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Meituan Asserts Dominance with Robust Growth Amidst Industry Rivalry

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Michael Chen

March 22, 2024 - 08:52 am

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Meituan Continues Impressive Growth Amid Market Competition

In a robust display of financial resilience, Meituan, the Chinese food delivery giant, has reported a significant increase in its quarterly revenue, demonstrating strong performance despite growing market competition. The company’s sales surged by 23% in the December quarter, indicating substantial progress in its efforts to retain market dominance against formidable rivals such as ByteDance Ltd.'s Douyin.

Financial Milestones Exceed Expectations

The Beijing-based corporation disclosed a commendable revenue of 73.7 billion yuan ($10.2 billion), surpassing the average projection of 72.7 billion yuan by market analysts. This upturn is accompanied by a net income figure that also eclipsed the consensus of estimates compiled by Bloomberg, reaching 2.22 billion yuan.

Meituan's journey as the undisputed leader in China's colossal food delivery market has taken a turn toward international horizons, attributed to the deceleration of domestic growth. Despite facing a challenging year in 2023, where it witnessed its shares plummet by over 50%, the company has seen its stock prices rebound this year.

Expanding Beyond Borders

In a strategic pivot, billionaire founder Wang Xing took the helm of the company’s overseas businesses, putting a spotlight on the relatively new KeeTa app. This service, though still in its early stages, has managed to attain the second spot in Hong Kong's delivery market by certain metrics.

The company's outward-looking approach mirrors a larger trend where numerous Chinese consumer brands are pursuing opportunities abroad. This shift comes as the domestic market experiences a subdued recovery from the lasting effects of stringent Covid measures.

Bloomberg Intelligence Weighs In

According to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence, Douyin’s meal delivery counterpart experienced a monumental surge in Gross Transaction Volumes (GTV), boasting a more than threefold increase last year. The absence of GTV data from Meituan since March 2022 seems to indicate a potential loss in market share. The analyst Catherine Lim anticipates that Meituan will likely make further concessions on margins in 2024 in a bid to mitigate the erosion of its market share. Given Meituan's current cash surplus and the lack of significant merger and acquisition or overseas expansion endeavors compared to its peers like Alibaba or PDD, the possibility of the company increasing cash returns to shareholders this year has been heightened.

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Defensive Strategies in a Competitive Landscape

Meituan's ascension to the top as a food delivery behemoth has been backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., but it now faces renewed pressure not only from Douyin but also from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s subsidiary Ele.me. A revitalized challenge from Alibaba's delivery arm, which recently underwent leadership restructuring, could shape the competitive dynamics of the sector.

In a bid to safeguard its customer base against these emerging competitors, Meituan has found itself channeling substantial funds into aggressive marketing and subsidy strategies. This has invariably led to a contraction in profit margins, reflecting the economic sluggishness that still pervades the market.

Meituan's Foray into Artificial Intelligence

Venturing beyond its core competencies, Meituan has now made substantive strides into the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence. It marked its entry through the acquisition of Light Year, a generative AI enterprise, subsequently investing in the promising startup Moonshot via Meituan's investment faction Long-Z.

This strategic move into AI underlines the company's broader pursuit of technological innovation and diversification. As part of this ambition, Meituan has been actively exploring new business verticals, such as grocery retailing, community group purchasing, and live-streaming e-commerce.

Potential Acquisitions and Partnerships

In its relentless pursuit of growth, Meituan also engaged in deliberations with Delivery Hero SE about possibly acquiring its Foodpanda business in the Southeast Asian market. However, this potential partnership did not materialize. The decision not to proceed with these talks may pave the way for alternative strategic directions and alliances in the international sphere.

Alibaba's Delivery Arm Ele.me Seeks Renewed Vigor

In related industry news, Alibaba, a powerhouse in the tech and e-commerce sector, has instituted a major reshuffle at the top tier of its delivery arm, Ele.me. This change is likely in response to the competitive pressures within the delivery market and may signal a more aggressive posture going forward.

Read More: Alibaba Replaces Head of Delivery Arm Ele.me in Latest Reshuffle

The Broader Industry Outlook

The landscape of China's meal delivery industry has undergone significant changes, reshaped by a mix of regulatory challenges, evolving consumer behaviors, and technological advancements. Companies like Meituan are navigating these complexities while also contending with formidable contenders eager to carve out their share of the market pie.

The pandemic, which necessitated strict control measures, impelled a shift in methods of consumption, with more customers opting for online ordering and delivery services. This increase in demand has been a double-edged sword, providing opportunities for expansion but simultaneously intensifying the battlefield among industry players.

By employing an aggressive defensive strategy, Meituan has attempted to insulate its vast user base from encroachment by competitors like Douyin and Ele.me. The company has traditionally relied on subsidizing both merchants and consumers to attract them to its platform, a tactic requiring deep pockets.

With heightened global interest and investments flooding into AI, Meituan perhaps enacted one of its most strategic maneuvers by delving into artificial intelligence through key acquisitions and investments. By chartering into new arenas, such as AI, Meituan signals its ambition to remain at the cutting-edge of innovation, continuously adapting and evolving to sustain its pivotal role in the industry.

The introduction of new technologies and services like group-buying platforms and live-streaming commerce has further expanded Meituan's horizons. These new ventures offer another avenue for growth, even as the company contends with the challenges of scaling these initiatives amidst fierce competition and a challenging economic climate.

Despite the setbacks in both the domestic and international markets, there is cautious optimism about the recovery trajectory of Chinese consumption. The caveat, however, is the degree to which companies such as Meituan can maintain their market share while exploring growth opportunities beyond Chinese borders.

Conclusion

Meituan's commendable financial performance amid aggressive competition is a testament to the company’s resilience and strategic agility. From strengthening its foothold in the Chinese market to forging new paths in artificial intelligence and exploring international expansion, Meituan exemplifies the dynamism of leading tech enterprises.

Despite uncertainties in the market landscape and the varying challenges posed by competitors, Meituan's ability to adapt and thrive suggests a promising future for the company and its stakeholders. As the company continues to diversify and innovate, it will be interesting to witness how it further shapes the future of food delivery services not only within China but also on the global stage.

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