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  • Published In : Jan 2024
  • Code : CMI6475
  • Pages :160
  • Formats :
      Excel and PDF
  • Industry : Smart Technologies

China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market value is estimated at US$ 4.03 Billion in 2023 and is expected to reach US$ 20.20 Billion by 2030, exhibiting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.9% from 2023 to 2030.

Dark kitchens, also known as ghost kitchens or cloud kitchens, are professional cooking facilities set up for the preparation of delivery-only meals. These allow food businesses to expand their reach and capacity without the costs of operating a dine-in restaurant. The key advantages of dark kitchens include lower rental and operational costs, faster delivery times, and flexibility to adapt menus. The growth drivers for this market include rising demand for online food delivery, increasing adoption by chain restaurants and food delivery platforms, and rapid urbanization in China.

 China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market is segmented into by business model, type of cuisine, end user, technology. By business model, the market is segmented into Independent Kitchens, Aggregators, Restaurant Brands, Cloud Commissaries, and Delivery Partners. The independent cloud kitchen segment accounts for the largest share driven by low barriers to entry and increasing number of digital-first food brands utilizing dark kitchens for delivery-only models.

Analyst Viewpoint:

China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market is expected to witness growth significantly between 2023-2028 As China's older population grows and becomes more health-conscious, the demand for convenient but healthy delivered meals will increase. This represents a major opportunity for dark kitchen operators to cater to this growing demographic. At the same time, younger Chinese consumers have embraced the convenience of food delivery apps, driving greater utilization of virtual kitchen models. The major cities in Eastern China such as Shanghai and Beijing will likely dominate the early adoption of dark kitchens due to their large, young populations and widespread smartphone penetration rates.

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market- Drivers

  • Surging demand for food delivery services: The rapid growth of online food delivery platforms like Meituan,, and Alibaba boosts demand for dark kitchens in China. With busy lifestyles and convenience seeking consumers, online food delivery orders have surged in recent years. Dark kitchens enable dining establishments and food franchises to exclusively serve the delivery market, bypassing the substantial property expenses associated with traditional sit-down eateries. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated delivery. Dark kitchens provide a cost-effective model to meet the rising food delivery demand. According to China's Ministry of Commerce 2023, online food delivery orders witness increase of over 35% in 2021 as compared to 2020.
  • Enhanced cost efficiency and profitability for restaurants: Dark kitchens allow restaurants and food businesses to optimize operations and costs by focusing solely on delivery. These do not require front-end investments and costs associated with dine-in facilities and in-store dining experiences. Dark kitchens have smaller footprint, lower rentals, greater flexibility, and improved efficiency through shared resources and supplies. By reducing overhead costs, dark kitchens enhance profit margins on delivery orders. Many existing chains and QSR brands are adopting ghost kitchen models to expand delivery capacity. According to 2021 report by China's Bureau of Statistics, the transaction value of China's online food delivery market grew by over 25% year-on-year. This thriving third-party delivery market has boosted demand for dark kitchen facilities capable of fulfilling high volumes of delivery orders.
  • Rapid growth of cloud kitchen providers: Specialized dark kitchen operators like Panda Selected, Daojia, and Zuul are expanding at a rapid pace in China. With their expertise in developing delivery-focused menus, efficient kitchen layouts and workforce management, these providers enable food brands to launch delivery-only brands without large upfront investments. Their business models like providing kitchen as a service are attracting clients. International providers are also entering China. According to United Nations Population Fund Data 2023, China is projected to add over 100 million new residents to its cities by 2030 primarily through rapid urbanization.
  • Partnerships between dark kitchens and food delivery platforms: Leading food delivery platforms in China such as Meituan, Alibaba and are aggressively partnering with dark kitchen providers. Food delivery platforms provide demand aggregation, logistics, and operational support to dark kitchens. These partnerships drive growth of both delivery platforms and dark kitchen operators, increasing their combined market share. Integrations also enable smoother customer experience. Dark kitchens expected to account for over 40% of new restaurant launches in China by 2025, according to a report by University of International Business and Economics 2023.

