The new year isn't even a month old and the food delivery crunch is already taking big bites. Spain's Glovo has today announced it's exiting four markets -- which it says is part of a goal of pushing for profitability by 2021.
Also today, Uber confirmed rumors late last year by announcing it's offloading its Indian Eats business to local rival Zomato -- which will see it take a 9.99% stake in the Indian startup.
In other recent news Latin America focused on-demand delivery app Rappi announced 6% staff layoffs.
On-demand food delivery apps may be great at filling the bellies of hungry consumers fast but startups in this space have yet to figure out how to deliver push-button convenience without haemorrhaging money at scale.
So the question even some investors are asking is how they can make their model profitable?
Middle East exit
The four markets Glovo is leaving are Turkey, Egypt, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.
The exits mean its app footprint is shrinking to 22 markets, still with a focus on South America, South West Europe, and Eastern Europe and Africa.
Interestingly, Glovo is here essentially saying goodbye to the Middle East -- despite its recent late stage financing round being led by Abu Dhabi state investment company, Mubadala. (It told us last month that regional expansion was not part of Mubadala's investment thesis.)
Commenting on the exits in a statement, Glovo co-founder and CEO, Oscar Pierre, said: “This has been a very tough decision to take but our strategy has always been to focus on markets where we can grow and establish ourselves among the top two delivery players while providing a first-class user experience and value for our Glovers, customers and partners."
Last month Pierre told us the Middle East looks too competitive for Glovo to expand further.
In the event it's opted for a full exit -- given both Egypt and Turkey are being dropped (despite the latter being touted as one of Glovo's fastest growing markets just over a year ago, at the time of its Series D).
"Leaving these four markets will help us to further strengthen our leadership position in South West and Eastern Europe, LatAm and other African markets, and reach our profitability targets by early 2021,” Pierre added.
Glovo said its app will continue to function in the four markets "for a few weeks" after today -- adding that it's offering "support and advice to couriers, customers and partners throughout this transition".
“I want to place on record our thanks to all of our Glovers, customers and partners in the markets from which we’re withdrawing for their hard work, dedication, commitment and ongoing support," Pierre added.
The exits sum to Glovo withdrawing from eight out of a total 306 cities.
It also said the eight cities collectively generated 1.7% of its gross sales in 2019 -- so it's signalling the move doesn't amount to a major revenue hit.
The startup disclosed a $166M Series E raise last month -- which pushed the business past a unicorn valuation. Pierre told us then that the new financing would be used to achieve profitability "as early as 2021", foreshadowing today's announcement of a clutch of market exits.
Glovo has said its goal is to become the leading or second delivery platform in all the markets where it operates -- underlining the challenges of turning a profit in such a hyper competitive, thin margin space which also involves major logistical complexities with so many moving parts (and people) involved in each transaction.
As food delivery players reconfigure their regional footprints -- via market exits and consolidation -- better financed platforms will be hoping they'll be left standing with a profitable business to shout about (and the chance to grow again by gobbling up less profitable rivals or else be consumed themselves). So something of a new race is on.
Back in November in an on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Uber Eats and Glovo discussed the challenges of turning a profit -- with Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud telling us he expects further consolidation in the on-demand delivery space. (Though the pair claimed there had been no acquisition talks between Uber and Glovo.)
Michaud said then that Glovo is profitable on a per unit economics basis in "some countries" -- but admitted it "varies a lot country by country".
Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo, he also told us, confirming it generates operating profit there. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he predicted.
Glovo's exit from Egypt actually marks the end of a second act in the market.
The startup first announced it was pulling the plug on Egypt in April 2019 -- but returned last summer, at the behest of its investor Delivery Hero (a rival food delivery startup which has a stake in Glovo), according to Michaud's explanation on stage.
However there was also an intervention by Egypt's competition watchdog. And local press reported the watchdog had ordered Glovo to resume operations -- accusing it and its investor of colluding to restrict competition in the market (Delivery Hero having previously acquired Egyptian food delivery rival, Otlob).
What the watchdog makes of today's announcement of a final bow out could thus be an interesting wrinkle.
Asked about Egypt, a Glovo spokesperson told us: “Egypt has been a very complex market for us, we were sad to leave the first time and excited to return when we did so last summer. However, our strategy has always been to be among the top two delivery players in every market we enter and have a clear path to profitability. Unfortunately, in Egypt there is not a clear path to profitability.”
So what does a clear path to profitability in the on-demand delivery space look like?
Market maturity/density appears to be key, with Glovo only operating in one city apiece in the other two markets it's leaving, Uruguay and Puerto Rico, for example -- compared to hundreds across its best markets, Spain and Italy, where it says it's operating out of the red.
This suggests that other markets in South America -- where Glovo similarly has just a toe-hold, of a single or handful of cities, and less time on the ground, such as Honduras or Panama -- could be vulnerable to further future exits as the company reconfigures to try to hit full profitability in just around a year's time.
But there are likely lots of factors involved in making the unit economics stack up so it's tricky to predict.
Food delivered on-demand makes up the majority of Glovo's orders per market but its app also touts being able to deliver 'anything' -- from groceries to pharmaceuticals to the house keys you left at home -- which it claims as a differentiating factor vs rival food-delivery-only apps.
A degree of variety also looks to be a key ingredient in becoming a sustainable on-demand delivery business -- as scale and cross selling appear to where the unit economics can work.
Groceries are certainly a growing focus for Glovo which has been investing in setting up networks of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience style groceries as well as ready-to-eat food -- thereby expanding opportunities for cross-selling to its convenience-loving food junkies at the point of appetite-driven (but likely loss-making) lunch and dinner orders.
Last year Michaud told us that market "maturity" supports profitability. "At the end of the day the more orders we have the better the whole ecosystem works," he said.
While Uber Eats' general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Charity Safford, also pointed to "scale" as the secret sauce for still elusive profits.
"Where we start to see more and more trips happening this is definitely where we see the unit economics improving -- so our job is really to figure out all of the use cases we can put into people's hands to get that application used as much as possible," she said.
It's instructive that Uber is shifting towards a 'superapp' model -- revealing its intent last year to fold previously separate lines of business, such as rides and Eats, into a single one-stop-shop app which it began rolling out last year. So it's also able to deliver or serve an increasing number of things (and/or services).
The tech giant has also been testing subscription passes which combine access to a range of its offerings under one regular payment.
In some markets Glovo also has a 'Prime' monthly subscription, offering unlimited deliveries of anything its couriers can bike to your door, for a fixed monthly cost -- which it launched back in 2018.
When it comes to the quest for on-demand profitability all roads seem to lead to trying to become the bit of Amazon's business that Amazon hasn't already built out and swiped.