Healthy eating choices now dominate food orders, led by salads and quinoa bowls. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Order in or head out to dine? Pick up goods through a shopping portal or make that decision at the mall?

With Dubai’s residents heading back to their offices and stores, the online vs. offline debate is starting to pick up pace again. This after nearly three months when online was holding sway over all decisions. The shift is starting to show up in many ways.

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According to data from Sweetheart Kitchen, which operates multiple “ghost” facilities in Dubai that deliver orders within 20 minutes or so, the average order value and number of items per order has come down with the easing of restrictions on movement.

If there was an 11 per cent spike in order value during the lockdown phase, once those were eased from early June, the basket value dipped 4 per cent. It was much more drastic when it comes to the number of items per order – down 18 per cent since June as against an increase of 11 per cent be6tween late March to end May, according to Sweetheart Kitchen.

Online grocery order volumes too have seen declines in recent days, according to multiple retail industry sources. But the biggest takeaway for online orders is that the declines have been manageable. Most important, there is significant retention of those shoppers who were placing their first online orders during this phase.

“Some decline in online activity was expected – so far, the dips from the April and May peaks have not been too drastic,” said an online grocery retailer.

Big winners

The online food ordering business was among the handful of categories that were instant winners once restrictions were placed on the peoples’ movement and commercial activity to combat the spread of COVID-19. And commercial kitchens, which take on orders and prepare meals in bulk, were right at the centre of the action. Sweetheart Kitchen itself added three outlets during the peak phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would be very interesting to see how these trends change as the pandemic continues to influence our social behavior,” said Adib Samara, who heads branding and marketing efforts at Sweetheart Kitchen. That’s “not to ignore economic and political factors that may also impact spending patterns and purchasing power.

“Running a business during the corona pandemic has been a challenge for everyone.”

Shifts in patterns

In terms of food orders, residents of Jumeirah Village Circle have consistently topped the charts of locations making the most frequent placements. During the lockdown phase, this community was followed by residents of Silicon Oasis and Mirdif.

But during this period, there was a relative drop in orders coming through from Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers, according to Sweetheart Kitchen data. It does seem that’s “where the majority of new “home chefs” within the emirate grew,” said Samara.

But “Once the lockdown was over, we started to see an emerging trend at both Marina (now in fourth spot) and JLT (which is sixth).”

Sweetheart Kitchen 1
Over the last six months, there have been marked changes in order patterns, much of which could be attributed to the COVID-19 dynamic. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Soul food vs. healthy eating

The pandemic, based on Sweetheart Kitchen data, has even altered what residents want. During the peak phase, it was all about meeting cravings, going by the nature of the orders.

Before and during the lockdown, French fries were the number one ordered item, followed by chicken wings and mozzarella sticks, data shows.

But once the back to normal alert was sounded, those ordering in seemed to be having a change of taste, and quite drastic to. Out went the fries and taking their place were DIY (do it yourself) salad servings - now ranked at number one – and followed by a DIY quinoa bowl.

“The trend towards ordering healthier items continues across various categories too,” the company says. “All signs show a trend towards a healthier food delivery option post-lockdown.”

Hold the fries… for now.