Thursday, November 30, 2017

Marleen Kookt - Meals on Two Wheels

Register of Initiatives in Pedal Powered Logistics - RIPPL #38
The fleet. Note the hanging charging cables; not for the e-assist batteries,
but for the phones. Photo credit: Marleen Kookt
Marleen Kookt is an Amsterdam-based meal delivery business founded in 2012 by Marleen Jansen and Joris Keijzer. Following a 6 month sabbatical spent in Majorca, during which Marleen experimented with various recipe ideas, they returned to Amsterdam. Finding that they did not want to return to their office jobs (both have backgrounds in large-scale retail) they started Marleen Kookt (Dutch for 'Marleen Cooks').

For the first six months, the operation was small scale; Marleen did all of the cooking herself and Joris the deliveries, delivering only to their postcode. After this, they started to recruit delivery riders (Bezorgers) and the delivery radius grew. As demand increased over time, Marleen recruited help in the kitchen, Joris began spending less time in the saddle and more time in the office, and more Bezorgers were enrolled. Today, Marleen herself is still to be found with her sleeves rolled up in the kitchen, whilst Joris takes care of operations.
A Marleen Kookt Bezorger in action. Photo credit: Marleen Kookt
The service is aimed squarely at busy, convenience-seeking yet health conscious city dwellers. The menu changes each day, with three dishes on offer, plus soup, dessert and children’s options. The meals are delivered cold, in porcelain dishes and are accompanied by simple heating instructions. The porcelain is simply collected when the customer orders next.

The company currently has a fleet of 23 cargo bikes. They are mostly Urban Arrow Cargo L’s, with a few larger Cargo XL’s. The fleet is always growing and new bikes will all be XLs; this is because in some areas of the city there are higher concentrations of customers. A bike with more capacity is more efficient and the Bezorgers are now experienced enough to ride these longer bikes.

Since the beginning, Marleen Kookt have had a close relationship with Urban Arrow, who are also based in Amsterdam. The two are in regular contact, passing solutions and real-life feedback back and forth. A result of this symbiotic relationship is the numerous modifications to the bikes, one example being a internal shelf in the box, hinged like a trapdoor. This allows two layers of meals to be loaded. Another is a custom tamper-proof, handlebar mounted phone holder, which allows hands-free navigation on the move and avoids theft whilst Bezorgers have their backs turned.
Marleen Kookt and Urban Arrow have a close relationship, allowing
UA to innovate and MK to benefit. Photo credit: Marleen Kookt
The company occupies a deceptively large premises in a typically dense residential area on the edge of the city centre. It’s a series of ex-printing, bookbinding and sewing workshops which have been knocked through into a single complex, consisting of a large kitchen, adjacent bike garage, office space. There is also, importantly, a large table around which staff eat together; Bezorgers receive a warm meal for each shift they work. According to Keijzer, there is room for the operation to double in size on this site, but: “It’s not about growing for growing’s sake. Quality always comes first for us. We see an opportunity to improve quality and grow at the same time”.

There are currently around 50 Bezorgers working for Marleen Kookt. They are mainly students and young people with flexible schedules, working for a minimum of two days a week. A typical delivery run is 30km in length and lasts 2½ hours, in shifts running between 16:00 and 20:00. More experienced riders are given runs of up to 40 to 50km. In return, they are paid a decent hourly wage. Friendly contact with customers is a really important aspect of the business, so Bezorgers are given a taste of the day’s menu before each delivery run, so that they can evangelise to customers on the doorsteps.
The area covered by Marleen Kookt now covers most of the city.
Image credit: Marleen Kookt
After six months the operation was beginning to get quite complex, so the company had a custom, bike-friendly app made for them by Workwaze. On the handlebar mounted phones order information and routing for bikes is clearly shown - everything a Bezorger needs to carry out their deliveries. The back end of the system is more complex; a combination of factors is fed into the software, including bike capacity, the ½ hour delivery window chosen by each customer, order size, Bezorger working hours and Bezorger speeds. The slower average speed of less experienced riders is taken into account, as is the local knowledge of more seasoned Bezorgers, who tend to know shortcuts and routes to avoid. Following a manual check and some adjustments, the system creates packing lists and routes for each bike. These are ready by midday, in time for the kitchen to begin loading orders onto the bikes.

