Investigating experiences of frequent online food delivery service use: a qualitative study in UK adults.
BMC Public Health 2022 ; 22: 1365.
PubMed ID : 35842625
PMCID : PMC9287535
Food prepared out-of-home is typically energy-dense and nutrient-poor. This food can be purchased from multiple types of retailer, including restaurants and takeaway food outlets. Using online food delivery services to purchase food prepared out-of-home is increasing in popularity. This may lead to more frequent unhealthy food consumption, which is positively associated with poor diet and living with obesity. Understanding possible reasons for using online food delivery services might contribute to the development of future public health interventions, if deemed necessary. This knowledge would be best obtained by engaging with individuals who use online food delivery services as part of established routines. Therefore, we aimed to investigate customer experiences of using online food delivery services to understand their reasons for using them, including any advantages and drawbacks.
In 2020, we conducted telephone interviews with 22 adults living in the UK who had used online food delivery services on at least a monthly basis over the previous year. Through codebook thematic analysis, we generated five themes: 'The importance of takeaway food', 'Less effort for more convenience', 'Saving money and reallocating time', 'Online food delivery service normalisation' and 'Maintained home food practices'. Two concepts were overarching throughout: 'Place. Time. Situation.' and 'Perceived advantages outweigh recognised drawbacks'. After considering each of the accessible food purchasing options within the context of their location and the time of day, participants typically selected online food delivery services. Participants reported that they did not use online food delivery services to purchase healthy food. Participants considered online food delivery service use to be a normal practice that involves little effort due to optimised purchasing processes. As a result, these services were seen to offer convenient access to food aligned with sociocultural expectations. Participants reported that this convenience was often an advantage but could be a drawback. Although participants were price-sensitive, they were willing to pay delivery fees for the opportunity to complete tasks whilst waiting for delivery. Furthermore, participants valued price-promotions and concluded that receiving them justified their online food delivery service use. Despite takeaway food consumption, participants considered home cooking to be irreplaceable.
Future public health interventions might seek to increase the healthiness of food available online whilst maintaining sociocultural values. Extending restrictions adopted in other food environments to online food delivery services could also be explored.
Think about the last time you purchased takeaway food.
Where were you?
Where did you order from?
How did you buy it?
Maybe you’ve never been asked questions like these before. Maybe you’ve never given it much thought.
Or, maybe you have, and if you were asked about using online food delivery services like Just Eat or Deliveroo, then you might have answers that are similar to people that we spoke with in research that was published in BMC Public Health in July 2022.
In our research, when we asked people that use online food delivery services on a regular basis why they chose to do so, they told us that it had become part of their increasingly digital lives and that it was part of their normal routine that had always involved buying takeaway food at the weekend.
The people we spoke with as part of our research particularly liked how everything they needed to place orders was available on a single smartphone app or website. They also told us that online food delivery services gave them more options compared to the food outlets they can walk to, and that they could often use special offers that allowed them to save money or receive free food!
All of that sounds pretty good, and the people we spoke with agreed; they told us that they kept using online food delivery services because they received benefits that weren’t available when they ordered takeaway food some other way. It seemed worthwhile to pay a fee if it meant that there was extra time to do things whilst waiting for meals to be delivered.
It wasn’t all good. The people we spoke with reported that sometimes, the things that made online food delivery services good could also be not so good. Take being able to buy cheap, unhealthy food in a few clicks for example. Sometimes that was good because it meant that buying takeaway food was pretty effortless. But other times it wasn’t good because it made buying takeaway food too easy and could encourage them to be lazy.
Despite some things about online food delivery services not being all that good, the people we spoke with felt that it was now normal to buy takeaway food online. For them at least, that wasn’t going to change any time soon, with online food delivery services now the main way that they buy takeaway food.
So, does all of that sound familiar?
What would you say if you were asked about why you use online food delivery services?
Read our research; “Investigating experiences of frequent online food delivery service use: a qualitative study in UK adults” in BMC Public Health, and feel free to contact Matt Keeble, the lead author, for more information.