If you’re a road user in the Klang Valley, chances are very, very high that you would have spotted a food delivery rider at some point during your journey, so ubiquitous is their presence these days.

And if you’ve ever wondered just what they’ve got tucked in their bags, fried chicken is a very good bet. Because according to local food delivery services Foodpanda and GrabFood, fried chicken and its twin counterpart – nasi ayam goreng are Malaysians’ No.1 choices for food delivery.

In fact during the month of Ramadan, GrabFood actually received 100,000 orders for fried chicken! Coming in at a close second is the hugely popular bubble tea at 80,000 orders.

But in many ways, the fact that Malaysians are even placing such mammoth orders with food delivery services is indicative of just how quickly local consumption patterns have changed.

Local food delivery service Foodpanda has been around for seven years and is probably the oldest player in the market, but the brand’s managing director Sayantan Das says they have noticed a significant uptick in demand over the past two years.

“I think recently food delivery has become more and more popular because food delivery services have expanded rapidly. So back in the day, we would probably cover only two or three key cities, but right now we are looking at covering each and every city that exists in Malaysia,” he says.

Food delivery has made eating restaurant-quality food easy and convenient for busy Malaysians. Photo: Foodpanda

Much of food delivery’s soaring popularity also has to do with higher Internet penetration rates in Malaysia (2018 data from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission shows that it is now 87.4%) and mobile phone purchases – both integral to the success of food delivery services where food must be ordered through mobile phones or computers.

But some of this popularity also has to do with changing consumer behaviour.

“If we look at economic statistics, there is a huge proportion of younger employees entering the workforce, so typically these employees would spend less time in the kitchen and more time in the office and they would be more digitally savvy.

“So these are easier options or alternatives for them rather than cooking,” affirms Sayantan.

GrabFood Malaysia’s head of merchant Shaun Yap says that worsening traffic jams in major cities have also become a major reason for people to dine at home or at work.

“People in the past used to take away their food or drive through but it’s becoming more and more difficult because of the congestion and parking difficulties, so we’re seeing a shift from having to go out, wait for the food and then come back home to just having that convenience of ordering it in,” he says. Many consumers agree that the convenience offered by food delivery services is unparalleled.

Emily Yeoh uses food delivery services all the time as she hates queueing up for her favourite bubble tea. Photo: Emily Yeoh

Freelance designer Emily Yeoh, 28, for instance, says she uses food delivery services a few times a month.

“I like ordering from food delivery sites because I don’t have a car and hate getting stuck in traffic. And I love bubble tea and the queues at the bubble tea outlets are insane, but when I order from GrabFood or Foodpanda, I don’t have to queue up and it arrives at my house in 15 to 20 minutes,” she says.

Manager Cecilia Wong, 35, also sings the praises of food delivery services. “I usually order food like noodles, rice, bubble tea and even snacks like keropok at least three times a week because it is so convenient and I don’t have to leave my office to eat.

“As there are not many restaurant options where I work, this has been great for me,” she says.

According to Sayantan, most of the people who order from Foodpanda are those – like Yeoh and Wong – who are aged between 18 to 35 and fall under categories like students, young working adults, young couples and young families.

Yap adds that the GrabFood data shows different consumption patterns at different times of the day.

“It’s a very broad mix, we see a lot of students and office workers ordering during the day. In the night, demand is quite equal, but it shifts to the suburbs, and we believe it tends to be families and a lot of busy professionals as well,” he says.

Meals in tiffin carriers used to define what food delivery was in Malaysia. Filepic

Because of the increase in demand, many of the restaurants partnering with food delivery services have seen sales soar, with some restaurants even seeing 30% to 40% of their overall sales coming from food delivery orders, according to Sayantan.

Sayantan’s views are echoed by Renyi Chin, co-founder of popular burger outlet MyBurgerLab. “For our stores that are not in malls, we have definitely seen an increase and uptick in delivery orders.

“So most people would ask, when that happens, does that mean fewer customers come in to the physical store? And the answer is ‘no’, because we realise that people who order food have already made up their minds to not get out of their house whereas people who come to our restaurants are socialising and meeting friends or family,” he explains.

This ease of ordering, the sheer volume of what’s on offer and the fact that consumers are increasingly embracing this vicarious style of eating restaurant food without actually having to physically go out, means that food delivery businesses are expanding at supersonic speed on the local front.

At the moment, Foodpanda has signed up more than 18,000 restaurants and 8,000 riders and has a presence in the Klang Valley as well as Johor Baru, Melaka, Penang, Perak, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, Sabah and Sarawak. Sayantan’s aim is to dramatically increase their presence all over the country.

“We are looking to acquire every single restaurant that exists in Malaysia, so that number may range from 100,000 to 200,000 if you count the stalls. But in terms of the selection process, we look at what kind of cuisines are more popular and what kinds of trends exist in certain areas,” he says.

Yap, meanwhile, says that in less than two years, GrabFood now has a whopping 5,000 restaurants and 10,000 riders.

“We’re in six cities today – Klang Valley, Johor Baru, Penang, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Melaka. And in each of these cities, we start with the core areas and then expand. Our goal is ultimately that everyone that we serve has a large selection of restaurants to choose from,” he says.