Marleen Kookt has a lot in common with another business we featured in RIPPL #16. Vienna-based Rita Bringt’s also use a significant fleet of cargo bikes to deliver healthy, hand cooked ready meals to customers’ homes. Both are figureheaded by a local woman who is passionate about healthy food. Both have built up a team of fairly-treated delivery riders. For all their similarities, there are differences; whilst Rita Bringt’s is also in the business of catering, Marleen Kookt have chosen to focus solely on home delivery. And while Marleen Kookt always offers a vegetarian option, Rita Bringt’s is fully vegetarian.
Where the magic happens: a sneak peek in the kitchen.
Photo credit: Marleen Kookt
So, why did Marleen Kookt choose to use cargo bikes? There’s a straightforward answer; practicality. “It just makes sense. They meet our needs.” says Keijzer “Using cars in Amsterdam is expensive and frustrating. We looked at mopeds, but they didn’t have the capacity. So we considered our needs and made a conscious, practical decision to use 2-wheeled cargo bikes; they are manoeuvrable and stable, parking is easy and they have the capacity.”

Another aspect is that the business is able to take advantage of Amsterdam’s cycling infrastructure. But even here, using cargo bikes is a way of future-proofing. “Amsterdam is getting clogged up. In 10 years I feel that cars will not reign the city like they do now”, predicts Keijzer. Why invest in anything else, if that’s the way you see things going?
Another gratuitous photo of lots of cargo bikes in a row.
Photo credit: Marleen Kookt
I point out that an equivalent business in, say, the UK would be seen as remarkable for using so many cargo bikes as a central part of their operation. For Marleen Kookt, whilst cargo bike delivery is clearly an important part of the overall image of the company, there is also a sense that they don’t make too much fuss about the fact. Again, Keijzer is characteristically pragmatic “The green credentials are a ‘nice to have’. But the real reasons for choosing to use bikes were all business driven.”


Organisation: Marleen Kookt
Sector: Commercial
City: Amsterdam
Country: The Netherlands
Bike Manufacturer: Urban Arrow
Basis: Permanent
Website: www.marleenkookt.nl
Facebook: Marleen Kookt Facebook
Instagram: Marleen Kookt Instagram
Contact: marleen@marleenkookt.nl

Sources:
Tom Parr: Interview with Joris Keijzer, Nov 2017
Volkskrant: “Uitgekookt” (2012)(Dutch)
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Vert Chez Vous - Lessons from a Parisian Boat-Bike Initiative

Register of Initiatives in Pedal Powered Logistics - RIPPL #37
Vert Chez Vous' e-trikes and Volkoli. Photo credit: Vert Chez Vous
Paris has suffered unprecedented levels of air pollution in recent years. In response, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has declared war on the car and aims to reduce their number by half. Swathes of the city will be pedestrianised. Regular, city-wide car free days are now held. Diesel vehicles will be banned from the city by 2020, much earlier than in comparable European capitals such as London.

