The coronavirus poses a stark threat to the food economy in Southeast Asia. The food stalls and open-air markets where millions dine and shop in Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the region lost patrons as lockdowns began—and few had an online presence to court customers for delivery.
Grab, the Singapore-based tech company best known for its ride-hailing app, has stepped into the gap. The company already had relationships with many regional merchants through its food-delivery business. As the pandemic unfolded, it expanded its GrabMart grocery service to connect more than 3,000 food providers with online shoppers. Grab also signed on more merchants to its QR-code-based contactless payment service, helping them serve customers who feared infection risk from credit cards or cash. Pre-COVID, these services seemed “nice to have,” CEO and cofounder Anthony Tan recently told Fortune. Today they’re “the primary source of business for many of these guys.”