The History & Evolution of Food Delivery

From apps that deliver food, like UberEATS, to healthy meal delivery services, like Factor, the food delivery industry is booming. In fact, according to Forbes, it’s estimated that the industry will have annual sales of $365 billion worldwide by 2030! But, when and where did these services become so popular? The answer begins much further back than you may realize. Read on to learn where food delivery began, and how it evolved into its modern-day form!

Ancient Rome (753 B.C. – 476 A.D.)

Believe it or not, historians trace meal delivery services all the way back to ancient Rome! The Romans loved convenient meals as much as we do today, and they called their fast-food restaurants Thermopolium. They served meals at a counter out of large clay pots that kept the food hot, which is similar to how we serve fast food today. According to, archaeologists have discovered upward of 80 of these “fast-food restaurants” in sites such as Pompeii. For ancient Romans, the Thermopolium was a chance for them to have a hot, prepared meal on the go. With otherwise limited access to hot meals, the Thermopolium proved to be extremely popular.

Milk Delivery (1785)


Historically, if you had access to fresh milk, your family probably owned a dairy cow. But as the United States began to industrialize, fewer people lived in rural areas. As such, people began to purchase their milk from local dairy farmers. Because milk is perishable and few people had access to refrigeration, daily deliveries were a necessity. As a result, milk delivery became a standard way of life for many Americans.

King Humberto And Queen Margherita (1889)

Pizza delivery may have been recently popularized by college students on a budget, but it actually dates back to the late-1800s. The story goes that on a visit to Naples, King Humberto and Queen Margherita, the king and queen of Italy, decided to forgo their diet of fancy French cuisine. Instead, they opted to have pizza brought to them. The chefs topped the queen’s favorite pizza variety with mozzarella, tomato and basil. This was then named the Margherita pizza. And so, pizza delivery was born.

Indian Dabbawalas (1890)


Around 125 years ago, while under British rule, India developed the dabbawala meal delivery system in busy metropolitan areas, such as Mumbai. In response to the increased number of workers in cities, this meal delivery system relied on delivery men called dabbawalas. The dabbawalas delivered meals directly to people at their place of work. This intricate meal delivery system is now more modern, and users take advantage of the service using text messaging and email.

WWII (1939 – 1945)

In London during WWII, citizens spent a great deal of time seeking cover from bomb threats. To ensure the wellness of the British people, the government enlisted chefs and volunteers to deliver meals. After the war, this service continued to help veterans get back on their feet! This idea was so popular, it quickly spread to the United States and Australia.

Fast Food Delivery (1950s)


Perhaps the most popular invention of the 1950s was the TV. As more families had their own TV, people were more likely to stay home and enjoy meals together while watching their favorite shows. As a result, restaurants were seeing a steady decline in their bottom lines. To combat their declining trade, many restaurants introduced carry-out and delivery options. Perhaps the best example of this was pizza delivery. Soldiers returning from war had grown accustomed to Italian cuisine and popularized this new idea.

Meals on Wheels (1954)

In response to a deep economic decline in the 1950s, Doris Taylor, Member of the Order of the British Empire, sought to help the disadvantaged and home-bound by providing hot meals. 11 volunteers delivered the first meals to 8 recipients on August 9, 1954. Over the years, Meals on Wheels has grown to thousands of volunteers, and many countries have duplicated its organizational model. In the United States, for example, there are more than 2.4 million seniors who benefit from the Meals on Wheels service each year.

Food Trucks (1960 – Present)


The concept of food trucks began many years ago as a way to provide convenient meals and snacks to workers on job sites. Formerly nicknamed “roach coaches,” these trucks weren’t initially known for their sanitation. However, over the years, food trucks have evolved into a popular way to enjoy restaurant-quality meals in an outdoor setting. In fact, opening a food truck is an excellent way for aspiring restaurant owners to get started. This is due to much lower startup costs.

Online Food Ordering (2004 – Present)

Beyond meal kits, new players in the meal delivery game are taking convenience a step further by providing logistical services for restaurants. Apps such as GrubHub and UberEATS allow customers to order from an assortment of local restaurants. As a result, restaurants that may have previously only offered dine-in or carry-out options can now deliver meals directly to your home or office.

Meal Kits (2007 – Present)

Pretty much everyone enjoys a good home-cooked meal! However, due to increased time demands in today’s fast-paced culture, good ole’ fashion home cooking has become a luxury few enjoy. In response, home-delivered meal kits have grown in popularity since the business model was invented in 2007. Companies such as Blue Apron and Marley Spoon allow you to choose a recipe and will deliver pre-portioned ingredients directly to your door. The meals typically take around 30 minutes to make and allow consumers to save time by eliminating the need to shop. It’s estimated that as of 2017, the meal kit industry was worth $2.2 billion.

Fresh, Prepared Meal Delivery (2013 – Present)


However, while meal kits initially redefined convenient eating, 30-minutes in the kitchen preparing and cleaning is still a lot of time. The meal delivery service evolved yet again when companies like Factor entered the market, offering fully-prepared, home-delivered meals that take 3-minutes or less to prepare. Demand skyrocketed. Today, Factor offers a rotating menu of additive-free, preservative-free and non-GMO meals! With delivery coverage spanning the entire contiguous United States, you can have convenient, healthy meals delivered straight to your door!



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