company that owns the online food order companies Talabat and Foodonclick noticed the same trend, which is why it launched another takeaway venture, foodora, last year.

The concept, which currently includes 180 restaurants, delivers meals made by restaurants in the medium to upper price range that do not traditionally do takeaway deliveries.

“It is a great new revenue stream for the restaurant and it’s a great way to approach customers who wouldn’t be able to make their way to you because they are stuck at the office or because they are having a quiet night at home,” says Alexander Kappes, the company’s chief executive.

Hello Chef and DinnerTime also appeal to those looking for a quiet time at home, but he does not see them as a threat to takeaway.

“It’s a fantastic addition to the convenient side of food delivery and making sure you can enjoy higher-quality produce products at home,” says Mr Kappes. “Competition is always welcome.”


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