2021 was a significant year in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK, 2021 saw an end to lockdowns, an easing of restrictions and, in the latter half of 2021, people venturing back out into the wider world – with only minor safety suggestions, like optional mask wearing. So what did all this change mean for the food sector and specifically for food delivery, which had thrived while we were unable to dine out?
Using Google Trends, ‘a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google‘, and research from across the sector, we’ve taken a look at food delivery in 2021, from popular delivery apps to niche online orders.
Food Delivery – General Interest
Interest in food delivery dropped by 50% over the course of 2021
From January to March 2021, interest in food delivery dropped by 50% according to Google Trends. It remained at this lower level for much of the year and into January 2022.
Food delivery interest appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels
Food delivery had been on the rise. This graph from Google Trends shows data from February 2017 to 2021:
We can see a steady rise in interest in food delivery, which starts to really grow in 2019 and into 2020. The peak occurs in March 2020 when the first lockdown was announced. If we compare the interest level before the spike to the level at the end of the graph, which is February 2022, they are similar – bar the natural oscillation of interest that occurs from week to week and month to month.
The most significant question about food delivery for 2022 is whether interest remains at the level it is at now, or returns to the steady growth we saw in 2019 and early 2020, pre-pandemic.
Food Delivery Brands
Interest in food delivery may no longer be booming, but does that mean that delivery brands have suffered as a result? And are customers becoming more selective about who they order from and how?
Food Delivery Apps
Naturally, the increase in food delivery and the need for food businesses to pivot to new options has led to new competitors in the food delivery space. To a certain extent, they can be divided into two main groups:
- Hot food delivery – food that arrives at your door, ready to be enjoyed.
- Ambient and chilled food delivery – this includes anything unheated, from tinned food and cornershop snacks to chilled and frozen items from a supermarket.
Both were popular in 2021, particularly when there were limits on the number of people in supermarkets so queues could be extensive. Hot food delivery, the only real at-home treat – unless you were willing to put on shoes to go outside – was likely to have been most impacted by restrictions ending.
Hot Food Delivery Apps
The biggest players in the hot food delivery market are: Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats. Though they certainly aren’t the only ones, they have the most significant market share. Naturally, all of these sites also have their own apps, whose data we can’t access, but we can get an indication of their popularity from Google Trends.
Interest in Just Eat was 75% higher than its competitors by the end of 2021
Key: Blue = Deliveroo, Red = Just Eat, Yellow = Uber Eats, Green = Food Panda
We can see the 2021 interest rates for each brand in Google Trends, with the addition of Food Panda. WhileGoogle recognises Food Panda as a significant competitor, it’s clear from Food Panda’s flat green line in 2021 that the other three are the main competitors in this space.
Just Eat had a standout year, starting with twice as much interest as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. From October 2021, there was a significant growth in interest in Just Eat. They ended 2021 with 50% more interest than they started with and 75% more interest than Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
Just Eat was popular, but not just for food delivery
It’s worth noting that not all of Just Eat’s surge in interest may have come from consumers ordering food. Since Google Trends includes all searches, regardless of intent, we may be able to attribute some of the Just Eat interest to two significant news pieces at that time:
- Investor demand for Just Eat to split off or sell its US version: Grubhub
- A Just Eat ‘loophole’ where customers can cancel orders they have received, forcing a refund, was reported to hit small businesses hard.
Nevertheless, Just Eat reported that it had taken 1.1 billion orders in 2021, an increase of a third in orders compared to 2020.
The top hot food delivery brands saw an increase of at least 50% across 2021
Food delivery from these top hot food brands doesn’t seem to have slowed in 2021. Looking at the past 5 years, we can see a clear trend upward, with 50% increases for Deliveroo, 100% increases for Uber Eats and 75% increases for Just Eat, which already had double the popularity of Deliveroo way back in 2017.
Grocery delivery was certainly important in 2020, particularly for those who either couldn’t or didn’t want to go to the shops during the pandemic. Supermarkets were the core source of these orders, but they weren’t the only ones. As with food delivery, new local and startup grocery delivery services emerged to challenge the big chains by targeting those wanting to support local businesses and do their online food shopping in an eco-friendly way.
