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A Just Eat Takeaway.com delivery cyclist in Berlin in January.



Photo:

Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg News

Just Eat Takeaway.com


TKWY 3.82%

is coming aggressively for its competitors’ lunch in Europe. This is a good indicator of how the company will likely behave in the U.S.

The Amsterdam-based business—which is set to become the world’s biggest food delivery player by revenue outside China once its i$7 billion takeover of Chicago-based

Grubhub


GRUB 3.96%

completes this year—said on Wednesday that sales rose 54% in 2020. Like most online food businesses, it benefited as major restaurant chains, including McDonalds, signed up to sell through its site and more consumers logged on to order food during the pandemic. The company’s shares were up 4% in early trading.

Growth has been expensive, though. JET made an annual loss of €151 million, equivalent to around $180 million at current exchange rates, leaving it deeper in the red than before the pandemic. It has been pouring money into the U.K. to fend off Uber Eats and

Amazon

-backed Deliveroo, which is preparing for an initial public offering in London. The Just Eat brand, which the former Takeaway.com acquired last year, has been losing market share and wants to take it back in 2021. The company also plans to invest heavily in France and Spain. Higher costs may explain why the stock has only risen 16% over the past year.

JET’s business model also put it at a slight disadvantage during the crisis. As restaurants spent much of 2020 closed, players like Uber Eats that specialize in delivering food to customers’ doors had an edge. Just Eat Takeaway.com has a bigger marketplace business that simply links diners and restaurants via a digital platform. Orders where it also fulfills delivery were a relatively low 26% of last year’s tally.

However, that mix should turn into an advantage as the company pushes into the U.S. with the Grubhub acquisition. JET will be able to use the cash generated in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, where the lucrative marketplace setup still dominates, to lure American diners. Management is betting that by keeping delivery fees at less than half the rate charged by others in certain markets, rivals will be forced to slash their prices and deepen their losses, or begin to shed customers.

For U.S.-based rivals

DoorDash

and Uber Eats, trends in Europe could be a preview of what is on the menu for their domestic market. Like Just Eat in the U.K., Grubhub has been losing market share in the U.S. Competition could become even more cutthroat when well-funded industry veteran JET comes to turn its latest acquisition around.

Demand for food delivery has soared amid the pandemic, but restaurants are struggling to survive. In a fiercely competitive industry, delivery services are fighting to gain market share while facing increased pressure to lower commission fees and provide more protection to their workers. Video/Photo: Jaden Urbi/WSJ

Write to Carol Ryan at carol.ryan@wsj.com

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