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Uber Eats Its Way to New Revenues Amid Post-IPO Profitability Concerns

Investor sentiment in Uber is rapidly sinking. Since last week’s initial public offering, the company’s stock has nosedived, dropping from the initial price of $45 per share last Thursday to $38 on Tuesday. One reason for the poor stock performance, according to analysts, is an unclear path to profitability.

But ride-hailing aside, there may be a lucrative model buried in all that red, specifically the company’s food delivery service.

Growing exponentially faster that its ride-hailing business, Uber Eats has a clear mission: Satisfy the swelling craving for food delivery. One of the largest food delivery services worldwide, Eats debuted in April 2015—about six years after Uber’s inception— and generated $1.5 billion in revenue last year. The service initially rolled out in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, and now serves food from more than 220,000 restaurants in more than 500 cities globally.

“It’s grown much faster than we thought it was going to grow,” Jason Droege, vice president of Uber Everything, told Bloomberg Technology in December. “I think it will continue to surprise us.”

Though Uber Eats can leverage Uber’s network to grow, it also faces equally hungry rivals in DoorDash and GrubHub, both of which rake in more sales than Uber Eats. And, it’s making less money on each purchase, due to the introductory discounts it offers restaurants to use the service.

“It’s a very competitive space, very intense, when it comes to pricing and promotions,” said Tom White, analyst at D.A. Davidson. “So Uber’s sweating a lot of battles on a lot of fronts.”

While DoorDash is tops when it comes to sales and growth, Uber Eats still has the lion’s share of total transactions, according to Edison Trends. In the fourth quarter alone, Uber Eats delivered meals to 15 million users. And as of February, Uber Eats accounted for 29% of transactions, compared to DoorDash’s 26%. For the entire year, it stacked $7.9 billion in gross bookings. DoorDash has not released its financial details.

One key to Uber Eats success may be the help it gets from its partners, some of the nation’s largest food brands including McDonalds, Subway, and Starbucks, all of which boost the number of transactions with smaller, less expensive orders.

By 2023, Uber Eats is expected to own 25% of the global food delivery industry forecasted to be worth $191 billion, according to financial services firm Morningstar. In the future, it plans to expand its service area to the 700 cities in which Uber operates, the company said in a document leading up the its IPO. There’s also a $2 trillion dine-in restaurant market to take a bite out of, as consumers continue opting for delivery, and the grocery delivery space, which could be worth more than $5 trillion, according to McKinsey.

Yet while Uber Eats’ sales grew 58% between March 2018 and March 2019, its growth pales in comparison to DoorDash, which was up 216% over the same timeframe, according to analytics firm Second Measure. DoorDash also is gobbling up market share in the top 10 metropolitan areas including Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, both of which Uber Eats used to dominate, Second Measure data shows.

Another risk: Uber’s protesting drivers, upset over the shrinking amount of money they say they’re making on the service. And “driver dissatisfaction will generally increase” as the company reduces driver incentives to improve its bottom line, it said in a document preceding its IPO.

Analysts also agree that Uber Eat’s take rate—or the money it makes on every purchase—is something to watch. The last two years, the rate averaged between 17% and 18%, according to Morningstar. Uber warned investors in documents leading up to its IPO that new food delivery areas would be “less profitable.”

“As such, we may not be able to achieve or maintain profitability in the near term or at all,” the document said.

But Brent Thill, analyst at investment firm Jefferies, said the food delivery industry is likely to become a party of three, with other players bowing out or getting bought. And Uber Eats, with its vast reach and network of drivers, will maintain a strong hold, Thill said likening it to the supernatural creatures in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

“Uber is coming,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult to stop them.”