Let’s take a look at how five of the biggest supermarkets did in 2021.
Supermarket Food Delivery
Looking at delivery by supermarket, we can compare Tesco (Blue), Sainsbury’s (Red), Morrisons (Yellow), Waitrose (Green) and Asda (Purple).
Interest in supermarket deliveries declined quickly in January 2021
We can see a clear universal decline in interest for delivery from all the major supermarkets. For the most part, they maintained their relative popularity with Tesco and Asda holding on to the top two positions.
Compared to the last 5 years, we can see that 2020 was an anomalous year, with a huge surge in interest in supermarket food delivery for a limited period of time.
What we can discern though is that interest in supermarket delivery has returned to at least pre-pandemic levels, if not higher. It will be interesting to see if this levels out in 2022 as it is likely to be an indicator of what the next few years will look like.
Christmas Delivery Slots
2021 was a very different year to 2020, with far fewer restrictions in place for mixing households, no last minute lockdown announcements and people weren’t impeded from their Christmas plans with family and friends. This would seem likely to change behaviour when it came to booking Christmas delivery slots.
Interest in supermarket Christmas delivery dropped 30%
A cursory look at ‘christmas delivery’ (blue) and ‘christmas delivery slots’ (red) indicates that, as one might expect, 2021 was at the same level as 2019. It’s significantly lower than 2020, approximately a 30% drop.
Christmas delivery broken down by supermarket shows a nearly 50% reduction in interest
We can see a similar trend when looking specifically at Christmas delivery from the five major supermarket chains: Tesco (Blue), Sainsbury’s (Red), Morrisons (Yellow), Waitrose (Green) and Asda (Purple).
Interest in Christamas delivery more or less halved between 2020 and 2021, reaching levels of interest comparable to 2017, much lower than both 2019 and 2018. However, if we look more specifically at ‘Christmas delivery slots’ from the major supermarkets, an interesting difference is clearly visible.
Tesco continued to be the most popular supermarket for Christmas food deliveries
Here, we see that although levels of interest are lower for many of the supermarkets, the levels for Tesco are not nearly as low as in 2019 or before. In fact, they are very near 2020 levels. This could indicate a difference in the customers of the various supermarkets and their Christmas food delivery needs. Perhaps Tesco shoppers were more inclined to get their orders sorted ahead of time while other supermarket shoppers preferred to go to the shops to get their Christmas food.
The Google Trends data also shows that interest started peaking much earlier in 2021, in October, whereas the peaks were only reached in November in 2020. Preparedness and possible concern around restrictions, plus the experience from previous years, seems to have focused customers on planning for Christmas sooner.
New Food Delivery Startups
Major retailers do give a good, broad view of the interest in food delivery. But, they aren’t the whole market. Smaller brands, local producers and startup food apps have been popping up. 2022 food trends indicate that local, more sustainably sourced food is becoming increasingly important to the average consumer. This is part of what these new food delivery apps are tapping into.
Many of these new grocery delivery competitors are using speed as their unique selling point (USP). Delivery within an hour or less is a common way for these brands to set themselves apart from supermarkets, whose delivery slots are at best next day, depending on the popularity of a particular time or day. All include a delivery fee, with some free delivery offered to new customers or for orders over a set amount.
Although there are lots of these new food delivery and grocery brands out there, some of the most established (so far) include:
- Gorillas Grocery
One of the biggest drawbacks for these brands, at the moment at least, is that they are small. This means often they only operate in limited areas, namely major cities. Some, like Getir, are only available in London, while Beelivery has a more expanded reach of 300 towns and cities, including Edinburgh, London, Oxford and Southampton.
Getir grew 100% in 2021, with a steady rise, while competitors remained level throughout the year
2021 showed a steep increase for Getir (red), compared to the other brands: Gorilla Grocery (blue), Beelivery (yellow), Jiffy (green) and Weezy (purple). It’s worth noting that although Getir launched in 2015, the Turkish grocery delivery service only debuted in the UK in 2021. This data shows the huge response to the brand’s launch in London, amidst COVID-19.
