Established food courier services in Estonia say they do not fear the entrant of a new player in the marketplace, but instead see this as proof of a maturing of the sector.
The competitors all provide an in-phone app which customers use to choose, order, pay for and track their deliveries.
Fudy, a food ordering platform owned by businessman Margus Linnamäe, recently announced that from next month, the app will have exclusivity on several restaurants and restaurant chains which currently provide their fare via Fudy's two main competitors, the similarly-named Bolt and Wolt. Most of the outlets in question are also Linnamäe-owned companies.
Liis Ristal, manager at Wolt Baltikum, the Estonian arm of Finnish company Wolt, told ERR that over the six years the company has been operating in the Estonian market, several competitors have both entered and left the market, with Wolt being only one of two firms which have remained in operation in that time.
She said: "After us, Bolt Food has been the most stable on the market. Every new entrant makes our business sector become more mature, stronger, more professional, and serves to teach customers to use the service more."
Head of Bolt Food Eesti Jaagup Jalakas similarly sees more positives than negatives from Fudy's entry into the marketplace.
He said: "Bolt has already been competing with competitors in various markets for many years, and is therefore not afraid of any competition."
While Fudy has entered the niche market, both Wolt and Bolt have moved on, Ristal said – for instance her company now offers a monthly fee-based service which provides free home delivery from select restaurants, rather than each order being a separate entity and which can incur a delivery fee.
Ristal called the developments in the food ordering seen "exciting and only to be welcomed," noting that Wolt, since summer a subsidiary of US firm DoorDash, was continuing to move in the direction it has been.
Jalakas said that some restaurants choose just one platform rather than offering their food via competing services, mainly because it simplifies matters for the restaurant and provides further opportunities for cooperation.
At the same time, most food outlets prefer the multi-platform approach, purely to reach a greater range of customers.
"This means we don't think the fragmentation of the market can be expected in the near future," Jalakas added.
Many restaurants operating via Fudy app belong to same parent company
Holger Lihtmaa, CEO and founder of Fudy, told ERR that setting up a platform of participating restaurants which belonged to the same parent group made it easier for the company to get started.
Lihtmaa said: "Our common interests and vision overlapped extensively with the direction the restaurant and food delivery business is heading in. We actually have a large range of different restaurants, and certainly not a platform of environments all just belonging to the one group. We simply had to start somewhere."
Fudy's competitive advantage as Lihtmaa sees it is that it is focused on restaurants and fast food, whereas Bolt and Wolt have: "Essentially become a department store which delivers everything."
"As time goes on, this means restaurants have fewer options to be visible on a platform which offers everything."
Bolt Food, for instance, has a Market option which customers can order groceries through, while non-edible items such as flowers can also be ordered using the app. The company first rose to prominence as a taxi-hailing platform, a service which it has continued, while e-scooter rentals and car rentals were added to the platform subsequently too.
Margus Linnamäe, co-owner of the MM Grupp pharmaceuticals wholesaler also owns a stake, together with his business partner Ivar Vendelin, in several food chains.
Of the 17 eateries moving exclusively to the Fudy platform, only six are not owned by Linnamäe and Vedelin or one of their companies.
These include chains which are subsidiaries of the two businessmen's Apollo Group, an entertainment company which operates cinemas, and the bookstores of the same name.
Restaurants under the Apollo umbrella include high profile chains Vapiano, Blender, O' Learys, MySushi and Ice Cafe, while Linnamäe is also the franchisee for KFC in Estonia.
Vendelin has a 34-percent stake in OÜ McKenzie Invest, which owns the Chopsticks, Chi and Little India chains.
Many of these restaurants are to be found in shopping malls and attract on-site customers that way in addition to being available on food ordering apps, as noted from October, exclusively via Fudy.
Other restaurants to move only to Fudy include Viru Burger, POMO, Tai Boh and Lido, while Finnish burger chain Hesburger has already moved to Fudy.
Tai Boh, POMO and another chain, KimiJimi, are all under the same parent company, Manna Group.
Sector spokespersons: Soaring inflation, energy costs not yet negatively impacted sales
One other consideration which ostensibly could have harmed the sector, ie. Estonia having the highest rate of inflation in the EU and experienced soaring prices in food in particular, does not seem to have changed things yet, all three companies' spokespersons say.
Lihtmaa said that the timing of Fudy's market entry had not impacted negatively, while Ristal said that Wolt's sales volumes had in fact continued to grow, adding that in every downturn, customers still require comfort goods and services, which the food courier services provide.
Jalakas, too, said Bolt had not experienced any drop in sales as yet.
Delivery charges via the apps often vary, with orders from many restaurants not incurring any delivery charge, while others may result in a few euros' fee being charged – this often depends on the distance the restaurant is from the customer, the availability of couriers and other factors.
Bolt has also added an optional courier tipping facet; the tip can be withdrawn post-order if the customer sees fit.
Many couriers use a car to perform their deliveries, while bikes are the commonest other means of transport.
Editor: Andrew Whyte