Will Shu had plenty of reasons to be upbeat.
Unveiling Deliveroo’s results this week after its disastrous March float, Shu, the company’s founder and chief executive, told investors that it was back on track. After £2bn was wiped from the company’s value in its first day of trading, Deliveroo was finally approaching a share price just shy of its initial public offering, and delivery orders were booming.
Of course, all anybody wanted to ask about was whether Deliveroo was about to become somebody else’s snack.
On Monday, it emerged that Delivery Hero, a €29bn (£24.6bn) German giant of the sector, had snapped up a 5pc stake in its British rival. Investors have perked up at the prospect of takeover talk.
Last year saw a series of major swoops in the food space. Dutch firm Takeaway.com completed a £6.2bn deal to buy FTSE-listed Just Eat and announced it would snatch US rival Grubhub from under the nose of Uber. Uber made its own move with a $2.6bn deal for Postmates.
Today, obvious merger pairings are growing thin on the ground, says Giles Thorne, an analyst at Jefferies.
“It would ultimately have to come down to opportunism – getting a good price for the asset,” he says.
The logic behind a traditional merger would be to grab market share or international expansion. Any combination between food delivery players in the UK, which now has just three big players in Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, would almost certainly attract scrutiny from competition watchdogs.
That has not stopped calls from shareholders for more blockbuster M&A. Investors at FTSE 100 firm Just Eat Takeaway argue that its share price, which has fallen 26pc so far this year, makes it just such an opportunistic target. “There is a fairly large block of shareholders who think enough is enough,” says one shareholder. Another adds: “The for sale sign is up. One swoop and you would be done.”
Eat or be eaten
In July, Cat Rock, a US fund run by Alex Captain, which holds a 4.7pc stake in Just Eat, made the case for Just Eat to explore strategic options, including a sale or merger to companies such as US food delivery giant Doordash, Germany’s Delivery Hero, China’s Meituan or Uber Eats.
Just Eat investors are also keen for the company to sell off its Brazilian iFood business to Prosus, the €100bn Naspers spin-off. Just Eat’s stake could be valued in excess of £2bn. A Prosus spokesperson said it remained interested in doing a deal for the right price.
At Deliveroo, Shu, who is still known to log onto its app himself to courier takeaways, has played down the prospect of a merger. Thanks to his dual class shares, he holds sway over any takeover decision for the next three years.
Niklas Oestberg, Delivery Hero’s boss, agreed there was no plan for a broader approach “at this point in time”, but was more cryptic on a call on Thursday.
He said: “Is there no strategic intention? That might be true, but we always have some logic when we make these types of investments – this could be relationships, this could be to gain knowledge, this could be acquisition plans.”
Outside of Europe, US food delivery giants harbour plenty of firepower to gatecrash the market. After a bumper December float, US takeaway delivery company Doordash is valued at $60bn. According to tech news website The Information, it recently held talks with Instacart, a grocery app, about a $50bn takeover. The US giant is also eyeing Europe. Investors in Just Eat have eagerly talked up the idea that the UK company could be a potential partner.
Doordash is understood to be actively in talks over a $2.5bn stake in Gorillas, a Germany company that provides so-called “dark store” delivery, the next big thing in the food delivery space.
Instead of working with a supermarket as a logistics partner, such as Waitrose’s deal with Deliveroo, dark store companies run delivery-only convenience stores out of shipping containers or warehouses. They use couriers to ferry goods to customers in just 10 minutes.
The newcomers have triggered a deluge of venture capital funding with $16bn pumped into food-tech start-ups so far this year, according to analysts PitchBook. Dozens of start-ups have flooded the market intent on taking on Ocado, Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats when it comes to grocery supplies.
Some of these are already being scooped up by larger players. On Thursday, $15bn convenience delivery firm GoPuff confirmed its expansion across Europe with the acquisition of UK firm Dija, which launched just eight months ago. More established takeaway apps could see these dark store start-ups as a way to boost their offerings without cannibalising their traditional restaurant delivery business.
With plenty of tasty morsels out there, deal activity is hotting up. But it remains to be seen whether any hungry rival has the appetite to chow down on a beast the size of Deliveroo or Just Eat.