food delivery bag on doorstep

2020 was an incredibly tough and strange year for food businesses. From lockdowns and shifting tier restrictions to employee mental health, there was a lot to deal with. However, one part of food businesses that thrived during this time was food delivery.

Now, while we might have a general sense of the extent to which food delivery increased during 2020, in part based on our own ordering habits, we wanted to take a look at some real data to get a clearer, more accurate picture of how food delivery evolved during the pandemic. To do that we enlisted Google Trends.

Google Trends is one of the unique Google tools that anyone can access. It is ‘a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google.‘ Basically, it’s a summary of the search engine’s giant database of searches that users all around the globe have made. This data can be searched by topic and is presented in graphs over time. This data is valuable as it gives an indication of how people have been searching, what they’ve been looking for and in what quantities.

Using Google Trends, and our own understanding of food delivery, we’ve collected some key food delivery statistics, including: supermarket delivery, food boxes, and other more unusual food delivery requests. Plus, we’ve used the Google Trends data to analyse how the pandemic changed interest in food delivery at key points of the year.


Food Delivery Statistics: 2020 In Review

To begin, let’s look at ‘food delivery’ as a search term and a general indicator of the category as a whole. You could probably guess that food delivery spiked in the UK when the first lockdown began on the 16th March 2020.

food delivery google trends graph 2020

At the start of the COVID-19 response in the UK, many thought that this unprecedented lockdown would last a few weeks and then life would return to normal. Food businesses, from cafes to restaurants, largely moved to a takeaway model or closed for a few weeks, while food delivery businesses and takeaways continued as normal. For many, ordering food was a treat to help them get through the first lockdown, but as restrictions continued, interest waned.

However, though food delivery interest levels had reduced by June 2020, they remained at a higher interest level than had been achieved in 2019 and in fact the highest level of the previous 5 years. This new 2020 food delivery interest level was double that of 2019.

food delivery google trends past five years graph

Food Delivery Brands

While overall interest in food delivery was up, what did that mean for specific providers of food delivery? Looking more specifically at popular food delivery companies, we can see how the pandemic affected the interest in their services across the year.

google trends graph of deliveroo, uber eats and just eat in 2020

Taking three of the biggest providers: Deliveroo (Blue), Uber Eats (Red) and Just Eat (Yellow), we can see that their popularity spiked considerably during the first lockdown.

In fact, Deliveroo saw an initial 70% increase in March 2020, and Uber Eats saw a 65% increase. Just Eat saw a 54% increase in interest. It is worth noting that interest in Just Eat was 70% higher than both Deliveroo and Uber Eats to begin with.

Further into 2020, particularly in the latter half of the year as lockdowns eased and the tier system came into effect, along with the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out initiative, the interest in all these delivery services levelled out. However, none returned to their previous lower levels.

Interest in food delivery for at least some people continued, perhaps due to inability to get to grocery stores or, for those more financially well off, for simplicity so they didn’t have to cook and could have a variety of foods delivered straight to their door.

The Google Trends graph also shows that interest spiked for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat during the third UK lockdown, from December 26th 2020, and remained at elevated levels throughout the rest of Christmas and into January 2021.

Supermarket Deliveries

Naturally, not everyone was jumping to order hot food. Many were simply keen to get regular groceries in. For some this could have been due to needing to shield or isolate, while others might have been avoiding going to supermarkets due to concern about COVID-19 transmission.

Those who did go to the supermarket, particularly at the start of the first lockdown, found that some people had taken to stockpiling certain items, like toilet roll and tinned foods, making them hard to get hold of. Consequently, people turned to supermarket deliveries to try and get a future order in and so avoid missing out.

Looking at Google searches for delivery from the main supermarkets, we can see a clear increase in interest across five of the biggest brands during the first lockdown: Tesco (Yellow), Asda (Purple), Morrisons (Green), Sainsburys (Red) and Waitrose (Blue).

google trends graph of supermarket deliveries searches

Similar trends appeared for Ocado and M&S delivery but are not shown in the graph as they were at a much lower interest level comparatively.

