End of last week, news broke out in China that Meituan, the largest food delivery platform in China (& the world by number of orders), is about to launch in Hong Kong.
If that is true, it means Meituan, after more than 10 years of constant battles against rivals in China, is finally venturing out of its home market.
Meituan could have gone out earlier. It has been a relatively early investor of GoJek in Indonesia (in 2018); one of its domestic rivals, Didi, has been in Latin America and other markets for years (its latest foray into Egypt and South Africa was not particularly successful – and seems to have redoubled its focus to Australia); late 2019 (about a year after Meituan’s IPO), the company thought about India and Indonesia – founder Wang Xing even spent a couple of weeks in Indonesia, during which the Covid-19 pandemic started.
The next two years were roller coasters for everyone – uncertainties caused by the pandemic, stimulus, government regulatory actions, and now inflation. Even if Meituan had the willingness and capabilities to develop global markets, its leaders would not have the mental space, its cadres the ability to move around.
However, with intensifying competition in China and flattening growth curve, even Meituan, which is known for operational efficiency, is thinking about a new growth curve outside its home market. In July this year Meituan hired Tong Qiu, who led Didi’s Latin America operations as well as Kuaishou international businesses. With Qiu’s specialty, it was a clear signal of Meituan’s ambitions.
However, food delivery is a complicated business – with not only three sides of the platform (merchants, consumers, and riders), but also lots of local operational nuances. Expanding into a new market can be quite challenging – Didi has tried that in Mexico and the results are not fantastic.
Hong Kong’s food delivery scene is dominated by Foodpanda and Deliveroo, after UberEats quit in 2021. (UberEats is still a major player in neighboring Taiwan).
A possible reason for UberEats’ throwing in the towel, was its inability to gain more market share from the two incumbents. Our friends at measurable.ai have been tracking food delivery market share in Hong Kong and their numbers show that UberEats hardly had 5% of the market.
Will Meituan break through this? It is not necessarily better armed to throw in more money compared to Uber. On the other hand, it is not as distracted compared to Uber – Hong Kong will be the only market Meituan is tackling outside mainland China for now, and with enough people, organizational and product resources, it should be able to concentrate its resources to win a battle there.
We mentioned quite a bit about tech entrepreneurs leveraging Mao Zedong’s wisdom in the book “Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing” as well as in our “Tech leaders with Chinese characteristic” report – Mao was always a big advocate of concentrating resources to win key battles, one by one.
Besides, Qiu used to work in Hong Kong before joining Didi. The market should not be alien to him.
For Foodpanda and Deliveroo, ultimately Hong Kong is not their home market (nor among their biggest markets) either – so the same people, organistiaonal, product and ultimately leadership (POP-Leadership) issue will be applying to them as well, in this competition.
The question is – whether Meituan is wholly-heartedly committed to winning the Hong Kong market. And if it does, whether it will be able to replicate such success to larger, more complex markets?
Meituan’s future valuation hinges on whether this will be one of the many short lived test the company has undertaken, or really unlocking a much bigger TAM.