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Uncertainty as grocery, food delivery startups say they’ll stay operating during lockdown

Food delivery companies that deliver food sourced from supermarkets or anywhere other than from restaurants say they will keep operating under South Africa’s 21-day lockdown, set to start at midnight today.

It comes as South Africa’s tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane on Tuesday (24 March) announced in a statement that in addition to all restaurants having to shut down during the lockdown, “all food delivery services” will also be suspended for the duration of the lockdown.

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The ban would affect restaurant delivery services such as UberEats and MrDelivery.

However, SA food delivery startups that are not connected to restaurants — such as grocery delivery startup OneCart and mealkit delivery startups Daily Dish and UCook, say they will stay open.

Yesterday OneCart CEO Lynton Peters and TCapital founder Geir Tellefsen, which owns Daily Dish, told Ventureburn that as their respective companies deliver food, which is classed as an essential services under the lockdown regulations (see here) they would keep operating.

SA food delivery startups not connected to restaurants say they can continue to operate during the lockdown

This, while an automated message on UCook’s telephone system said the startup would keep operating during the 21-day lockdown, when Ventureburn contacted the startup yesterday.

Both Peters and Tellefsen pointed out that the ban affected rather delivery apps that delivered restaurant food, not food sourced elsewhere or delivery services hosted by supermarkets.

Yesterday Peters said he had made a number of calls to the Department of Trade and Industry during the course of the day.

“At this moment we understand that online retail and groceries is considered an essential service,” he said in a call with Ventureburn late yesterday afternoon.

UCook’s head of content Nic Corbet however told Ventureburn in an email this morning that “at the moment, Ucook is able to operate during the lockdown”.

“We’re in ongoing communication with the relevant authorities to ensure that we’re operating in accordance with the rules of the lock-down,” said Corbett.

He said as UCook has been classified as a “grocery or ingredient delivery service”, it therefore falls under the definition of an essential service provider.

“This also extends to our suppliers and to our courier partners who make the procurement and delivery of essential services possible,” he added.

Meanwhile, TechCabal reported in an article yesterday that SA food delivery startups are taking strain, with customers complaining about long order times, as queues build at supermarkets ahead of tomorrow’s 21-day lockdown.

Covid-19 has changed business

This, while in an email to Ventureburn last Friday (20 March), UCook CEO David Torr said the startup would completely change the way it operates.

“Truth to be told we are going to opt to take a more socially geared approach, choosing to kill the majority of our paid marketing, constraining growth by a fair margin and instead look to re-invest disproportionately in drastically upsizing our labour force in an attempt to assist with job creation.

“We will also be offering cost product to those over 60, and turning our business into a collections vehicle, whereby canned food can be left outside a customers door, where it will be left for six days, sterilised and then re-distributed to settlements, soon to be filled with hungry people.

“We find ourselves on the precipice of crisis and just because we are well-positioned I do not think it gives us or any e-com player the right to capitalise on the situation, giving is more important than taking at this stage.

“We are on the brink of a real economic meltdown, the effects of which will be felt for years to come and I believe those who find themselves able to help in any way need to do so,” said Torr.

Editor’s note (26 March 2020): This story was updated to include comments from UCook.

Featured image: UCook via Facebook

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