Supermarket Delivery Slots

Delivery slots ran out quickly during the start of the pandemic and this continued for much of 2020 and into 2021. But people kept checking in to see if they could snap up a slot as new ones became available. This is reflected in the growth of searches for supermarket specific ‘delivery slots’.

google trends graph of supermarket delivery slots in 2020

Google Trends reveals clearly that the interest in delivery slots for various supermarkets hugely increased in March and April 2020.

supermarket delivery slots during lockdown one Google Trends graph

Looking at the interest levels for supermarkets deliveries, for most it was negligible before the lockdowns (see pictured graph with markers).

While Tesco was the most popular supermarket for ‘delivery’, Morrisons was the most popular for ‘delivery slots’.

The huge increase in interest in delivery slots during the first lockdown makes it hard to gauge on the graph what levels were like in the rest of 2020, compared to before it started. Looking at the Google Trends results from June 2020 to the end of the year offers a clearer view:

supermarket delivery slots google trends in second half of 2020

Note: The same supermarkets are in the same colours: Tesco (Yellow), Asda (Purple), Morrisons (Green), Sainsburys (Red) and Waitrose (Blue).

Interest in delivery slots remained at an elevated level for the second half of the year with Tesco having the most interest by a 50% margin over the next most popular supermarket, Asda. Lower levels of interest were found during August and September, but interest in supermarket delivery slots spiked again in November in the run up to Christmas as customers sought desirable Christmas delivery slots.

Supermarket Christmas Delivery Slots

Looking specifically at Tesco as an example, we can see clearly that interest in Christmas deliveries peaked between the 8th and 14th November.

christmas supermarket delivery trends 2020 graph

When comparing those interest levels to the past 5 years, we see a more than 350% increase in interest in Christmas delivery slots in 2020 compared to 2019.

christmas supermarket delivery trends five years graph

Food Boxes

‘Food boxes’ is a somewhat broad term for users making searches in Google, but it can include:

  • General food boxes – including meat, fruit, vegetables, dairy and groceries in general.
  • Recipe boxes – sometimes also called a ‘meal kit’, they contain the right amounts of specific ingredients to make certain recipes, with instructions included.

All are delivered to your door and so provide another way of getting food to your home. Food box delivery existed before the pandemic but online interest in food boxes had been consistently quite low for five years prior to the first lockdown, as this graph indicates.

food box delivery trends graph 2020

Looking at ‘food box delivery’ (blue), ‘food boxes delivered’ (red) and ‘food boxes near me’ (yellow), we can see that, as with general food delivery trends, there was a spike at the start of the first lockdown. ‘Food box delivery’ had the largest spike in interest, with smaller increases for the variant searches.

Now let’s look at how that breaks down by type of food box.

General Grocery Food Boxes

A snapshot of some of the food box searches around ‘meat box delivery’ and ‘fruit and veg delivery’ reveals that all shared a late March (22nd to 28th) boost in interest.

food delivery box type google trends low point

Interest in grocery delivery boxes was negligible before the pandemic started, with levels at 0 or less than 0 compared to the peaks reached in late March 2020.

food delivery box google trends high point

‘Fruit and veg delivery’ had the largest increase from 0 to 100. ‘Veg delivery box’ and ‘delivery box veg’ from 0 to 70.

Interest levels in food boxes did drop to lower levels by May 2020 and then there is a consistent rise and fall in interest for the various grocery box types throughout the second half of the year.

google trends graph of grocery delivery 2020

Recipe Boxes & Meal Kits

Meal kits and recipe boxes are, for all intents and purposes, the same product. Interestingly, compared to ‘food box delivery’ neither saw a spike in interest at the start of the first lockdown. This is very unusual compared to the other food delivery searches in 2020.

recipe boxes and meal kits google trends 2020

Instead, what we see for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’ in 2020 is an initial continuation of the gradual increase seen in the last 5 years.

last 5 years google trends for meal kits and recipe boxes

This slow growth in interest for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’ in 2020 is clearer if we remove ‘food boxes delivery’ from the Google Trends graph.

recipe boxes and meal kits latter 2020 graph

The large spike at the end of this graph is actually the end of 2020 and first month of 2021. As we entered Lockdown 3 in the UK on 26th December 2020, there was a surge in interest for ‘recipe boxes’ and ‘meal kits’. This was perhaps because people were settling into a new normal and were getting more interested in being given ideas for what to cook at home.

