SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a sharp rise in demand for food delivery platforms in the past few years, and many consumers have formed a habitual reliance on these platforms for daily meals.

OCBC's customers spent close to three times more on food delivery platforms last year, compared to 2019 before the pandemic.

The bank's head of cards business Vincent Tan said: "Even in the last two months, when the Government allowed more people to return to working in the office, we continue to see food delivery expenditure levels holding up."

Customers also made twice as many food delivery orders a month in 2021 compared to 2019, he added. Transaction patterns have been similar for the first two months of this year.

Mr Tan said: "Overall, the numbers tell a story about a permanent change in consumption habits."

At food delivery platform Oddle, the total spending in transactions went up by 60 per cent in January to March, compared to the same quarter last year.

Customer spending per restaurant also increased by about 20 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

Other popular platforms, including Foodpanda and Deliveroo, while declining to share figures, told The Straits Times that they too have seen sustained growth in customers in the past three years.

Concurring that consumers have formed new dining habits, a Grab spokesman said: "Consumers will always seek convenience, and the pandemic has only served to reinforce this preference."

Mr Samuel Tan, head of the Smart e-Commerce Centre at Temasek Polytechnic said: "The impact of the pandemic has resulted in a hybrid mode of working from home or learning from home. This trend will further reinforce food delivery as part and parcel of our consumer lifestyle in the new normal."

Consumers that ST spoke to said ordering on delivery platforms is quick and easy, and they like the convenience of not having to leave home to buy food or clean up after cooking.

Secondary school teacher Nicole Heng, 30, has dinner delivered for herself and her husband, a civil servant, nearly every day on the weekdays.

"It's really because of the convenience," she said.

"By the time both of us are done with work, we really have no more energy or mood to cook any more. It has just become part of our routine to ask each other, 'What shall we order tonight?'"

The couple, who do not have children, cooked their own meals initially as newlyweds back in 2018.

"We realised it's not easy to cook for two - we ended up wasting a lot of food because we couldn't cook everything we bought," said Ms Heng, who said she found the cleaning up a hassle.

"And when you dine out, you still have to put on something decent, wear a mask, and then drive out, which takes time. But with delivery, you literally just order on your phone and then you can eat in your pyjamas and nobody would know."

Even when Covid-19 restrictions lift completely, she expects that they will continue using food delivery platforms as the routine is "now quite permanent".

Consumers said that ordering on delivery platforms is quick and easy. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ms Teh Shu Xin, 39, a contracts manager at a health care company, said that although ordering meals via food delivery platforms typically costs more than dining out or cooking at home, the convenience gained is worth it.

She usually works from home and orders lunch for herself and her 12-year-old daughter five times a week.

She spends about $25 each time - about 30 per cent more than if the pair eats out.

Her husband, a director at a construction company, has returned to his office for work and takes care of his own lunch.

"Rather than spending my lunch break walking out just to buy a meal, I choose to spend the time doing something for myself, like go for a swim, or read a book," she said.

"With food delivery so readily available, the extra cost is a trade-off between what you can do with the extra time you gain."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, said: "At some point, when masking, social distancing and group dining restrictions are back to normal, it is possible that the demand for home delivery will start declining.

"But a significant proportion of consumers are likely to continue ordering delivery on a regular basis. That will surely be one of the lasting impacts of the pandemic."

How to make healthier choices when ordering on food delivery platforms

Though home-cooked food might be a healthier option, those who frequently order out can also make healthier choices.

Miss Lee Dao Xin, a dietitian at Changi General Hospital, said consumers should think about creating a nutritious, balanced meal with some carbohydrates, fibre, lean protein, vegetables and fruit.

"Look for delivery options that allow you to customise your meal and make healthier food swaps. For example, change fried side dishes to a salad or grilled vegetables if available," she added.

"Reading the meal's description and being aware of the ingredients and cooking methods used can also help to guide us in making healthier food choices."

She shared other tips:

1. Choose food that is cooked with healthier methods such as grilling, baking, searing, or pan-frying. For example, opt for grilled chicken or baked fish instead of fried chicken and fish and chips.

2. Instead of fries, opt for sides such as corn, salad and grilled vegetables if available, as these are lower in fat and packed with fibre. You can also check if there are any wholegrain options for carbohydrates such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice.

Opt for salad instead of fries as it is lower in fat and packed with fibre. PHOTO: NYTIMES

3. Ask for your sauce, dressing or gravy to be packed on the side, so that you can moderate how much you consume.

4. If your delivery meal has little or no vegetables, you can prepare a simple side dish at home, such as a fresh salad with spinach, tomato, cucumbers, or frozen vegetables for a fibre boost. Frozen mixed vegetables and frozen edamame are nutritious and convenient choices.

5. Limit your consumption of processed fast food and preserved items, as these tend to be higher in sodium content.