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market- Opportunities

  • Expansion in lower-tier cities and suburban regions: China's lower-tier cities and suburban areas represent a major untapped market for dark kitchens. Cost of real estate and labor is lower in these regions compared to big cities, making dark kitchens a viable model. With increasing penetration of food delivery apps and rising incomes, consumer demand for online food delivery is surging in lower-tier cities. Dark kitchens allow rapid scaling of delivery capacities in these high growth markets. Secondary markets have experienced rapid growth in recent years. The urban population in China expected to increase by over 200 million people by 2023, according to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs statistics 2021.
  • Innovative cuisine offerings and menu engineering: Dark kitchens are ideal for food innovations as these allow rapid testing and iterations at lower costs. Operators are creating delivery-focused menus and dishes that deliver well. Dark kitchens provide flexibility to cater to emerging consumer dietary preferences like healthy food and sustainable options. Data analytics helps to analyze food and flavor preferences to curate hyper local menus. According to statistics 2023 published by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the number of inbound tourists to China grew from 60 million in 2020 to over 75 million in 2022 as pandemic-related restrictions eased.
  • Adoption of advanced technologies: Dark kitchens are prime spaces to implement emerging technologies like AI, ML, IoT sensors, and robotics to drive efficiencies and automation. From inventory management to order forecasting and automated cooking, technology adoption can enhance standardization, reduce costs, and improve customer experience. Advanced technologies also allow dark kitchens to scale rapidly. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report in 2020, China aims to invest over US$ 1.4 trillion in key future technologies by 2025 under its 14th Five-Year Plan to build its capabilities in strategic advanced manufacturing. Such huge government investments are expected to significantly benefit fast growing sectors like dark kitchens by making latest technologies widely accessible at affordable costs.
  • Expansion in retail segment through ghost restaurants: Dark kitchens provide opportunities for food brands to launch delivery-only virtual restaurant brands. By utilizing existing kitchens, new delivery brands can be launched without large investments. Dark kitchens allow creation of multiple virtual brands sharing resources. This provides economies of scope to expand within retail segment. According to 2022 data from the United Nations, over 60% of China's population currently lives in urban areas, a figure that is projected to continue increasing to over 70% by 2030. As Chinese cities continue to grow in population size, the demand for convenient delivery options will also rise significantly.

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market Report Coverage

Report Coverage Details
Base Year: 2022 Market Size in 2023: US$ 4.03 Bn
Historical Data for: 2018 to 2021 Forecast Period: 2023 - 2030
Forecast Period 2023 to 2030 CAGR: 25.9% 2030 Value Projection: US$ 20.20 Bn
Segments covered:
  • By Business Model: Independent Kitchens, Aggregators, Restaurant Brands, Cloud Commissaries, Delivery Partners
  • By Type of Cuisine: Fast Food, Bakery and Desserts, Healthy Food, Regional and Ethnic, Frozen Food, Beverages, Others (Vegan, Organic, Innovative Cuisines)
  • By End User: QSR Chains, Full Service Restaurants, Hotels, Caterers, Food Delivery Companies, New Food Brands,  Others (Retail Stores, Malls)
  • By Technology: Online Ordering Platform, POS & Inventory, Fleet Management, Supply Chain, AI & Robotics
Companies covered:

Daojia, Zuul, Rebel Foods, Kitchen United, Cloud Kitchens, Kitopi, Virtual Kitchen Co., FoodStars, Karma Kitchen, Freshly, Kitchen Central, Starbucks (Star Kitchen), Yum China (KFC, Pizza Hut), Meituan, Eleme, Cookhouse, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub

Growth Drivers:
  • Surging demand for online food delivery
  • Cost optimization and higher profitability
  • Rapid expansion of specialized cloud kitchen providers
  • Partnerships with food delivery platforms
Restraints & Challenges:
  • High real estate and operating costs
  • Intense competition from existing restaurants
  • Limiting regulations and compliance norms

