Food delivery services adapt to accommodate COVID-19 outbreak

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Food delivery companies such as Kiwibot, Uber Eats and DoorDash have implemented changes to their business strategies, including beginning to deliver face masks and hand sanitizer, in response to the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, outbreak.

The pandemic has resulted in “shelter in place” protocols in six counties across the Bay Area, including Alameda County, and led California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for residents ages 65 years or older to self-isolate during a press conference Sunday. Organizations throughout Berkeley have experienced drops in business following the pandemic, something David Rodriguez, Kiwibot’s head of business development, has also observed.

“There was a disruption of business as usual since a lot of students left and aren’t going back to campus, so we saw demand plunging,” Rodriguez said. “At this point, though, we are not thinking about margins. We just want to be useful to the community.”

One benefit of Kiwibot’s delivery model is that it removes intermediate steps between the restaurant and the customer during deliveries, according to Rodriguez. He said Kiwibot will repurpose its robots to deliver masks and hand sanitizer, which can be purchased by members of the community.

According to Rodriguez, Kiwibot can become more than a food delivery service and will allocate its resources to help students and community members in locations where the company operates.

“We are pretty sure that Kiwibot has amazing capacity to help the community and actually blend into the situation to help reduce the impact of COVID-19,” Rodriguez said. “We deeply understand how prevention is the key, and we believe that Kiwibot is the safest tool to provide the community access to these important tools.”

Uber Eats and DoorDash are also encouraging customers to minimize contact with the use of “no-contact” delivery options, through which orders are left on customers’ doorsteps to be picked up.

Uber Eats has committed 300,000 free meals to first responders and health care workers in the United States and Canada, in addition to waiving delivery fees for local restaurants, according to a press release from Janelle Sallenave, head of Uber Eats for the United States and Canada.

According to a press release from DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, the company is offering its drivers free hand sanitizer and gloves, and it is in the process of shipping more than 1 million sets. DoorDash is also partnering with United Way Worldwide to deliver food to community members, including low-income families, seniors and food-insecure households, according to the press release.

“As the spread of COVID-19 continues, some of the most vulnerable people within the communities we serve are at risk,” Xu said in the press release. “We are joining forces with community organizations to deliver an estimated one million pounds of groceries and prepared food.”

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.