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Chinese takeaway apps make inroads into UK food scene

By Cecily Liu in London | | Updated: 2017-04-26 21:34

A Friday night Chinese takeaway meal is a long-standing ritual for many British families, but such food is increasingly accessible these days, and can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, at the click of a button, thanks to the emergence of food delivery apps in the United Kingdom.

Key players, including Bigfoodie and HungryPanda, emerged because large Western platforms, such as UberEATS, Deliveroo, and Just Eat, have not yet added Chinese restaurants to their networks on a large scale, often due to language and cultural barriers, or expensive commission that Chinese restaurants found prohibitive.

"As a niche market delivery company, we're able to develop good personal relationships with Chinese restaurant owners," said William Bai, who left Just Eat to found Bigfoodie in 2012. Bigfoodie now has 550,000 registered users. It links with 2,500 Chinese and other Asian restaurants.

To further the platform's competitiveness, Bigfoodie also offers consultancy services that help Chinese restaurants optimize inventory management and increase accounting accuracy. Data on the geographical concentration of customers is also used, to help restaurants consider opening new outlets.

A younger platform is HungryPanda, which was founded by University of Nottingham graduate Liu Kelu last year. It now has 15,000 active users and a network of 250 restaurants across six UK cities. Impressively, the platform managed to hit break-even point last month.

Zhang Xu, owner of Zhang's Sichuan Restaurant in Birmingham, said he appreciates HungryPanda's speed in updating the restaurant's menu through its platform, and its willingness to discuss promotion deals with his team.

"With their help, we can do promotion activities, such as giving some extra food items as gifts to customers. A big platform like Deliveroo wouldn't have the time to sit down with us for such discussions."

Takeaway orders made through HungryPanda now constitute around 20 percent of the revenue coming into Zhang's restaurant, which outstrips those placed through Deliverzoo.

For the Birmingham-based drinks chain Happy Lemon, signing up with HungryPanda meant deliveries as small as two cups of pearl milk tea worth 5 pounds ($6.40) became viable. In comparison, charges to merchants from larger platforms mean orders under 15 pounds are not cost-effective, said manager Jay Liu.

HungryPanda charges 10-20 percent of the total order value in commission, and Bigfoodie charges up to 25 percent, although it offers some flexible packages. In comparison, Deliveroo charges 30 percent.

Customer feedback has also been positive. Liu Xiaoju, a 23-year-old student at the University of Coventry uses HungryPanda's several times a week.

"In addition to HungryPanda's large variety of choices of Chinese food, their friendly Mandarin language customer service is a big plus for me," Liu said.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates the takeaway market contributed 9 billion pounds to the UK economy in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. Meanwhile, market intelligence company Mintel believes the share of the country's takeaway market occupied by Chinese takeaways was 35 percent in 2015.

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