US-based food tech company MealPal has launched in Singapore, its first market in Asia, the company tells KrASIA.
MealPal is a takeout subscription service that lets customers order food in advance and pick it up at the restaurant at a specified time.
In Singapore, it will work with both restaurants and hawker stalls in four neighbourhoods: Buona Vista, the Central Business District, Novena and Orchard. Establishments working with MealPal include The Soup Spoon and Tuk Tuk Cha.
MealPal claims to have “facilitated more than 10 million orders” through its platform since it started in 2016, with a presence in 16 other markets including cities like London, Boston and New York.
Regardless of geography, users of the app will be able to buy the meals at a discount. The standard MealPal service is pretty universal, although users in Singapore will not be able to use the same package in another city, due to price differences. While an average casual restaurant meal can typically be priced at over S$13 ($9), the tech company’s users will only need to pay S$8 (around $6). Similarly, a hawker meal can cost over S$3 (around $2) but MealPal users will just have to pay S$1 ($0.70) for it.
The company explained that it generates revenue primarily through its meal subscription package. A package for 12 restaurant meals in Singapore costs users S$95.88 ($70.43), payable monthly. Users can only choose from a limited menu, which helps restaurants and hawker stall owners plan ahead.
In a bid to localise in Singapore, MealPal will send its food and beverage partners a text message instead of emails. Many hawker stall owners do not have email accounts, it explained in a statement.
The company will also launch WorkPals, a feature allowing users to see what their friends and colleagues have ordered.
“Singapore has without doubt been our most exciting launch of any other market,” said Mary Biggins, a MealPal co-founder.
She added, “The nuances and unique qualities of the food culture here, how work colleagues cherish their lunchtime as an important social part of the day, and the incredible variety of food options from grain bowls to hawker Lor Mee means our launch couldn’t have come at a better time.”
MealPal’s General Manager of International Markets, Paul Clifford, told KrASIA that the startup sees Asia as a high growth region and “Singapore at the very centre of it.”
He cited Singapore’s reputation as a foodie nation, the government’s pro-business stance and the country’s position as a regional hub, as reasons why the company has chosen the city-state as its first market to do business in Asia.
Going forward, the firm has plans to expand to the rest of the region, but Clifford did not state which markets it will enter next.
The Singapore branch will be led by Reece Wee, who’s previously held positions at online to offline startup Honestbee, as well as Deliveroo and Ensogo. At the moment, MealPal’s office in the country has five employees, with plans to grow in the months to come.
Here’s more from our Q&A with Clifford. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What’s the main challenge you’ve faced operating MealPal in Singapore so far?
Clifford: “Singapore, and the rest of Asia, are vastly different from the western countries we are currently operating in and this required us to work closely with our people on the ground to make adjustments to our business model.
For example, recognising that hawker centres and food courts are an intricate part of Singapore’s food culture, the Singapore market will be the first to offer hawker meals on the platform and we have even made tweaks to the way we communicate with our partners, collate orders and facilitate pickups to cater to the needs of the market.
We also noticed that unlike markets such as London and the US, lunch is a very social affair here, with working professionals often choosing to spend time with their colleagues. As such, MealPal is also launching the WorkPals social feature on the same platform – the first time the company has launched both MealPal and WorkPals services together.
Will customers be able to enjoy their take-out meals at the restaurant, or will they be asked to go somewhere else to eat?
Clifford: “MealPal’s business model only offers scheduled takeaway meals at the moment. By doing so, we are able to offer food partners an alternative revenue stream that is not limited by the size of retail space within their establishments.
Additionally, MealPal empowers its food partners to get a better return from their most expensive cost, labour, by only offering customers one menu item per mealtime for each eatery. As such, eateries can drastically reduce their labour cost by making meals in large batches, as opposed to serving individual customers, by achieving economies of scale from aggregated orders.
MealPal also gives businesses valuable incremental value by maximising revenue during non-peak hours and increasing profits by bringing customers to businesses located in areas that do not receive a regular flow of customers.
To add on, MealPal is able to help eateries to improve operational efficiency by eliminating the need to ring up orders and streamlines the process for eateries, allowing owners to effectively allocate resources, hence reducing operational cost.”
Will MealPal be working with any non-F&B companies to promote its service?
Clifford: “At the moment, we are not working with non-F&B companies but as the business scales up, we may consider partnerships that are synergistic and ultimately benefit our consumers and food partners.”
Editor: Nadine Freischlad