• Online food deliveries in Malaysia surged during the Covid-19 pandemic and continued to rise afterwards.
  • A double-edged sword: Food – including unhealthy choices – becomes more accessible.
  • Marketing and promotion strategies – such as free delivery – may encourage overconsumption.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 — While food delivery has become more and more convenient, there is a risk of unhealthy choices, a discussion paper by research organisation Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) highlighted.

In the paper titled “Unhealthy but not by Choice: Food Environment and Nutrition Inequalities” which was released on June 27, it said online orders for food accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic and continued to grow after that.

It cited Grab’s 2022 trends report which estimated the number of food delivery orders grew by 24 per cent from 2021 to 2022.

However, KRI’s research associate Teoh Ai Ni described this trend as having a “double-edged sword effect”.

She noted while it makes food more obtainable and available, particularly in urban areas, it also increases the accessibility of unhealthy food and may promote excessive consumption. Teoh highlighted the dominance of unhealthy food and drinks on GrabFood in Malaysia, based on Grab’s 2021 to 2023 food trends reports.

What are the top food categories searched on GrabFood in Malaysia (2021-2023)? (Hint: Fast food, sugary drinks)

  • Fried chicken
  • Burgers
  • Bubble tea
  • Milk tea
  • Teh tarik

“Sweetened or carbonated drinks are frequently ordered as teatime and supper snacks,” the paper said when citing Grab’s 2021 and 2022 trend reports.

Based on other research papers, the KRI paper said fast food, sugar-sweetened drinks and other unhealthy food also tend to be the most popular items on online food delivery platforms internationally (such as Australia, the United States, the Netherlands and China).

The KRI paper cautioned that marketing and promotion strategies — such as combo deals or add-ons to qualify for free delivery — may encourage overconsumption.

While the KRI paper said unhealthy food choices being available round the clock because of online food delivery services “may have undesirable implications on food intake”, it noted that more research and data is needed to determine what impact such services have on Malaysians’ dietary intake and food purchase and consumption patterns.

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