When Just Eat launched back in 2001 it shook up the food delivery world as we knew it. Now, however, the online business faces disruption from the likes of Uber Eats and Deliveroo and is pinning some of its hopes on a new food tech accelerator to help it stay ahead of the curve.
Announced at the end of September, the accelerator will assist early stage start-ups in the food tech space through investment, mentoring and business guidance. Just Eat is also setting up a new corporate ventures team to look specifically at investment and partnership opportunities with start-ups.
Fighting tech with tech makes sense for the brand, in a space where digital innovation is ensuring new delivery companies entering the industry stay neck and neck when it comes to winning over hungry consumers.
“This is a really competitive space and I think it’s great we can work with start-ups and be part of the discussion in what they’re innovating,” Russell Forster, who works in Just Eat's new corporate ventures team, told The Drum.
“We’ve been working with a lot of companies and small businesses but we were interested in how to partner and help some of them. The sector is important to us, but we’ve obviously learnt a lot of lessons, we’ve had to scale and deal with a lot of the issues that come with that so it was an opportunity to help smaller businesses overcome [the same challenges]. It was also a good opportunity to see what was happening in the market and get on top of some of the innovation in the sector.”
Just Eat is hoping to find five start-ups to work with initially, which the business will mentor over a 10-12 week programme. The idea is to pair them with people who can help with the problem they’re dealing with to give them insights to approaching those problems. Once the programme is over Just Eat is hoping to hold an ‘investor day’ for the start-ups gain the next level of funding.
“Our relationship with each of the start-ups may differ at the end of the period,” continued Forster. “There may be some that we want to invest in but that’s not really the reason for doing this. I suspect we’ll have different relationships with different ones. In the longer term we want to maintain the relationships and build a community. We’d like to create something where the start-ups we’ve helped could then go on to help others.”
The tech could provide a Just Eat with a new weapon in its armoury against its competitors (despite the delivery service viewing itself as a food tech business, rather than the logistics model used by Uber Eats and Deliveroo, which employ and organise drivers directly). For example, Deliveroo is continuing to innovate and has introduced several additional services, including alcohol delivery, express lunch and ‘RooBox’– an off-site kitchen initiative providing restaurants with additional kitchen spaces.
In terms of what Just Eat is looking for in start-ups, Forster said the company “didn’t want to over define what we were looking for”.
“We wanted a wide variety and diversity. We’re keeping it restrained to food tech – so as long as there’s some food element, whether it’s for producers or restaurant partners through to how people are buying food, consuming food or something that helps with waste – we’re seeing a lot in that space. We need to make sure we align with what we can offer in terms of help and support. What’s key is being open.”