The Monday Interview: Healthy appetite for further growth at Just Eat Ireland

Just Eat Ireland boss Amanda Roche-Kelly says the food delivery firm is more than just a fast food delivery app. It increasingly helps guide restaurants to cook up healthy menus, she tells Pádraig Hoare.

With 2,100 restaurants and a million app downloads, Just Eat Ireland has no plans to curb the appetite for further growth, according to managing director Amanda Roche-Kelly.

The online food delivery firm started 10 years ago with 219 takeaways and restaurants. It is now at 2,100, offering more than 40 types of food.

“What we’ve done in the 10 years is introduce lots of different areas into what was a very traditional industry — constantly innovating. There is no answer to how big it can get, it’s more about innovating and keeping that at the heart of Just Eat,” said Ms Roche-Kelly.

Innovation and embracing technology advances are — and will be — key to growth, she said.

Just Eat uses data analytics and business intelligence to help inform restaurant menus, advise them on opening hours, as well as sharing ordering trends and changes in taste.

An economic impact report undertaken by Just Eat claims that takeaway food is worth more than €1bn to economic output, and represents 57% of the restaurant industry.

Traditional industries are invariably the casualties of disruptive innovation, but not so in this case, according to Ms Roche-Kelly.

“Disruption can be viewed as a negative term but the key for us in Just Eat is enhancement. We’ve been a positive disruptor in a traditional industry and all we are trying to do is drive change and innovate for these restaurants. We view these restaurants as partners, not competitors.

“We can see the benefit of driving people online. That is why we view the phone as our competitor. When people order online, they have more time to read the menu, more time to explore more choices — it’s positive disruption that responds to the needs of our partners, rather than competing with them,” she said.

With the addition of some of the heavyweight players in the industry, such as KFC and Five Guys, and Irish contender Eddie Rockets, Just Eat Ireland does not rule out linking up with the biggest household names in the future, such as McDonald’s or Burger King.

“We are guided by our customers, who tell us what they want. It would be great to get some of the others on board, which we are looking at,” said Ms Roche-Kelly.

A looming cultural and political backlash on fast food, along the lines of diesel and plastic, is something for which Just Eat Ireland is prepared.

“The majority of our partners will offer healthy options on their menu, and we are striving towards more specific and independent restaurants that provide only the likes of vegan, gluten-free, Paleo — because our customers are increasingly health conscious.

“For our 10th birthday, the analysis over the past 10 years shows orders in healthy choices have increased 18-fold. That has jumped especially dramatically over the last three or four years. There may be a backlash against fast food, but we aren’t just fast food anymore,” Ms Roche-Kelly said.

The 10 years has not come without controversy, with commission hikes over the years that restaurants and takeaways have had to pay to Just Eat Ireland, as well as a 50 cent “service charge” for customers imposed ahead of the EU scrapping its 50 cent levy on credit and debit cards.

“When we think about the marketplace and the industry, we want to deliver added value to our restaurants. A lot of restaurants don’t have the budget to go out and be on television or on billboards. We want to deliver all these cuisine types, and we have now started to invest in a delivery service for restaurants that have asked us to deliver for them. We couldn’t do that unless we charged commission. Our last commission increase was two years ago.

“We’re growing a brand, and as it grows, more orders are being delivered to these restaurants. The most really see where the commission is going.

“We looked at the service charge, it’s to enable us to answer phones when you have queries, to have guys out on the road. We spend it wisely, and is all going towards the bigger picture, not just for customers sitting at home, but for our restaurant partners also,” Ms Roche-Kelly said.

Having been regional manager for Dublin and Leinster with Bewley’s, Ms Roche-Kelly joined Just Eat in 2012 as head of sales, and progressed to her current role managing the Irish business across sales, marketing, operations and customer care.

Before Bewley’s she worked for eight years with Pernod Ricard, the world’s co-leader in wines and spirits, managing brands such as Gallo and Jacob’s Creek.

I do encourage diversity and do feel there could be more opportunities afforded to women. I also feel it is the responsibility of the woman to stand up and look for those responsibilities also. Leadership is inherent in a person, I believe, it cannot be taught.

“What I’d like to see encouraged is the conversation that gives women the confidence to go for the roles, instead of filling quotas. I don’t think with quotas you’d necessarily get the right person. It’s not about women and men, it’s that there are born leaders, and we have to encourage more women to believe they might be,” she said.

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