Delivery companies strive to cut supply chain disruptions amid virus outbreak

Global firms such as Deliveroo and Uber are promoting contactless deliveries to cope with the pandemic

A Deliveroo courier wearing a protective face mask passes Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Italy appears never far from a recession, and the spread of the coronavirus may just tip it back into the danger zone. Photographer: Camilla Cerea/Bloomberg
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Delivery companies, facing a spike in food and household goods orders amid the coronavirus outbreak, are coming up with innovative measures to ensure continuity of their supply chain and seamless delivery to their customers.

Many companies have taken steps including enforcing strict hygiene standards, safeguarding the food quality and offering extra financial support for the staff involved in contactless deliveries.

Firms such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo said they are setting aside funds to compensate drivers who might fall ill or are forced to be quarantined, according to a Bloomberg report.

London-based Deliveroo will compensate affected drivers with 14 days above the statutory sick pay rate in the UK. Whereas, Uber Eats said it will offer drivers in the US, UK and Mexico, compensation for a period of time if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus or placed in quarantine and is planning to implement the same programme globally.

A report by UBS, examining the impact of coronavirus on online food delivery business, said there is an uptick in meal delivery demand in most markets, including Italy, the worst hit country after China.

“Certainly our rides business to the extent that people stop leaving their house will take a hit, while our business Eats will probably actually benefit,” Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said at the Morgan Stanley 2020 Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

However, the Swiss investment bank noted that this trend could change if there is a supply chain disruption and due to risk related to pre-cooked foods. The same was witnessed in China where grocery delivery grew over meal deliveries after the coronavirus outbreak intensified.

But the delivery companies are taking a number of steps to minimise physical contact, including offering contactless services where customers can request drivers to leave their orders at the doorstep.

When a customer opts for contactless option, the rider will place the order at the doorstep, ring the bell and practice social distancing, while the customer picks the order from the thermal bag, said Tomaso Rodriguez, chief executive of Talabat.

The imposition of quarantine measures has also led to panic buying in the countries experiencing the pandemic, Ana Nicholls, director, industry operations at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told The National.

“Supermarkets have tried to reassure customers that the panic is unnecessary… although global supply chains have been stretched by the crisis, which has made shipping less easy, there are only a few food items where supplies are limited, such as pasta from Italy,” she added.

The National looks at how the delivery companies in the region are responding to the crisis.

McDonald’s pushes online payments

McDonald’s is monitoring drivers’ body temperatures at the start and the end of each day’s shift.

All drivers are adhering to strict hygiene standards including mandated handwashing before and after each delivery, wearing masks and gloves at all times, said Walid Fakih, general manager at McDonald’s UAE.

"During this unprecedented time, we have ramped up necessary measures and are working closely with the UAE authorities to ensure we are doing everything in our power to navigate this together," Mr Fakih told The National.

The company is encouraging its customers to avoid cash on delivery, if possible.

“However, if customers wish to pay with cash, they can do so using a sanitised bag provided by our driver.”

It is also in the process of introducing contactless delivery measures to avoid physical contact between drivers and customers.

Pinza uses social media to motivate staff

Pinza, a Dubai-based restaurant chain, has started WhatsApp groups to motivate and remind all staff handling the preparation and delivery of the food on how to keep things clean and sanitised.

It has also launched a contact-free delivery service.

“We are carefully working with our staff to keep them motivated during these rough times… We are ensuring that all bikes, boxes and delivery bags are consistently sanitised,” said Tamer Elkhayat, director and co-founder of the chain.

Cafu educates its pilots

Besides checking their body temperature daily, Cafu – a fuel-service booking app – is providing its drivers gloves and masks to ensure they are minimising contact with any surface or individual. It is also educating them about disinfectant solutions to effectively clean the delivery trucks.

An Uber Eats delivery man stands by hte Spanish Steps at a deserted Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on March 12, 2020, as Italy shut all stores except for pharmacies and food shops in a desperate bid to halt the spread of a coronavirus. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI

"Cafu was designed to be contactless. This means that our pilots don't have to make contact with our customers," Rashid Al Ghurair, founder and chief executive of Cafu, told The National.

“We are also taking additional precautions at this time as our pilots are the backbone of our operations,” he added.

Talabat keeps drivers safety first

Talabat is providing its riders safety equipment and sanitisers – "for their peace of mind, so that when they are delivering orders, they know they are safe", Mr Rodriguez told The National.

“The wellbeing of our riders will always be one of our top priorities. We really appreciate everything they do for our customers during this challenging time.”

The delivery company said it has seen volumes of orders changing but no major spikes or trends so far.

For example, the company has seen a moderate rise in orders with Talabat Daily, an on-demand grocery store, which delivers groceries within 15 minutes, while other verticals have not changed, Mr Rodriguez said.

Uber Eats develops new features

Uber Eats said its users have been leaving notes for years, whether it’s “leave in lobby/at reception” or “leave at door”.

"In response to the ongoing spread of coronavirus, we have reminded Uber Eats users that they can request deliveries be left on their doorsteps. We are simultaneously at work on new product features to make this process even smoother, which we hope will be helpful to everyone on the platform in the coming weeks," Uber Eats spokesperson told The National in an emailed statement.

Instashop sees surge in grocery orders

Instashop, an on-demand online grocery delivery company, is working with its partners to ensure continuous availability of products to its customers. It is “optimising processes and technology” to cater to the growing demand, said John Tsioris, the start-up’s chief executive.

“All safety measures have been communicated internally and trainings are being rolled-out to hundreds of our retail partners,” he added.

This month, Instashop’s grocery orders have increased more than 53 per cent month-on-month, with a significant impact starting at the end of February.

iMile prepares for future

iMile, a Dubai-based last mile delivery company, is procuring safety gears from China to ensure it is ready in case the situation worsens.

"We do not want to press the panic button but we need to gear up for any extreme situations. We are getting full-gear kits for our drivers that they can wear depending on the situation," Naveen Joseph, co-founder of the start-up, told The National.