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Honestbee pushes virtual grocery carts in smartphone country Philippines

Honestbee Philippines managing director Cyrstal Gonzalez gestures during an interview with ABS-CBN News on Feb. 11, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Tech executive Crystal Gonzalez plays late 90s jams on her Macbook as office workers in surrounding towers prepare to dive into the evening rush hour. By the time they get home, their groceries will be at their doorsteps.

Gonzalez heads the Philippine operations of honestbee, a Southeast Asian grocery and food delivery platform where smartphone-wielding and traffic-weary Filipinos fueled 700 percent growth in 2018.

Most honestbee users do their virtual grocery shopping during breaks from work, taking advantage of fast data connections in the workplace. This not only saves them time, but also money from fuel and parking fees, Gonzalez said.

“Filipinos are really getting more digital, that tells you a lot about the promise for tech companies. It doesn’t matter where it is,” Gonzalez told ABS-CBN from honestbee’s new office with panoramic views of the Bonifacio Global City skyline.

Outside Gonzalez’s building, delivery bikes from honestbee and rivals foodpanda and Lalamove wait for customers to come down from the tower to pick up their orders.

“At the end of the day, they’re after convenience,” she said.

With an estimated 60 million smartphone screens and improving data speeds, app-based shopping, logistics and transportation services are growing in the Philippines, all offering a workaround to chronic jams that trap people on the road for hours.

In Metro Manila, home to roughly a tenth of the the country’s 104 million people, daily gridlocks cost an estimated P3.5 billion.

Full-time mother of 4 Rox Ticman uses honestbee to manage her grocery chores while taking care of her kids. She is breastfeeding her youngest, aged one.

“Twenty-four hours seems not enough for me. So having an app where I can buy at the convenience of my home is really a big help,” Ticman told ABS-CBN News.

Discounts of up to P1,000 also give her more room to spend, she said.

SWEET TOOTH

Motorcycle-riding delivery staff from honestbee and rival platforms wait for their customers outside an office building in Taguig City on Feb. 11, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Groceries bring the most revenue to honestbee, with Filipino mothers trading grocery carts for smartphones to be able to spend more time with their families, Gonzalez said.

Honestbee’s supermarket partners include Robinsons, Rustan’s and SR. It also accept orders from public markets in Pasay and Pasig, she said.

Younger users use the app to deliver food, sometimes for all 3 meals of the day. Milk teas and sweet drinks are among best sellers, with honestbee offering a workaround to long lines, she said.

“Filipinos have a sweet tooth, they also want to try new things,” she said.

Staples such as fried chicken and pizza reflect Filipinos’ American taste. Coffee is constantly on order along with energy drinks, iced tea and milk drinks.

Honestbee employs 260 people, assisted by “thousands” of contractors who do the delivery. The contractors include students needing part time work and senior citizens who are relied upon to touch and sniff out the freshest produce, she said.
 
Inflation failed to dent honestbee’s sales even during its peak in the middle of 2018. “It was the opposite. More people shifted to going online because of the perceived expenses,” she said.

The company also offers business to business deliveries on its Goodship service, she said.

CONJUGAL CRUSADE

Technology and beating Metro Manila traffic is a crusade that Gonzalez shares with her husband, Google Philippines’ Yves Gonzalez.

Crystal was with chat app Viber before honestbee and prior to Google, Yves was with Uber and the Metro Manila Development Authority.

“We were always tech,” she said. “It’s a similar industry. We have the same concerns and interest points.”

The 34-year-old mother of two said smartphone penetration has exploded and data speeds have picked up since her days with Viber and when her husband was traffic director for the MMDA.

“I’m excited for the Philippines, with the growth of e-commerce and purchasing habits. It has really grown so much in the last 3 years,” she said.

Honestbee is “definitely” pursuing further expansion in dense and congested areas where there is reliable internet penetration, she said.

“In terms of spending, I can say we contributed to the efficiency of overall consuming habits. You know it’s there, you can order it anytime,” she said.

Groceries that partner with honestbee reported an increase in sales and even traffic from young customers, she said.

“The disruption is really, giving people the power of choice and giving them back their time,” she said.

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