Nigeria’s ‘underperforming’ food apps leave many questions

It’s an open secret that food apps are not as popular as ecommerce and payment apps in Nigeria, despite the love for food uniting the people more than music and sports.

A few weeks ago, I heard of the ambitious goal of a re-launched app called Bukka. It’s pitched as a person-to-person food app that uses seamless connections to link cooks to their clients, connecting users to all available chefs in their neighbourhood and giving them access to a large variety of cuisine.

They likened the way the app functions to the way Uber connects riders with drivers. They’re so confident of the new app’s success that they claim it would create more opportunities for professional and non-professional chefs to earn money without having to open a restaurant. In fact, they said they would create 1000 jobs in Lagos this year alone – although the app has only been downloaded by just over 50 people so far.

The last time I visited the offices of Africa Internet Group’s (AIG) startups in Lagos, I noticed that its food ordering app, Hellofood, occupied the smallest space and had the fewest number of workers in comparison with fellow AIG services Kaymu and Jovago. This suggested a low workload, even though the company’s number of users would be very difficult to localise without the company opening up its books for scrutiny.

Judging by how Bukka, Hellofood and other somehow underperforming food-ordering apps are faring in Nigeria, one begins to think that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the space. This doesn’t mean that the space is untouchable. Not at all, since the likes of Food-i-like are claiming an appreciable level of success even in the ecosystem.

An overview of the plight of Nigeria’s food ordering apps revealed some levels of disconnection between what the targeted users would like and what’s obtainable in the market for now.

How do you ensure food is made to customers’ satisfaction?

Even though the high-quality food pictures displayed by the online service providers are mouth-watering, food really goes beyond the aesthetics. This explains why there’ll always be long queues at dirty restaurants that sell good food.

The consumer is wise enough to know that their ordered meal won’t look exactly like the pictures on the online menu – online pizzas come close. They also know that it would be hard to figure out something like salt and pepper usage. You can’t assure that yet via any of the apps in use.

When someone walks into a typical Nigerian restaurant, it’s possible to choose the meat, fish and other ingredients. Take fish pepper soup for instance: the introduction of a point-and-kill service, allowing the consumer to choose which fish is killed and grilled, boosted sales nationwide. But when it comes to making online orders, the service is not yet deliverable.

It’s also not yet possible to provide customers with the fresh-and-directly-from-the-pot feeling. It’s impossible to compare the feeling that comes with dipping directly into hot amala, ewedu soup and goat meat, with that of eating a meal packed in a plastic container.

Do these startups perfectly understand a typical hungry Nigerian?

First of all, a closer look at how most of these startups operate suggests they may not really understand how a very hungry Nigerian (or foreigner) thinks. Only a few people (compared to the rest of the population) worry about food unless they are hungry. When hunger sets in, the nearest, easiest and cheapest option wins.

Someone ordering via an app may be reluctant to use the service when the service flowchart comes to mind — load app, try and search for the restaurant, browse the menu, select order, make payment, payment is verified, the order is sent to the restaurant, which starts the process of making and packing the food before a deliveryman brings it over.

Meanwhile, there’s a trusted restaurant across the road and the consumer is aware of how they make their food and how it’s sold.

The way forward

It’s evident that online food-ordering services aren’t yet as personalised as they should be to get the attention of more Nigerians, because only pizza makers and other similarly prepared foods enjoy the trust of the consumer. A lot of thought needs to go into adequately localising the services for Nigeria and personalising it for each customer.

Turnaround time is another major factor. The consumer uses the services mostly when they are hungry — and a hungry person is a very angry person in this part of the world — the best way to appease them is to deliver their food on time. The consumer knows they have numerous options to choose from when it comes to ordering food.

They can choose to send someone to any restaurant they trust, and can even walk across the road for fast food. The real task for online food delivery services would be to make their services so timely and tempting that the customer will be won over. One of the ways to get this done is ensuring that food ordered online is cheaper than food in a restaurant – and the consumer gets more than what they’d get over the counter at a restaurant.

Not all Nigerians can afford to order food via the online delivery platforms — even when they can afford it, they might not trust the service to deliver promptly because of traffic and personal preferences.

There’s a long way to go to build an efficient system in the Nigerian food ordering space and the potential market is the largest since everyone gets hungry daily. But they need to figure out how to deliver on time, as promised and at the lowest price with jara (extra) on top.

Paul Adepoju


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