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market- Trends

  • Vertical integration by food delivery platforms: Major food delivery platforms in China are increasingly developing their own dark kitchen facilities and acquiring dark kitchen operators for vertical integration. By controlling more parts of the delivery value chain, platforms can optimize operations and expand capacity faster to gain market share. Integrated platforms also provide smoother customer experience. According to statistics from China's Ministry of Commerce 2021, the number of certified commercial kitchens increased over 20% in 2021, a slower rate compared to previous years, indicating the consolidation trend may have an effect on the overall market expansion.
  • Partnerships with real estate developers: Dark kitchen operators are partnering with real estate developers to establish kitchen facilities and delivery hubs in commercial spaces, apartments and co-living properties. This provides synergies like smoother logistics for last-mile delivery and hyper local consumer access. Real estate developers also benefit from amenities and services for their properties. In 2022, Seazen (develops and creates lifestyle concepts and services) partnered with food delivery platforms like Meituan and to provide plug-and-play facilities across 8 Chinese cities to their network of cooks and restaurant partners. According to Seazen's annual report, these partnerships have grown their rental income from non-residential properties by over 12% year-on-year.
  • Sustainability through energy efficiency and waste management: Dark kitchens are focusing on integrating sustainable best practices like LED lighting, renewable energy, eco-friendly packaging and waste management solutions. With strong energy and water usage, dark kitchens can drive significant efficiencies and cost savings through sustainability. This also caters to growing consumer demand for greener delivery options. Ghost outlets like Panda Selected even utilize reusable containers that are collected, sanitized and reused for subsequent orders. Its zero-waste model helped to avoid over 200 tons of packaging disposal in 2021 according to itsinternal impact report. Streamlining the delivery process from dark kitchens likewise cuts superfluous travel and fuel consumption from multiple vehicles on the road.
  • Robotic automation for operations and production: Advanced robotics and automation solutions are being increasingly incorporated in dark kitchen workflows - right from inventory handling to cleaning to cooking. Robotics improves cost efficiency, standardization, speed, safety and provides 24/7 operations. It also aids rapid scaling up and speeds up ROI. Robotic dark kitchens are emerging as a viable business model. According to 2021 report by the International Federation of Robotics, China added over 400,000 new industrial robots between 2020-2021 - a dramatic increase of 35% year-over-year. This was twice the growth seen in other major markets and indicates how robot adoption is surging across various industries in China including food production.

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market- Restraints

  • Real estate and logistics challenges in big cities: High real estate costs and lack of infrastructure in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing makes dark kitchens' expansion more expensive. Identifying appropriate locations and building delivery networks adds to logistics costs. Lack of specialized facilities also constrains growth potential. According to the data published in 2021 by China's National Bureau of Statistics, lack of sufficient and affordable real estate was among the top three obstacles reported by companies operating in food and beverage sector in biggest Chinese cities. By operating without a traditional dining area and favoring locations not necessarily prime for foot traffic, dark kitchens are able to substantially lower real estate overheads. Businesses are thus able to afford larger spaces that are more suitable for efficient kitchen operations.
  • Intense competition from existing restaurants and chains: Large number of restaurants, cafe outlets, food stalls and established chains with their own delivery capacities poses competition to stand-alone dark kitchens. High competition also creates price pressures and narrow margins for smaller dark kitchen players. According to 2021 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, China's food service industry grew at a CAGR of 6.4% during 2015-2020 driven by rising incomes, urbanization and preference for convenience food. Dark kitchens can house multiple brands or concepts under one roof, allowing businesses to offer a variety of cuisines targeted to different market segments. This diversification can help to capture a wider audience than traditional restaurants that typically specialize in one type of cuisine
  • Regulatory norms and compliance requirements: Different provincial authorities in China have their own food license and F&B regulations which create compliance challenges. Rules related to location, size, hygiene and packaging keep evolving. Navigating different policies across geographies increases operational complexity for dark kitchens. Food Safety Development Report 2019" shows that more than 60% food safety issues caused by human factors, highlighting the regulatory rigidities faced by such facilities. Counterbalance: Establish a dedicated team or work with consultants familiar with local regulations to ensure all aspects of the kitchen's operations comply with food safety, zoning, and business licensing laws. Staying ahead of regulatory changes can safeguard against breaches that might lead to fines or shutdowns.

