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Technology

Grab jumps aboard Asian grocery-delivery wave amid COVID

Unicorn counters decline in ride-hailing with focus on stay-at-homes

Grab currently delivers groceries to consumers in a total of 70 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries.    © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Southeast Asia's biggest ride-hailing company, Grab, is racing to cash in on the food and grocery delivery boom as the pandemic dampens appetites for brick-and-mortar shopping.

The Singapore-based company spans eight countries, including Indonesia and Thailand. Its branded grocery delivery service, GrabMart, offers behind-the-scenes support for about 13,000 retail stores in the region, enabling home deliveries in as fast as 20 to 30 minutes. 

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Demi Yu, regional head of GrabFood and GrabMart, said the company is pursuing an "anything you can eat" strategy as regards home deliveries. "Whenever you are hungry or whenever you are planning your next meal ... we want you to think of Grab," she said.

Grab test-marketed grocery delivery in Singapore and Malaysia over the 2019 October-December period. Since March this year, the company has rapidly expanded into six more countries as the coronavirus outbreak fueled demand for home deliveries.

The company's role is limited to delivery: It does not purchase products, instead, partnering with retail outlets like convenience stores and supermarkets with established distribution channels.

Grab has tied up with convenience store chain FamilyMart in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, along with supermarket chain Big C in Vietnam.

After a customer places an order, the Grab driver closest to the store picks it up and delivers it within 30 minutes or so.

Some major supermarkets in Southeast Asia already have their own online supermarket services that might compete with GrabMart. But Yu thinks Grab can coexist with those players, as it provides a different type of service: quick delivery of immediate needs rather than bulk delivery of items purchased once or twice a week.

"We think it's more important to focus on what we do best, which is on-demand delivery to provide quick and convenient transactions," Yu said. "We can complement other services by satisfying the demands of impulse buyers and last-minute purchasers. A really fast service [so] we can grow the delivery market together.

Grab has also begun to collaborate with major manufacturers, recently partnering with Anglo-Dutch Unilever in August to sell ice cream in three countries.

Orders placed through the Grab app are relayed to nearby outlets selling the product, after which a Grab driver delivers it to the customer.

Southeast Asia's mom-and-pop shops -- many of which have fallen behind the digitization curve -- could increase sales by using the GrabMart platform. And for major players like Unilever, Grab offers the added benefit of pumping up marketing databases with more customer information.

Grab President Ming Maa said in a statement last month that sales had returned to more than 95% of pre-coronavirus levels in the July-September quarter.

"Even as cities like Jakarta reinstate lockdown measures, our business recovery continues steadily, with Q3 group revenues climbing to over 95% of pre-COVID-19 levels," he said. "Our food business now generates over 50% of revenue, reflecting increased consumer demand for food delivery as the new normal."

Food delivery has provided needed support for the ride-hailing business, which continues to be mired in a pandemic-induced stupor with sales still around 60% to 70% of pre-COVID levels. Going forward, Grab is banking on grocery delivery to become a vital part of its business.

The company plans to expand food and grocery deliveries to all 394 cities where it currently provides ride-hailing services. Gojek -- its main Indonesian rival in ride-hailing -- also provides grocery delivery.

If Grab can cement itself as a reliable player in Southeast Asia's food- and  grocery-delivery sector, it may be able to claim the lion's share of the online delivery business.

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