COVID-19 has hit the world in the most unprecedented way possible. Businesses are shutting down, people are getting laid off and new pay structures are being introduced in companies just to stay afloat in the current dire circumstances. In the midst of such economic and public health chaos, food delivery services have prevailed in the pandemic. They are appeasing the palette of the general people who are stuck at home and can no longer enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as enjoying their favourite food while dining in their favourite restaurant. If that is not enough, food delivery services have introduced new opportunities for their consumers to order groceries from home just to make their lives easy during the spread of COVID-19. Ambareen Reza, Managing Director and Co-founder of Foodpanda shares insight on how she is running her organisation in current days.

As restaurant visits continue to go down, food delivery companies are expected to enjoy more business. Has that been the case for Bangladesh post COVID19?

When the pandemic first hit Bangladesh, in the first couple of weeks, it was difficult for restaurants to operate as usual. When the government announced the general holiday the restaurant industry saw a large chunk of their workforce leave for their homes out of the metros. Some restaurants were not being able to operate because of staffing issues. After the initial couple of weeks of turbulence, as more and more restaurants are back in operations from their kitchens we are able to cater to the surging demand that we have been seeing post COVID 19. We are working very closely with all our restaurant partners to ensure we are maintaining all hygiene practices while reopening and serving our customers.

What was the company’s first initial response towards the epidemic?

With the current ongoing crisis situation we are working closely with the government to ensure our riders and restaurant partners are compliant with COVID 19 prevention practices during this lockdown, to deliver the highest quality products in the safest possible way to our customers.

Ambareen Reza
Managing Director and Co-founder
Foodpanda

To ensure hygiene we are in constant communication with our restaurant partners following the latest World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines while advising them on the health and safety practices beyond our food hygiene expectations. We have also developed easy to understand best practice videos on restaurant hygiene. foodpanda is committed to the wellbeing of all its stakeholders and will continue to monitor the situation, updating measures as required.

For our riders, we have been proactively reaching out to them on preventive measures for COVID 19; providing the entire fleet of riders across Bangladesh with facemasks, gloves and hand sanitizers; we are also in the process of procuring PPE as mandated by the government. Besides, riders have been undergoing temperature screening daily at the hub offices before commencing work to ensure they are fit to serve our customers.

For the safety of our customers, we have introduced contactless delivery where our riders will leave the orders at a safe distance to minimize any unnecessary contact. Weare encouraging online payment options through debit or credit cards – a cashless payment method to minimize contact in addition to availing contactless-delivery.

We have also started foodpanda shops – our grocery and medicine delivery marketplace, considering the need of the hour. We are constantly working on adding more shops to our platform so that customers can stay safely at home with the convenience of getting everything they need delivered.

What are the obstacles that the industry is currently facing due to the extraordinary situation as a result of COVID19? (both logistical and socio-economic)

It is quite a turbulent time for all industries and especially the restaurant industry which has been built on the crux of the demand of different cuisines and the gap in the market for the general bangladeshi to go somewhere with their friends and family. Our culture is built around food — and the restaurant industry was booming to cater to that growing need for the market. With this pandemic, this definitely raises concerns as to when exactly things can go back to normal — for most brick and mortar restaurants it will take a while to get back that dine in crowd. But there is strong demand for food from these restaurants delivered safely at home – we are seeing that growth daily. For a delivery service like ours, this is the time for us to step and help both restaurants, riders and customers.

We are onboarding more and more restaurants so that they can keep their businesses going through online deliveries — as long as our restaurant partners can make the food ready for delivery we will take care of getting it to the customer. We have started expanding our shops marketplace as well and are onboarding as many local shops and sellers to help them find an additional channel to sell their products. We are hopeful that supply chain and staffing issues that our restaurant partners faced during the start of the pandemic is now easing out as people get used to “the new normal”

We are seeing a surge in the number of riders signing up on our platform as currently earning opportunities across the nation are sparse.As we are still growing and expanding across Bangladesh – we are providing these earning opportunities across the country in the 25 cities we are operational in. We are on track to launch 40 cities by the end of the year.

As food delivery personnels are essentially contractors, it’s hard to quantify employment generation from the sector. However, how much income does the sector roughly generate for them (delivery personnels)?

Our riders can earn Tk 20,000 to Tk 30,000 every month by being engaged on our platform. Given the current pandemic situation we have also been equipping our riders with face masks, gloves, sanitisers and temperature checks at our hubs free of charge. We are also working with an insurance company to enable our riders access to health insurance which they can opt in for.

Riders and food delivery personnel are on the frontlines of the outbreak. What measures has Foodpanda taken to ensure safety and minimise the risks for the people who are risking their lives for their livelihoods?

