Cloud kitchens were one of the early beneficiaries of the pandemic-inspired surge in online and mobile ordering. Working on a pure delivery model with no sit-down restaurant space, cloud kitchens reported large numbers of new customers who had never ordered online.

But what does the future hold? Will growth stall as people try to return to some semblance of post-pandemic normalcy? Zawya spoke to operators and experts about the industry post-COVID-19. 

Sandeep Ganediwalla, partner, digital strategist, cloud kitchen expert, Redseer Consulting

According to Sandeep Ganediwalla, cloud kitchens began to emerge and grow because customers wanted a wide choice of food and they wanted it quickly—within 30 minutes. In Dubai, restaurants in the older parts of the city have been able to use cloud kitchens in newer areas, such as JLT, Business Bay and Silicon Oasis, to deliver to customers more quickly.


“The consumers are looking for variety; they’re looking for speed. I think this not a bubble, this is a genuine need. […] people are still trying to figure out what it is as a business.”

The growth of food delivery in 2020 was attributable to COVID-19, he said, but that does not mean the cloud kitchen business will suffer once it’s over, although growth may not be as fast as some projections have suggested.

The rise in cloud kitchens is occurring alongside the quick-commerce market, and consumers are becoming used to a wide choice of food and products becoming available quickly, he added. 

Mubarak Nabil Jaffar, co-founder and CEO, KLC Virtual Restaurants, Kuwait

KLC Virtual Restaurants’ 40 brands also enjoyed a spike, though “not in the very early stages as all deliveries were banned in early lockdown in Kuwait,” according to CEO Mubarak Nabil Jaffar.


He noted that the growth of online ordering over the past decade has made people “consider a lot of outings to be unnecessary now” and the limitations in place have made in-restaurant dining “a bit of a hassle”. Moreover, COVID-19 has made converts of people who didn’t order before.

As for when the pandemic is over: “We might not see the same accelerated growth, but I cannot see it going backwards.”

Jihad El Eit, founder and CEO, Kaykroo

Spread across 15 locations in the UAE, Kaykroo saw double-digit growth, month on month, across its delivery channels after the initial lockdown. “We always had the intention to expand quickly in terms of our brand offering and our geographical footprint,” said CEO Jihad El Eit, “but these numbers have really validated our plans and fuelled our growth.”


El Eit compares the growth in online food delivery to that of e-commerce, “which really demonstrated a transformation in consumers’ behavioural patterns.”  

He continued: “Even though Dubai has been ‘open’ for months now, we are continuing to see growth in the number of orders we’re receiving. People will always seek a great dining out experience for the social element, especially after a lockdown or isolation period, but I believe there will be a shift in the kind of restaurants consumers will want to visit in person. They are more likely to turn to fine-dining restaurants that have worked hard to create the right ambience and whose food doesn’t necessarily travel well, but [customers] will continue to opt for delivery when they crave comfort food.”  

Adib Samara, VP, brand and marketing, Sweetheart Kitchen

A more sober outlook comes from Sweetheart Kitchen, which has 11 kitchens across Dubai and Kuwait, and faced a “challenging year, to say the least”, according to VP Adib Samara.


Attributing the rise in order volumes across the industry largely to high discounting, he noted, “For a cloud kitchen to be successful you need economies of scale, and COVID-19 travel restrictions and lockdowns made it difficult to do just that. But it also gave us an opportunity to take a step back, review our model, make some adjustments, streamline a few more processes. We revamped our menus, our food, took new photos and enhanced our online presence too.”

Asked about the prospects of growth after the pandemic, he said, “There will be a continued surge in cloud kitchens even as life returns back to normal. This was already an emerging trend, and food delivery was already on the rise. Having said that, I do believe there will be some stabilisation as some kitchens will not survive the test of time. A few will close their doors permanently; we may see a few mergers and acquisitions and consolidations, and the market will be left with five or six key players. These are businesses that have either deep pockets or build efficient economies of scale.” 

Paul Zoghbi, Chief of Staff, Kitopi

Kitopi, which operates more than 60 kitchens in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, experienced a drop in demand during the early weeks of the pandemic, when little information was available about how the coronavirus spread. This drop reversed dramatically as more people worked remotely and spent more time at home.


“Kitopi has been growing long before the pandemic,” said Paul Zoghbi. “What the pandemic has done is help leapfrog restaurants to embrace digital faster and partner with cloud kitchens to help them expand, as it is the most efficient solution yet.”

“The on-demand delivery business [will be] a whopping $259.7 billion by 2027,” he added, “and the cloud kitchen industry alone is $71.4 billion. So there is a lot of potential to grow and innovate in this space.”

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)


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