Jiffy increased nearly 50% in 2020 and then dropped again in 2021
Looking at the past 5 years, there was a clear boost to Jiffy (green) in 2020 that was then lost in 2021, in fact dropping a little below its average from 2019. Interest in Jiffy looks to be heading back up in 2022, though who knows for how long.
As for the other competitors, 2021 was a solid year for Jiffy (yellow) and largely positive for Weezy (green). Beelivery trended upwards, ending the year with a 50% increase in interest compared to the start of the year. Gorilla Grocery seemed to languish by comparison, barely registering against its competitors.
What’s to come for grocery delivery? It could be that grocery delivery becomes as commonplace as hot food delivery, particularly if big players get involved, like how McDonalds bought into dark kitchens and helped to legitimise chains using commercial kitchens outside of their restaurants. The first big brand is already looking to test using commercial kitchens for grocery delivery, with Waitrose partnering with Deliveroo on Deliveroo Hop.
Food boxes can mean produce boxes or recipe boxes. Produce boxes are typically meat, dairy, vegetable or mixed produce boxes with an array of seasonal or local items. Recipe boxes are at-home cooking kits that include everything for a meal (or multiple meals) with ingredients in the set amounts required.
In our 2020 food delivery review, we discussed the huge spike in interest in food boxes during the first UK lockdown in March 2020. This waned from May 2020 onwards, though interest levels were then consistent for the remainder of 2020. So what happened in 2021 as we emerged back into the dine-out world?
Produce boxes come in an array of combinations, with common items such as:
A key selling point is that the produce comes from small and local producers. Many brands will also lean into either artisan foods, like sourdough bread or coffee from independent roasters, or non-standard items, like ‘wonky vegetables’ and oddly shaped fruit, which supermarket standards would otherwise reject.
General interest in produce boxes declined, but interest in specific kinds of food boxes didn’t
Looking at 2021 as a whole, ‘food boxes’ (blue) gradually dropped in interest from February to April 2021. This approximate 60% drop from its peak then remained relatively steady, eventually landing at 75% less than its start-of-the-year best.
Interest in specific food boxes, ‘meat boxes’ (red), ‘fruit boxes’ (yellow) and ‘veg boxes’ (green), seems to have remained steady across much of the year. However, if we look at just these terms, we can see there were quite erratic changes in interest throughout the whole of 2021.
Note: Blue = ‘fruit and veg boxes’ in this visual.
Although there is something of a downtrend among the types of food boxes, there is still a consistent market for them. Among the varieties of food boxes, vegetable boxes (green) are the most popular – this is not surprising given that the rise in veganism and environmentally conscious eating has led to a decrease in meat eating for many in the UK. If a food business were considering getting into the food box market, vegetables would be the place to start.
In the context of the past five years, it might appear that food boxes dropped back to pre-pandemic levels following the spikes around lockdowns, but actually they are maintaining an elevated level. It seems that COVID-19 has changed the buying habits of at least a small but significant portion of consumers.
Recipe boxes, also referred to as meal kits, proved to be popular during the pandemic, helping many people fight food boredom and encouraging the less culinarily inclined back into the kitchen. Looking at 2021 as a whole for both terms, we can see that ‘meal kits’ (red) started off more popular but soon dropped to the steady interest levels of ‘recipe boxes’ (blue).
Looking at ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’ over five years, we can see that the increased interest that began before the pandemic has become the new normal level for 2021 and into 2022.
We are unlikely to see an abandonment of these kinds of food boxes in 2022 given that during the last 6 months (June 2021 to February 2022) there have been consistent levels of interest in both.
Meal Kit Brands
There are plenty of meal kit brands already on the market, and more are emerging thanks to an increased interest in food delivery as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. As with hot food and grocery delivery, the big meal kit brands have become well-known, leading more people to search directly for their services and not just for generic terms such as ‘recipe boxes’ or ‘meal kits’.