Our riders are our strength and we are doing our best to ensure that this pandemic is not negatively affecting them mentally and physically. We kept our operations ongoing in response to serve the public amidst the lockdown. Following the pandemic, our riders have been equipped with all sorts of protective measures; as they have been in the frontlines of this whole crisis. Even though riders are not our direct employees we have provided them with masks, gloves, sanitizers. Daily temperature checks commence before riders can go online on our platform. In addition, we are facilitating insurance policies for all our riders which includes treatment for COVID 19. Our riders deliver food, groceries, and meds at the doorstep of customers. They are fighting the pandemic from the frontline. It is our responsibility to not only protect them with safety measures but also protect them with insurance policies. In addition to giving out masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to riders, we have taken the initiative to equip them with these insurance policies to protect their overall wellbeing.

Can you please share some information about the new “Contactless” delivery option with our readers?

In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, to promote healthy social distancing, apart from encouraging customers to switch to online payment, we have launched contactless delivery service. Customers can request their order to be dropped off at any designated spot, minimizing direct contact. The new measures are introduced for greater safety and to ensure customers feel secure when using their services. During the order process, customers can inform riders that they are opting for a contactless delivery. Upon arrival, your food will be placed at a designated drop off spot at your home or office, and customers will be notified that their food has arrived. A minimum distance of 1 metre between rider and customers will be maintained, and customers are also required to verify that their food has been delivered. To reduce interaction further, customers are also urged to switch to online payment.

How is Foodpanda innovating itself to be more accomodating of the situation and ensure sustainable revenue generation?

We’re constantly innovating our business to cater to the needs of the market. We launched foodpanda shops within a week of the pandemic to provide our customers with the most essential groceries and medicine they might need to stay safely at home.
We have created the opportunity for home chefs to join our platform so that they can earn through food made at home — we strongly believe that this is a great way to earn for a lot of people who do not have formal employment at this time.

Our cloud kitchens is soon launching cloud kitchens across 5 zones with 50 kitchen stalls in Dhaka city with a set plan to launch 30 kitchens across the country with close to 400 kitchen stalls by December 2020. The purpose of these kitchens is not only to make food from beloved restaurants from different parts of the city available to customers in these areas, but also to allow our top performing restaurant partners who are often small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with limited access to funds, the opportunity to operate from our kitchens and quickly expand their footprint across the city (and country). While empowering our restaurant partners and customers alike, our focus is and will always continue to be operational excellence, which allows us to relentlessly pursue our goal of always delivering the widest choice of the freshest food to customers at the best prices, without compromising on safety and hygiene, faster than anyone else.

Have Foodpanda carried out any social awareness campaign as a part of its CSR to raise public awareness?

It is our duty to stand beside the frontline workforce of the nation. They are operating against all odds so that we can be safe. As a gesture of support, during this critical period, we have donated over 20,000 food packages and rations to frontline workers including hospitals directly involved in COVID 19 testing, police and our own riders to show our support for them. To help the community at large, in a strategic move, we procured the donated food and rations from its restaurant partners; enabling them to sustain their business when normal operations had been down.

We have also partnered with 10 NGOs during this time to help them raise funds through our platform – we have seen a great response from our customer base, having raised over Tk 10 Lacs for the NGOs listed on our platform. Its encouraging to see the community come together to get through this time as one.

As a leader, how hard has been to cope with the situation and keep your team motivated?
Our employees are our strength and we are doing our best to ensure that this pandemic is not negatively affecting them mentally and physically. We have initiated working from home even before the lockdown was officially announced. We have updated our insurance policies for employees to include treatment for COVID 19. We have taken a conscious decision to retain all employees during this time, with no pay cuts, and are also going ahead with full bonuses for all during Eid.

We kept our operations ongoing in response to serve the public amidst the lockdown. Following the pandemic, our riders have been equipped with all sorts of protective measures; as they have been in the frontlines of this whole crisis. Even though riders are not our direct employees we have provided them with masks, gloves, sanitizers. Daily temperature checks commence before riders can go online on our platform. In addition, we are facilitating insurance policies for all our riders which includes treatment for COVID 19. Globally, our parent company Delivery Hero has also pledged 3 million euros as a Financial Support Program for any riders affected through this pandemic, so that we can safeguard their earnings for a significant period of time.

Any closing statement?

It is important to keep raising awareness about the pandemic, keep maintaining all safety practices and keep the hope that we will see better days soon. We are doing our best to ensure our business and all our stakeholders, including our employees, our restaurant partners and our customers come out of this pandemic safely. Our recent campaigns and strategies are geared towards ensuring that. We want to keep urging everyone to stay safely at home, while we deliver the necessities.

K Tanzeel Zaman, Subeditor of ICE Today Magazine. He is an avid traveler, aiming to fill up his passport and express his perspective of the world through his write-ups.