Home Food app gets unexpected boost from Covid-19

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What started out as a platform to help the followers of Malaysian cooking YouTuber Lim Boon Ping kick-start their own food businesses has quickly become the saving grace for petty food sellers and restaurants. Home Food app, which launched on April 11, has now brought onboard close to 200 food sellers on its platform, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Marvin Foong, founder and managing director of Home Food app tells Enterprise that the idea came about after he met Lim last year and learnt that he frequently received enquiries and advice on how to start a food business with minimal capital as well as how to tap the growing food delivery service.

Foong and Lim (fondly known as “Cooking Ah Pa”), put their heads together and came up with the platform, but it was not intended to be a form of aid during the pandemic. “Actually, when we started the company, we did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent MCO (Movement Control Order).

“Our initial plan was to meet the needs of Cooking Ah Pa's followers and start a food business. But since the MCO was announced and with the prohibition of operating Ramadan bazaars, this platform [has been used as] an alternative platform for food sellers and buyers,” he says.

The response has been encouraging, says Foong, with the platform seeing food sellers from Sabah, Penang, Ipoh, Melaka and the Klang Valley signing up for the service.

“We initially did marketing on a small group of people in the Klang Valley but suddenly [we realised] people from other areas were signing up! This shows that the market is currently hungry for these kinds of platforms,” he says, adding that the company is currently in talks with grocery sellers as well.

This platform will help food business owners like Ramadhan bazaar operators, restaurants, hawkers, food trucks and even housewives make extra income from existing business models, says Foong.

The platform merely acts as a directory, Foong explains, adding that any food seller can sign up, regardless of how big or small they are. It also means that each seller has to organise their own delivery system and engage with third-party delivery providers. “A lot of these small food sellers already use Facebook or WhatsApp to do deliveries. This platform merely acts as a directory so it will be easier for people to find them and easier for traders to track the orders.”

The biggest and most immediate issue is that many food sellers are not tech savvy. Some do not even know how to install the app on their phones. However, their eagerness to learn is strong and Foong says he only needs to spend three minutes teaching them how to get onto the platform and how to sign up with third-party delivery apps.

Another immediate issue was attracting customers to the platform especially since the food sellers' main interest is to find customers. “If we are not providing enough customers to [food sellers], they will not be happy. Our first stage is to get sellers on the platform, so then we have something to show to the public,” Foong explains.

“Luckily our customers are increasing every day, although it was just launched. [The food offered on the platform] is affordable and healthy, so people are more inclined to buy,” says Foong.

Customer feedback has been positive, he adds, as they find the food options to be very different from existing food delivery services. “Customers are also happy with the platform because they can now find more affordable and a wider variety food online. On top of that, they can also customise their food order.”

Foong clarifies that the Home Food app is not meant to disrupt the existing ecosystem as it is a “Yellow Pages for food”. Home Food does not manage transactions between buyer and seller, which typically has a direct effect on website traffic belonging to food sellers. So food sellers may redirect their customers within the Home Food app to their business website to engage with their own ordering system and payment gateway.

“This allows their website traffic to grow. Popular search engines may start ranking their business website [higher] and attract even more organic customers to the business,” Foong explains.

“This way, food sellers have more room to expand their business. We are not disrupting the current ecosystem but providing a platform to help them advance their own unique identity.”

As the app is still new, Foong says food sellers are not charged a fee. But Home Food is in the midst of determining what would be suitable after the first year, just so it can maintain the platform.

“We’re playing a volume game. So instead of onboarding 200 to 300 food sellers and charging a commission fee, we want to get a lot of sellers [on the platform] and charge a minimal fee. We want to be the largest food selling platform in Malaysia, so the annual subscription will be low.”

Ultimately, Foong says, they want to promote a "buy food from your neighbours” concept. “As our platform grows, eventually a user can just order food from neighbours in the same residential area. Our ultimate goal is to allow people to enjoy affordable and healthy food at home easily.”

To register as a food seller or to order food via the app, visit findhomefood.com or download the Home Food mobile application on Google Playstore and the Apple App Store.