Last year we looked at three of the most popular recipe box brands:
- Hello Fresh
- Mindful Chef
Interest in all these brands had been growing over the last few years and grew steadily across 2020. But what of 2021?
Hello Fresh was 50% more popular with consumers than its next biggest competitor in 2021
Interest in Hello Fresh (red) was the highest in 2021, followed by Gousto (blue) with around 50% less interest, and finally Mindful Chef (yellow) with the lowest interest at nearly 50% of Gousto’s levels.
What is interesting about these three competitors is that there was clearly some seasonality at play. Heading into the summer, all saw dips in interest levels, followed by spikes in interest in the New Year – a time when people often try to get back into cooking and eating in a healthier way, etc.
2020 was a bumper year for meal kit brands, but 2021 beat it. And interest looks to grow even further in 2022.
Looking at the last 5 years, we can see interest in these brands grew significantly in 2020 and then doubled in 2021. Interest levels in 2022 are the highest yet. Interest grew by 25% on average from 2020 to 2021 and by nearly 50% on average from 2021 to 2022.
What will 2022’s Food Delivery Statistics reveal?
The COVID-19 pandemic really shook up the world and the food sector experienced huge changes. Consumers adjusted to a new way of living, by cooking at home and ordering food delivery more often than they had before. Google Trends data indicates that while restaurants are open and people are able to dine out again, not everyone is returning to their previous eating habits and that some pandemic-borne innovations are here to stay.
2022 looks set to be another interesting year in the food and drinks sector, with further developments expected in the way consumers use supermarkets and food delivery. New competitors are likely to emerge, both locally and nationally, catering to these changes in demand with an ever expanding range of options.
Read more about the latest food trends
Take a look at our 2022 food trends to see what the food sector thinks we’ll be eating and where in the year to come. Or read on to read about the food delivery statistics we gathered in 2020.
Food Delivery Statistics: 2020 In Review
To begin, let’s look at ‘food delivery’ as a search term and a general indicator of the category as a whole. You could probably guess that food delivery spiked in the UK when the first lockdown began on the 16th March 2020.
At the start of the COVID-19 response in the UK, many thought that this unprecedented lockdown would last a few weeks and then life would return to normal. Food businesses, from cafes to restaurants, largely moved to a takeaway model or closed for a few weeks, while food delivery businesses and takeaways continued as normal. For many, ordering food was a treat to help them get through the first lockdown, but as restrictions continued, interest waned.
However, though food delivery interest levels had reduced by June 2020, they remained at a higher interest level than had been achieved in 2019 and in fact the highest level of the previous 5 years. This new 2020 food delivery interest level was double that of 2019.
Food Delivery Brands
While overall interest in food delivery was up, what did that mean for specific providers of food delivery? Looking more specifically at popular food delivery companies, we can see how the pandemic affected the interest in their services across the year.
Taking three of the biggest providers: Deliveroo (Blue), Uber Eats (Red) and Just Eat (Yellow), we can see that their popularity spiked considerably during the first lockdown.
In fact, Deliveroo saw an initial 70% increase in March 2020, and Uber Eats saw a 65% increase. Just Eat saw a 54% increase in interest. It is worth noting that interest in Just Eat was 70% higher than both Deliveroo and Uber Eats to begin with.
Further into 2020, particularly in the latter half of the year as lockdowns eased and the tier system came into effect, along with the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out initiative, the interest in all these delivery services levelled out. However, none returned to their previous lower levels.
Interest in food delivery for at least some people continued, perhaps due to inability to get to grocery stores or, for those more financially well off, for simplicity so they didn’t have to cook and could have a variety of foods delivered straight to their door.
The Google Trends graph also shows that interest spiked for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat during the third UK lockdown, from December 26th 2020, and remained at elevated levels throughout the rest of Christmas and into January 2021.
Naturally, not everyone was jumping to order hot food. Many were simply keen to get regular groceries in. For some this could have been due to needing to shield or isolate, while others might have been avoiding going to supermarkets due to concern about COVID-19 transmission.