Interest in meal kits grew by 300% between December 2020 and January 2021. December 2020 saw an interest level of 25 (at most) and by mid-January 2021 had reached 100.

Recipe Box Brands

Three of the biggest recipe box brands in the UK are: Gousto, HelloFresh and Mindful Chef, though they are certainly not the only ones. Looking specifically at how these brands have done in the last few years, and in 2020, reveals some interesting insights into how people have been eating.

gogle trends graph of gousto, hell fresh and mindful chef in 2020

Over the last few years, there has been a gradual, if slow, increase in interest for Gousto and HelloFresh, with a smaller increase in Mindful Chef. The core difference between these is that Mindful Chef is a ‘nutritionist approved’ healthy recipe box, while the others offer a variety of meals including healthy and dietary options.

All three meal kit brands had a boost in interest during the first lockdown at the end of March 2020, following a January increase, likely in line with resolutions to cook and eat more healthily. This naturally led to a February decline as convictions for healthy resolutions waned.

gousto, hello fresh and mindful chef peaks in 2020 google trends

What makes these specific recipe box brands interesting is that this wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan increase in interest in early 2020. For HelloFresh in particular, this spike was actually a sign of a greater interest in the product that was then sustained throughout the year with additional peaks in September, October and at the end of December. Gousto enjoyed increased interest throughout the year. Mindful Chef saw some waning in interest after May.

The start of lockdown 3 and New Year 2021 led to another rise in interest in all three brands that continued throughout January 2021. Interest almost doubled for most of these brands between the end of 2020 and start of 2021.

gousto, hello fresh and mindful chef late 2020 google trends

Unique Food Delivery

To conclude this dive into food delivery statistics and trends in 2020, we wanted to look beyond standard grocery or hot meal deliveries. Let’s look at some of the more unexpected types of food delivery that took off in 2020.

Afternoon Tea

You might be surprised to learn that afternoon tea delivery saw a huge boost in interest in 2020. This didn’t occur at the start of the lockdowns – it turns out groceries were more important then – rather there was a significant spike in interest in May and June of 2020. ‘Afternoon tea delivery’ then saw a consistent, if lower, elevated interest level for much of the rest of 2020, with another spike at the start of 2021.

This boost in interest is most stark when we compare specific search terms over the past five years, namely ‘afternoon tea delivery’, ‘afternoon tea delivered’, ‘afternoon tea boxes’ and ‘afternoon tea delivered to your door’.

afternoon tea delivery graph for past five years of google trends

Certainly ‘afternoon tea delivery’ was the most popular, rising far above the others, though they all saw increases in 2020. Local area specific searches saw increases too. For example:

afternoon tea delivery by city google trends

These particular locations were chosen as they were suggested by Google as popular additions to searches for ‘afternoon tea delivery’.

Interestingly, the interest within certain areas spiked at different times, though commonly between April and May 2020, and then between November 2020 to January 2021.

Essex and Leeds were places that had previously had a larger interest in afternoon tea delivery, in years gone by, and this would be repeated at a higher rate in 2020.

Cocktail Delivery

To wash down all that delivered food, we also took a look at one of the unexpected drink delivery requests for 2020. ‘Cocktail delivery’ spiked in interest around April 2020 and then started rising again from around September 2020 to the end of the year.

cocktail delivery trends 2020 google trends graph

Clearly, many needed a drink by the end of the year and felt like treating themselves.

cocktail delivery google trends by city 2020

Cocktail delivery to certain areas peaked at times throughout the year, though mostly between April and June of 2020.

2021 Food Delivery Trends & Statistics

What will 2021 hold for food delivery? COVID-19 vaccinations have begun, which could enable businesses to reopen and get people back out into the world. However, how fast this happens remains to be seen.

The first half of 2021 may well mirror the end of 2020. It’s very likely that at least some of this increased interest in food delivery will prevail, even when the world is open for business as usual. Consumers will have become used to food delivery, and to enjoying the many options available. So, food businesses are advised to take notice of the trends that evolved in 2020. Not just so they can adapt to the pandemic, but so they’ll be ready for the post-pandemic world too.

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