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By: Elizabeth Friend

Demand for takeaway and delivery service is growing, and that momentum is expected to continue over the long-term. With this demand has come a major opportunity for sales growth in certain categories, particularly those like full-service that traditionally focus on dine-in traffic. However, it has also come with new challenges, particularly when it comes to the logistics of actually receiving, filling, and providing takeaway and delivery orders. Online ordering aggregators and third-party delivery services have helped to bridge the gap for many of these issues, but packaging is now emerging as an area where many restaurants can significantly improve. Takeaway and delivery packaging must be cost effective, functional, easy to handle and pleasing to use; customers view delivery as a convenience service, but also a luxury , and the presentation of such meals must align with that perception in order to provide a satisfying experience.

Packaging matters

Global delivery service grew from 2.7% of total foodservice sales in 2009 to 3.5% in 2014, representing an actual value increase of US$36 billion. This growth is evident across markets of varying income levels and stages of maturity, and also in various categories of foodservice; in fact, every global category saw an increase in the percent of sales attributed to delivery from 2009-2014, ranging from a 0.1% increase in cafés/bars and self-service cafeterias to a nearly 8% increase in home delivery/takeaway. This means that many restaurants who may never have offered delivery service before are now doing so for the first time, and those that do already offer delivery are having to do it much more often—and on a much larger scale. This has caused many to begin thinking about packaging in new ways.

Packaging is no longer just a means to accommodate leftovers, it’s a way for operators to exert a little more control over the out-of-store dining experience. Successful packaging can make delivery service more convenient and more enjoyable, bringing with it a little bit of the personality of the restaurant from which it came. Similarly, packaging can be used as a branding and differentiating tool, helping to prevent the commoditization of delivery service that can come along with the use of online ordering hubs and delivery aggregators like GrubHub and JustEat. As many of these platforms encourage consumers to browse by cuisine or item type rather than by restaurant name, the user experience can ultimately be more akin to choosing dishes from one collective menu rather than from any single restaurant. Packaging is thus an opportunity for restaurant operators to reconnect with the customer after the delivery has been completed, providing an experience that is closer to what the diner might receive inside the outlet itself.

Wagamama: A case study

As an example, US-based Asian fast food chain Wagamama recently underwent a complete packaging redesign in order to better connect the at-home dining experience with what consumers would typically experience in the restaurant. According to the company, the redesign had multiple goals, including increased functionality, a more informative narrative, better presentation and less waste.

Key features include:

  • Functionality – The new packaging system is a set of bowls of various sizes, each of which comes wrapped in a branded belly-band and can be stacked for easy transport and space efficiency.
  • Information – In addition to Wagamama branding, each belly band also contains the restaurant’s full menu and a description of the included order. This helps to prevent confusion at home and order fulfillment errors in the kitchen, all while emphasizing the customizability of each dish.
  • Presentation – Wagamama’s packaging is also designed to present dishes in such a way as to be both aesthetically pleasing and practically informative. Many Wagamama dishes have multiple components—such as rice, proteins, sauces and multiple garnishes—and bowls are segmented to present the dish as it is meant to be enjoyed. Finally, all takeaway bowls are black, a nod to traditional Japanese ramen dishware.
  • Responsibility – All of Wagamama’s new packaging materials are recyclable, and bowls can be washed and reused. This feature is in line with current consumer preferences, and also helps to mitigate the perception by some that takeaway and delivery can be wasteful.

The delivery experience is now an extension of the restaurant

Moving forward, delivery as a category is expected to grow more popular, but also more competitive, with an increasing number of players involved in the space in varying capacities. In extreme cases, services like UberEats remove the bond between restaurant and diner almost entirely, instead allowing the diner to order from a pre-selected range of dishes with no interaction with the restaurant at all.

While all of this will ultimately mean more delivery demand for the restaurants fulfilling these orders, it will also mean more pressure on each of them to stand out, and even more pressure on each of them to deliver a premium dining experience despite negligible direct interaction with the consumer. This means that packaging will continue to be a differentiator in the space, and many operators will soon be seeking out newer, better, and more functional packaging systems.

At the same time, growth in delivery as both a service and a lifestyle also means that consumer expectations of the delivery experience are changing. Delivery is no longer just about cheap, quick, convenience—it’s about the luxury of choosing a dining experience, on demand, to be enjoyed at home. Operators should consider the at-home delivery experience they provide to be every bit as important as what they might provide in the restaurant, and packaging is a very important tool in creating that experience.

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