It was against this backdrop that sustainable Paris-based logistics operator Vert Chez Vous began operating in 2012. The company used a multi-modal logistics chain delivering to the centre of Paris without using motorised vehicles. Instead, a barge delivered packages to moorings along the Seine, from where e-trikes carried out last-mile deliveries.
Packages and trikes alike were loaded and unloaded by crane using a suspended cage (see video below). At the start of the day the barge, named “Volkoli”, was loaded at a dock at the edge of the city centre, making several scheduled stops at points along the river. Each trike met the barge 3 or 4 times per day, not necessarily at the same point, to pick up or drop off packages. The system was reversed for collections. The trikes were also stored on board Volkoli.
An onboard crane transferred trikes, packages and people
between the dock and boat. Photo credit: Vert Chez Vous
You’ll notice this is written in past tense. This is because, unfortunately, Vert Chez Vous stopped using the boat in September 2014. The company is still a cycle-logistics operator in Paris, Toulouse and Aix-en-Provence; without boats. Jean François Mounic, CEO of parent company Labatut, cited economic reasons for the discontinuation of the boat-bike initiative - it was not profitable: “We are still looking for the business model. But I know that it exists and we are five years behind Germany.” Unfortunate, and as with any similar situation, the full picture explaining exact reasons behind the non-profitability is not immediately available.
Loading and sorting space on board Volkoli. Photo credit: Vert Chez Vous
That leaves us with speculation. It’s possible that for Paris, the boat-bike model was tested too early. Often, it is not enough to provide a carrot - a reward. In this case the carrot is a sustainable method of delivering goods around the city. Perhaps the initiative would have worked had the carrot been accompanied by a stick; a disincentive.

It’s possible that disincentivising use of the unsustainable alternatives being used instead of Vert Chez Vous; for the most part diesel-fuelled delivery vans, may have tipped the balance so that the boat-bike initiative became financially viable. The stick could be a financial disincentive such as a road congestion charge, or an outright ban on fossil-fuelled vehicles, or something else. Anyhow, a situation in which deliveries to the centre in diesel vans became undesirable would mean that alternatives would become more desirable. More demand would allow initiatives to upscale. Upscaling would allow operators to make significant savings using economies of scale. These savings could then in turn be passed onto customers, making the service competitive.
The boat-bike concept. Image credit: Vert Chez Vous
What is clear is that we will never really know what would have happened had things been different. However, it is still possible to learn from what happened. Governments and Municipalities have a big role to play, and whilst the carrots they offer often do have positive impacts, sticks are often also necessary to make the situation work. A balance must be struck.

Logistics often occupies a lower priority level in the minds of those in charge of urban planning policy than personal mobility, but in reality, the fate of both are tied up in the policies and infrastructure chosen by a city. Logistics is both affected by and profoundly affects the cityscape. The good news in the case of Paris, of course, is that disincentives are in the pipeline. It will be interesting to follow developments in the city as the 2020 diesel ban approaches and organisations in the city realise that change is coming.
E-trikes were parked on board overnight. Photo credit: Vert Chez Vous
We’ve covered boat-bike combinations before in RIPPL; click here to read about DHL’s multi-modal logistics chain in Amsterdam. Using often under-used waterways in dense, historic cities allows operators to reduce or even eliminate use of full size vehicles on congested urban road networks. In this way, the boat-bike combination can form the basis of smart, powerful solutions to perennial issues of congestion and pollution, allowing public space to be given over to projects that make cities more liveable.

Innovations: Boat-Bike, multi-modality

Organisation: Vert Chez Vous
Sector: Commerical
City: Paris
Country: France
Website: www.vertchezvous.com
Facebook: Vert Chez Vous Facebook
Twitter: Vert Chez Vous Twitter

Sources:
C. A. Brebbia: “Urban Transport XX” p287 (WIT Press 2014)
La Tribune: “En logistique urbaine la vertu est hors de prix” (November 2014)(French) 
Logicities: “Trop d’initiatives de logistique urbaine s’arrêtent. Pourquoi?” (French)
The Guardian: “Paris mayor unveils plan ​to restrict traffic and pedestrianise city centre”
Sustainable Food In Urban Communities Blog: “Vert Chez Vous”
femininbio: “Faites livrer vos colis sans émission de Gaz à effet de serre” (May 2014)(French)
The Economist: “Driverless Paris? Bicycles and bans are reshaping the city”
Forbes: “Paris Can't Breathe: Worst Pollution In A Decade Has City Gasping For Solutions”
Fluvialnet: “La péniche parisienne "Vokoli" débarque ses triporteurs pour livrer "propre"” (May 2012)(French)
Isabelle et le Velo: “Vert chez vous, le livreur qui s'adapte à votre ville” (November 2012)(French)
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