Those who did go to the supermarket, particularly at the start of the first lockdown, found that some people had taken to stockpiling certain items, like toilet roll and tinned foods, making them hard to get hold of. Consequently, people turned to supermarket deliveries to try and get a future order in and so avoid missing out.
Looking at Google searches for delivery from the main supermarkets, we can see a clear increase in interest across five of the biggest brands during the first lockdown: Tesco (Yellow), Asda (Purple), Morrisons (Green), Sainsburys (Red) and Waitrose (Blue).
Similar trends appeared for Ocado and M&S delivery but are not shown in the graph as they were at a much lower interest level comparatively.
Supermarket Delivery Slots
Delivery slots ran out quickly during the start of the pandemic and this continued for much of 2020 and into 2021. But people kept checking in to see if they could snap up a slot as new ones became available. This is reflected in the growth of searches for supermarket specific ‘delivery slots’.
Google Trends reveals clearly that the interest in delivery slots for various supermarkets hugely increased in March and April 2020.
Looking at the interest levels for supermarkets deliveries, for most it was negligible before the lockdowns (see pictured graph with markers).
While Tesco was the most popular supermarket for ‘delivery’, Morrisons was the most popular for ‘delivery slots’.
The huge increase in interest in delivery slots during the first lockdown makes it hard to gauge on the graph what levels were like in the rest of 2020, compared to before it started. Looking at the Google Trends results from June 2020 to the end of the year offers a clearer view:
Note: The same supermarkets are in the same colours: Tesco (Yellow), Asda (Purple), Morrisons (Green), Sainsburys (Red) and Waitrose (Blue).
Interest in delivery slots remained at an elevated level for the second half of the year with Tesco having the most interest by a 50% margin over the next most popular supermarket, Asda. Lower levels of interest were found during August and September, but interest in supermarket delivery slots spiked again in November in the run up to Christmas as customers sought desirable Christmas delivery slots.
Supermarket Christmas Delivery Slots
Looking specifically at Tesco as an example, we can see clearly that interest in Christmas deliveries peaked between the 8th and 14th November.
When comparing those interest levels to the past 5 years, we see a more than 350% increase in interest in Christmas delivery slots in 2020 compared to 2019.
‘Food boxes’ is a somewhat broad term for users making searches in Google, but it can include:
- General food boxes – including meat, fruit, vegetables, dairy and groceries in general.
- Recipe boxes – sometimes also called a ‘meal kit’, they contain the right amounts of specific ingredients to make certain recipes, with instructions included.
All are delivered to your door and so provide another way of getting food to your home. Food box delivery existed before the pandemic but online interest in food boxes had been consistently quite low for five years prior to the first lockdown, as this graph indicates.
Looking at ‘food box delivery’ (blue), ‘food boxes delivered’ (red) and ‘food boxes near me’ (yellow), we can see that, as with general food delivery trends, there was a spike at the start of the first lockdown. ‘Food box delivery’ had the largest spike in interest, with smaller increases for the variant searches.
Now let’s look at how that breaks down by type of food box.
General Grocery Food Boxes
A snapshot of some of the food box searches around ‘meat box delivery’ and ‘fruit and veg delivery’ reveals that all shared a late March (22nd to 28th) boost in interest.
Interest in grocery delivery boxes was negligible before the pandemic started, with levels at 0 or less than 0 compared to the peaks reached in late March 2020.
‘Fruit and veg delivery’ had the largest increase from 0 to 100. ‘Veg delivery box’ and ‘delivery box veg’ from 0 to 70.
Interest levels in food boxes did drop to lower levels by May 2020 and then there is a consistent rise and fall in interest for the various grocery box types throughout the second half of the year.
Recipe Boxes & Meal Kits
Meal kits and recipe boxes are, for all intents and purposes, the same product. Interestingly, compared to ‘food box delivery’ neither saw a spike in interest at the start of the first lockdown. This is very unusual compared to the other food delivery searches in 2020.
Instead, what we see for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’ in 2020 is an initial continuation of the gradual increase seen in the last 5 years.
