After waiting for an hour, Fuyun Wei pattered downstairs, her face masked, and picked up a dried hot-pot she ordered from Tasty Dining, a Chinese restaurant 11 miles away from her apartment off campus in Los Angeles.
An East Asian Studies major at the University of Southern California, Wei has relied on HungryPanda, an online food and grocery delivery platform, for over a month since the “stay-at-home” order was issued in California.
She is one of the hundreds and thousands of Chinese overseas forced to stay at home amid a coronavirus pandemic, who turn to this platform for authentic Chinese food.
“Though the food is not that fresh as it used to be right in the restaurants, it’s good enough at this time,” Wei said.
On February 20, HungryPanda announced that it has raised $20 million in funding. The round was led by investors 83North and Felix Capital and will be used for hiring, product development and global expansion, particularly in the U.S. The startup, which did not disclose its current valuation, said its goal is to reach an annual run rate of $200 million by May 2020.
Chinese communities worldwide are a huge market. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report published last year, the Chinese diaspora around the world ranges from about 10 million, when counting people born in China, to about 45 million under a wider definition that also includes second-generation immigrants and other groups.
In the past few years, platforms like Bigfoodie and HungryPanda, emerged as key players in the field of catering delivery specializing on Chinese food, as large Western platforms, such as UberEats, Deliveroo, and Just Eat, have not yet added Chinese restaurants to their networks on a large scale, due to language and cultural barriers, or expensive commissions that local Chinese restaurants found prohibitive.
Although food delivery is a competitive space, HungryPanda has carved out its own niche. As its slogan goes, HungryPanda aims to “Satisfy Your Chinese Appetite,” with a wide range of authentic Chinese restaurants. It differentiates from other platforms by providing comprehensive delivery services from Chinese supermarkets and allowing customers to pay with Alipay and WeChat Pay, payment methods favored by many Mainland Chinese. It also uses WeChat for marketing, to expand its consumer pool.
Kelu Liu, founder and director of HungryPanda, said in a 2018 interview with the UK-Chinese Times that their customers are generally 20-35 years old. But some senior citizens also opt for their platform, desperate for fresh produce to cook themselves, which is why HungryPanda cooperates with local Chinese supermarkets to fill the gap.
“Unlike local British supermarkets as Ocado who usually deliver groceries every other day or in a few days, we want to make deliveries within one day, so we need a lot of distribution stations,” Liu explained.
A former Computer Science and Management student at the University of Nottingham, Liu revealed that his startup gained a lot of support from The Ingenuity Lab in the university at the beginning, including visa sponsorship, pilot programs, green lights on campus and financial resources.
HungryPanda, in return, proved to be able to progress in the following years. Founded in Nottingham, United Kingdom, HungryPanda has now launched its services in over 30 cities across six countries – the U.K., Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. The company said its operations in the U.K. and New York City are already profitable.
On one hand, HungryPanda charges catering merchants affordable commissions – 10-20 percent of the total order value. For comparison, Bigfoodie charges up to 25 percent on average, although it offers some flexible packages, and Deliveroo charges 30 percent.
Happy Lemon, a Birmingham-based drinks chain, told China Daily that signing up with HungryPanda meant deliveries as small as two cups of boba milk tea worth 5 pounds ($6.40) became viable. In comparison, charges from larger platforms mean orders under 15 pounds are not cost-effective, said manager Jay Liu.
On the other hand, the company takes pride in its “super-fast delivery by professional riders,” whose number exceeds 3,000 worldwide in total. According to Liu, it’s requested that deliveries in the city of London, for instance, are completed within an hour – for Birmingham even less, in 45 minutes. The delivery service, however, receives drastically different feedback from consumers.
A customer, nicknamed “Napstablooky” based in New York, wrote on Zhihu, China’s Quora, that he chose HungryPanda for its Mandarin interface and some free delivery services offered for new members. He also found the app affordable with a base fare of just $10, compared with $20 in NYStudentFood and Etopia, two other popular delivery platforms tailored for Chinese.
Another consumer nicknamed “Chang Jing,” based in Brighton, U.K., spoke highly of the platform, too. When almost all the Chinese restaurants nearby were shut down due to COVID-19 and a raging typhoon, she was able to find tens of them open for delivery on HungryPanda. In just 35 minutes, she got her Beijing-style braised chicken and boiled pork entrails with cake bits, along with over 100 pounds of groceries from Yun Feng supermarket.
“It’s the best choice for Chinese students overseas and the most reliable one among various delivery apps”, she wrote.
Sherry Yang, a Chinese student at the University of Westminster, London, however, complained about her terrible experiences using HungryPanda three times. First, she waited for three hours before the customer service told her they were short of riders; second, it took one hour and a half shorter but the rider was “very rude;” third, she waited for three days for a supermarket delivery that was supposed to be done in one day, only to find that the order had been marked as “received” in the app yet nowhere to be found at her doorstep.
Statistics show that in the U.K., the total foodservice delivery market was worth around 8.5 billion British pounds in 2019, while for the U.S., total revenue in the Online Food Delivery segment will amount to $24 million in 2020.
As the wave of social distancing spread across the globe in March, people started to avoid large gatherings. Accordingly, their interest in Chinese cuisine skyrocketed, while interest in other, less takeout-friendly cuisines like traditional American, Japanese, and Italian sank, Eater reports.
HungryPanda’s founder Liu believes that Chinese cuisine can also be healthy and high-end. “I want the business to promote the cooking culture and goods of China out into the world. Not only will this give people an easier and healthier life, but it will also fill the gap that current food delivery companies are not filling,” Liu said in an interview.