By Eric Auchard
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] is making an aggressive drive into takeaway meal deliveries, with the U.S. firm gearing up with a big staff recruitment campaign to enter at least 22 more countries.
Reflecting its fierce determination to expand beyond its core taxi-hailing business, Uber will launch its UberEats service in Amsterdam on Thursday, the first day of trading in the Dutch market leader Takeaway.com's <TKWY_w.AS> shares.
And according to current job listings on Uber and other recruiting websites, UberEats is advertising 150 roles ranging from general managers to sales staff and delivery couriers that show it plans to enter at least 22 new countries globally in the near future. The company already operates in six countries.
In addition to Amsterdam UberEats says it is also due to launch services in Dubai, Johannesburg and selected areas of Tokyo on Thursday and plans to be in Brussels, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, and Bangkok in the coming months.
"There's a lot of momentum in the organisation behind UberEats ... We definitely are investing in this space," said Simon Rossi, general manager at UberEats Asia Pacific at a launch event in Tokyo on Wednesday.
"I definitely feel it's one of the most important focuses in the (Uber) organisation," he said.
As recently as May, Uber executives were signaling that UberEats' international ambitions were a modest extension of its core business of transporting people. But staff recruitments, increased investments and more aggressive service offerings in recent months suggest something more ambitious is taking shape.
"UberEats is one (business) we feel incredibly confident is resonating across the world and resonating across the footprint of the cities in which Uber operates the transport business," Jambu Palaniappan, head of UberEats for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Currently Europe is home to many of the most active international players in the online food takeaway business and they are counting on their local ties, established customer bases and extensive restaurant networks to fend off new competition from the likes of Uber and Amazon.
The biggest international players - Britain's Just Eat <JE.L>, Germany's Delivery Hero and Takeaway.com - focus on advertising local takeaways and booking orders for nearby users, while leaving deliveries to be made by the restaurants themselves.
But they have also been raising fresh capital and consolidating in preparation for Uber's arrival in their markets.
Meanwhile some smaller players have shut down as new funding has grown scarcer, such as Belgium's Take Eat Easy, which operated in 20 European cities, and London-based Pronto, which cooked meals as well as delivered them.
Investors have poured nearly $10 billion (8.9 billion euros) into 421 food delivery deals since the start of 2014, but funding dropped by more than half in the first six months of 2016, according to research from CBInsights.
Adding to pressures on existing food delivery players, Amazon launched its international expansion of Amazon Restaurants by entering the London market earlier this month, building on its existing 11-city base in the United States.
"The problem for many of the remaining players is that they are sub-scale: They can't compete without superior logistics," said Neil Campling, head of global research for the tech industry at fund manager Northern Trust Capital Markets.
Since launching in London in June, Uber has promised to cut delivery times to within a 30-minute window, with no minimum order size or extra delivery fees. You can order a cupcake made in Kensington and have it driven across town to Whitechapel for the price of the cupcake in the shop.
In contrast, many rivals promise orders will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, while requiring minimum orders and charging customer delivery fees. UberEats also benefits by being promoted through Uber's existing, very popular car hire app.
Later this week, Takeaway plans to raise 350 million euros ($390 million) in an initial public offering that would give it a market value of around 1 billion euros.
Some newer entrants like Deliveroo of Britain and Foodora, a unit of Delivery Hero, have their own drivers - but few can rival Uber or Amazon's deep pockets and vast customer bases around the globe.
To bolster their respective local and regional positions, Takeaway and Just Eat traded assets in August, with Takeaway exiting Just Eat's British stronghold in exchange for Just Eat's Benelux properties.
London-listed Just Eat expects its revenue to rise around 50 percent this year and says its 66,000 restaurant partnerships can ensure its growth for years to come.
Delivery Hero co-founder and CEO Niklas Oestberg says his firm has built a market-leading position in 28 countries around the world, signing up close to 300,000 restaurants - from Asia to Europe to Latin America - by acquiring local rivals, swapping assets and exiting tougher markets such as China and Russia.
Dominance is not assured for Amazon and Uber, for whom meal delivery - a highly localized business that must be won city by city from local players - is but one of several big initiatives.
A swing factor could prove to be how willing restaurants, such as pizza chains, are willing to allow the big e-commerce players to come between them and their customers - an issue Amazon has faced with brand-name retailers and Uber with taxi associations.
(Additional reporting by Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Pravin Char, Greg Mahlich)