China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market- Recent Developments

New Product Launches

  • In 2022, Panda Selected (a catering-oriented life service operator that provides for enterprises) launched its first dark kitchen in Shanghai to expand its delivery-only services. This marks the leading Chinese food delivery company's foray into the ghost kitchen segment.
  • In 2021, Rebel Foods (an Indian online restaurant company which operates 11 cloud kitchen brands including Faasos, Behrouz Biryani and Oven Story) opened its first cloud kitchen in China in partnership with a local partner. This marks the Indian food delivery unicorn's expansion into the overseas market starting with China.
  • In 2022, DoorDash (a San Francisco–based company that operates an online food ordering and food delivery platform) launched its first partner cloud kitchen in China as part of its Asia expansion plans. The kitchen will allow DoorDash's restaurant partners to expand their delivery reach.

Acquisition and Partnerships

  • In 2021, Uber Eats acquired a majority stake in Zomato, a Chile-based dark kitchen operator. This expanded Uber Eats' footprint in the Latin America market.
  • In 2022, Kitopi acquired Virtual Kitchen, Asia's largest cloud kitchen company, to expand its footprint in South and Southeast Asia
  • In 2020, FIC-backed FoodStars partnered with Junzi Kitchen, a China-based restaurant operator, to open 5 cloud kitchens in Shanghai. This expanded FoodStars' footprint in China.

Figure 1. China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market Share (%), By Technology, 2023


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Top companies in China Dark Kitchens/Ghost Kitchens/Cloud Kitchens Market

  • Panda Selected
  • Daojia
  • Zuul
  • Rebel Foods
  • Kitchen United
  • Cloud Kitchens
  • Kitopi
  • Virtual Kitchen Co.
  • FoodStars
  • Karma Kitchen
  • Freshly
  • Kitchen Central
  • Starbucks (Star Kitchen)
  • Yum China (KFC, Pizza Hut)
  • Meituan
  • Eleme
  • Cookhouse
  • DoorDash
  • Uber Eats
  • Grubhub

Definition: Dark kitchens, also known as ghost kitchens or cloud kitchens, refer to professional cooking facilities that are dedicated to the preparation of delivery-only meals. These provide existing restaurants and new food brands a way to expand their production capacity and delivery reach without the costs associated with operating a dine-in establishment. Dark kitchens allow companies to optimize their operations, overheads, and supply chain to cater specifically to the fast-growing food delivery market.

Frequently Asked Questions

The key factors hampering growth of the China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market is high real estate costs, lack of customized infrastructure, complex supply chain and logistics, low profit margins, high operational costs, limiting impact of COVID-19, and lack of skilled labor.

The major factors driving the China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market growth is rising demand for online food delivery, cost optimization for restaurants, increasing penetration of QSR and cloud kitchen chains, rapid urbanization, busy consumer lifestyles, and growing middle-class population with high disposable incomes.

The major players operating in the China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market includes Daojia, Zuul, Rebel Foods, Kitchen United, Cloud Kitchens, Kitopi, Virtual Kitchen Co., FoodStars, Karma Kitchen, Freshly, Kitchen Central, Starbucks (Star Kitchen), Yum China (KFC, Pizza Hut), Meituan, Eleme, Cookhouse, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub.

The CAGR of China dark kitchens/ghost kitchens/cloud kitchens market is projected to be 25.9% from 2023-2030.

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