This slow growth in interest for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’ in 2020 is clearer if we remove ‘food boxes delivery’ from the Google Trends graph.
The large spike at the end of this graph is actually the end of 2020 and first month of 2021. As we entered Lockdown 3 in the UK on 26th December 2020, there was a surge in interest for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’. This was perhaps because people were settling into a new normal and were getting more interested in being given ideas for what to cook at home.
Interest in meal kits grew by 300% between December 2020 and January 2021. December 2020 saw an interest level of 25 (at most) and by mid-January 2021 had reached 100.
Recipe Box Brands
Three of the biggest recipe box brands in the UK are: Gousto, HelloFresh and Mindful Chef, though they are certainly not the only ones. Looking specifically at how these brands have done in the last few years, and in 2020, reveals some interesting insights into how people have been eating.
Over the last few years, there has been a gradual, if slow, increase in interest for Gousto and HelloFresh, with a smaller increase in Mindful Chef. The core difference between these is that Mindful Chef is a ‘nutritionist approved’ healthy recipe box, while the others offer a variety of meals including healthy and dietary options.
All three meal kit brands had a boost in interest during the first lockdown at the end of March 2020, following a January increase, likely in line with resolutions to cook and eat more healthily. This naturally led to a February decline as convictions for healthy resolutions waned.
What makes these specific recipe box brands interesting is that this wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan increase in interest in early 2020. For HelloFresh in particular, this spike was actually a sign of a greater interest in the product that was then sustained throughout the year with additional peaks in September, October and at the end of December. Gousto enjoyed increased interest throughout the year. Mindful Chef saw some waning in interest after May.
The start of lockdown 3 and New Year 2021 led to another rise in interest in all three brands that continued throughout January 2021. Interest almost doubled for most of these brands between the end of 2020 and start of 2021.
Unique Food Delivery
To conclude this dive into food delivery statistics and trends in 2020, we wanted to look beyond standard grocery or hot meal deliveries. Let’s look at some of the more unexpected types of food delivery that took off in 2020.
You might be surprised to learn that afternoon tea delivery saw a huge boost in interest in 2020. This didn’t occur at the start of the lockdowns – it turns out groceries were more important then – rather there was a significant spike in interest in May and June of 2020. ‘Afternoon tea delivery’ then saw a consistent, if lower, elevated interest level for much of the rest of 2020, with another spike at the start of 2021.
This boost in interest is most stark when we compare specific search terms over the past five years, namely ‘afternoon tea delivery’, ‘afternoon tea delivered’, ‘afternoon tea boxes’ and ‘afternoon tea delivered to your door’.
Certainly ‘afternoon tea delivery’ was the most popular, rising far above the others, though they all saw increases in 2020. Local area specific searches saw increases too. For example:
These particular locations were chosen as they were suggested by Google as popular additions to searches for ‘afternoon tea delivery’.
Interestingly, the interest within certain areas spiked at different times, though commonly between April and May 2020, and then between November 2020 to January 2021.
Essex and Leeds were places that had previously had a larger interest in afternoon tea delivery, in years gone by, and this would be repeated at a higher rate in 2020.
To wash down all that delivered food, we also took a look at one of the unexpected drink delivery requests for 2020. ‘Cocktail delivery’ spiked in interest around April 2020 and then started rising again from around September 2020 to the end of the year.
Clearly, many needed a drink by the end of the year and felt like treating themselves.
Cocktail delivery to certain areas peaked at times throughout the year, though mostly between April and June of 2020.
2021 Food Delivery Trends & Statistics
What will 2021 hold for food delivery? COVID-19 vaccinations have begun, which could enable businesses to reopen and get people back out into the world. However, how fast this happens remains to be seen.
The first half of 2021 may well mirror the end of 2020. It’s very likely that at least some of this increased interest in food delivery will prevail, even when the world is open for business as usual. Consumers will have become used to food delivery, and to enjoying the many options available. So, food businesses are advised to take notice of the trends that evolved in 2020. Not just so they can adapt to the pandemic, but so they’ll be ready for the post-pandemic world too.