Although not on the frontline like hospital staff or policemen, these riders are on the roads delivering meals to customers safely ensconced in their homes

For Tatiana Rahal, the head of Talabat Oman, part of the largest online food-ordering platform (*) in the Middle East, their riders (delivery team members) are undoubtedly their heroes during the current COVID-19 period. And not without reason: For it is this efficient team that swiftly reach the orders to the homes of their customers, forgetting the risk to themselves and with only one aim in mind: to reach it to the customers on time, despite all odds.

Grateful for their bravery
“We really believe that our riders are our heroes. Although our riders are not on the frontline next to hospital staff and policemen, they are still on the roads during this COVID-19 to ensure we all enjoy our favourite meals from the comfort and safety of our homes,” Rahal, managing director of Talabat Oman said, adding that they were “so grateful for their bravery and commitment to Talabat and our customers”.

Shift in consumer’s trends
During COVID-19, it was observed that there was a shift in Talabat’s consumers’ trends, from ordering their meals to grocery shopping, with more than 50 percent of our consumers being from the Middle East and ages ranging from 20 to 40 years old. “Since most people were working from home, they have had more time to explore more options and change their eating habits. Along with the economic insecurity, we focused on finding ways to offer customers more affordable options,” Rahal said.

 Excerpts:

Talabat was founded in 2004 in Kuwait. But, when did it begin operations in Oman?
Talabat began its operations in Oman in 2012. We expanded from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia and ventured into Oman, the UAE and Bahrain a few years later, followed by Qatar and lastly Jordan in 2017. When we started our journey in Oman, we were the first to establish a food delivery platform at scale.

You are a pioneer in this segment, but have you been able to maintain the success streak? Are you still the number one in Oman? How has the competition been in this field?
Our ambition is to be the leading food delivery platform in Oman, and everywhere that we operate, by offering the best customer experience in the market and to help our restaurant partners thrive. We work tirelessly to achieve that.

We also believe that competition fuels innovation. We therefore see competition as a good thing, it benefits the customer and it also challenges us to continuously achieve more and aim even higher.

Since inception, you would have seen a steady increase in the number of clients? What percentage of Oman’s online food service requirement will you be covering? What would be the total number of registered clients?
We believe in attracting customers by offering the fastest delivery, with a wide variety of cuisines for customers, at different price points with a key focus on convenience and customer experience.

During COVID-19, we observed a shift in our consumers’ trends, from ordering their meals to grocery shopping, with more than 50 percent of our consumers being from the Middle East and ages ranging from 20 to 40 years old.

Since most people were working from home, they have had more time to explore more options and change their eating habits. Along with the economic insecurity, we focused on finding ways to offer customers more affordable options.

Talabat has also shown its charitable outlook by its charity efforts during the recent Ramadhan in Oman. Was ‘giving back to the community’ ingrained in the Talabat philosophy since the beginning?  Has Talabat been undertaking similar charitable initiatives since it started out?
Talabat was born in this region and we have never forgotten our roots. We have always felt a commitment and sense of duty to the communities we operate in and we understood the current issues of the community, and provided support such as facilitating donations of foods, groceries, medicine and essential items to individuals and families in need.

We have a solid working partnership with Oman Charity Organisation (OCO) since we started operating in the country and always look for ways to help the community in times of hardship. Starting in 2013, in collaboration with the OCO, we had a very successful initiative called You Eat, They Eat in which a percentage of orders placed were donated to help feed those in need. We have continuously expanded this partnership with OCO throughout the years and are currently working on launching more exciting initiatives aiming to support the Omani community.

Do you think that the online food delivery service people should also be grouped into the frontline workers’ segment? What exactly is the risk for Talabat delivery service team? Have there been any incidents?

At Talabat, we really believe that our riders are our heroes. Although our riders are not on the frontline next to hospital staff and policemen, they were still on the roads during COVID-19 to ensure we all enjoy our favourite meals from the comfort and safety of our homes. We are so grateful for their bravery and commitment to Talabat and our customers.

Has your team faced any difficulty during delivery in the current COVID-19 season?
Everyone faced difficulties during COVID-19, as everyday life was severely impacted and necessities were more important than catering meals, we decided to observe the market to be able to understand the needs and trends and saw a change in the consumer habits with more home-cooking and seeing a rise in demand for the best and healthiest products, which we were able to provide through Daily by talabat.

Was Talabat inundated with calls/orders since the start of the COVID-19 period?
Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. This is the biggest misconception that came up in the past few months. Our sector was one of the few that were still operating in most markets but food delivery didn’t boom in contrast to popular beliefs. We saw a decrease in the market due to changing customer behaviour. The general habit of ordering food was fueled by the office life, and with everyone staying home and working from home changed that until recently.

What are the safety measures that the Talabat team is following? Are your delivery team and vehicles following mandatory safety measures?
The safety of our teams is our priority and we implemented a number of measures to make sure that all our teams stay safe and healthy. We encourage our employees to work from home, although our offices are open in a few of our markets. All of our teams and vehicles follow the sanitisation and safety measures very strictly and we remind them on a regular basis of the measures to take to make sure every person is aware that it is all of our responsibilities to make sure we are all safe until the situation gets better.

Also, on the food safety point, was there any concern by your clients on the current virus being transmitted directly or indirectly via food?
This was an issue that concerned everyone, which is completely understandable. The same way we were all concerned and wiping our groceries after buying them from the supermarket, we made sure that our consumers were aware of the fact that we are coordinating continuously with our restaurant partners to make sure that they follow the safety measures we implemented and that they did everything possible from their side to make the customer comfortable.

Looking towards the future, does it portend good times for companies such as yours?
Q-Commerce is Talabat’s next play for the future of online retail, and pioneering the next phase of delivery. It has been launched in the UAE and Kuwait and will be coming to Oman soon! Q-Commerce stems from the term “Quick Commerce” which enables consumers to have their goods delivered within the hour.

For now, Daily by talabat is our first operation into Q-Commerce and provides groceries around the clock within 30 minutes or less with no delivery charges. In parallel, the focus of the industry has been on local offerings, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. This period accelerated the utilisation of local resources, favouring local stores and eating from local eateries.

What new or additional services do you plan to launch in the near future; also a note on how you have enhanced the delivery service since you have started out?
We are always looking into new services that offer more value to our customers. Daily by talabat is an example of this, with our first introduction into Q-Commerce guaranteeing grocery deliveries in 30 minutes or less.

We are also investing in CloudKitchens in the region. COVID-19 has laid bare the need for restaurant partners to be more agile and in order to be able to grow it makes sense to invest in CloudKitchens, rather than in brick-and-mortar.

(*) Talabat is the largest online food-ordering platform in the Middle East and operates across the AGCC (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Qatar).