Please introduce yourself!
My name is Jouri Schoemaker and together with my former flatmate Martijn Bijmolt I founded Pieter Pot (former PuurBezorgd), the first circular online supermarket of the Netherlands.
Why did you start?
I’ve started one startup before, but I was missing my added value to the world. What triggered me most at that time was the question of how we can make sustainability more convenient for people. There are a lot of sustainable solutions, but they are too difficult for people to implement, which is why they are not standard yet. One of these examples is the plastic packaging when doing groceries. We all hate it, but the alternative of going to separate shops with your own containers takes a lot of effort. I didn’t make this effort myself as well. At the same time we observed the rising trend of online supermarkets, such as Picnic. That’s when we thought about the milkman. The milkman brings you a new glass bottle with milk, taking back your empty bottle, washing and reusing it. We thought: Can’t we do that for all groceries and combine it with the convenience of online grocery shopping? In that way we can facilitate what we call ‘econvenience’ (= eco-convenience), so, make it convenient to do groceries in an eco-friendly way. That is how the idea was born!
How did you validate the idea?
First, we did a lot of interviews. Most consumers were very enthusiastic about package free groceries. However, the big question was: Will they also buy into our solution? That’s the crucial part whether you are succeeding or not. There are many good entrepreneurs with great ideas, but execution is the crux. So, it was less about validating the problem than validating if we had found the right solution.
How did you do that?
We created three homepages, lokaalbezorgd.nl (unpacked local groceries), directbezorgd.nl (unpacked groceries delivered the same day) and puurbezorgd.nl (unpacked groceries only) and handed out 200 flyers of each website at Rotterdam Centraal. On the homepages, people could fill in their postal code to check if we delivered to their address and sign up for the newsletter. That’s how we could see which concept people were interested in and how concrete their interest was. Not only did puurbezorgd.nl gain the most traction, we also gathered already 100 email addresses of potential customers.
To test if it was about fresh, durable or all groceries, we also conducted an A/B test on facebook with three different images. Hereby, the durable groceries got three time as much attention. From that point onwards, everything happened really fast! I had one room in my house that was not occupied yet. We bought bulk groceries, glass jars at IKEA, put on gloves and hair nets in the weekend and filled jars. More and more people started ordering and that’s how things developed.
Given that you built your solution on the needs of the customers, were you ‘just’ sensing a business opportunity or is the idea also in line with your own ideals?
I mean, when you start something like this you always wonder why you are doing this. You need to know to survive and work 80 hours a week. I wouldn’t start a new business that had nothing to do with sustainability. I honestly can’t say I was really passionate about living package free, I wasn’t active at all. It’s really this combination that I want to contribute and have impact with a sustainable business, but to be able to make an impact I need to make it a growing business. By reaching as many consumers as possible, I believe we make sustainable impact itself. It’s the combination and not one or the other.
What’s your vision for Pieter Pot?
The big vision is to make unpacked groceries the standard. By making it as convenient and affordable as regular supermarkets. We want to create a one-stop online shop, where you can purchase all groceries in one place. At the moment, we only offer durable goods, but are expanding with non-food, e.g. shower gel, toothpaste etc. Even further ahead, we might also make our jars available in regular supermarkets where you can return them for deposit, just like beer bottles and crates.
What’s currently your main challenge?
To be able to become a one-stop shop, we need a lot of money. To raise money, we need to show growth. Currently, it’s just the two of us that do everything. We deliver on the weekends and work on the business during the weeks. All our savings are in there. So, we can only grow in steps. The next step we decided to take is to deliver nationwide with durable goods. We will then deliver with other partners like UPS and Cycloon fiets couriers.
The alternative would have been to stay in Rotterdam and offer all goods package free, but I believe the impact is greater if many consumers live a bit more sustainably than a few purely. If we can grow nationally, we will be able to – as a next step – expand the assortment, reach more consumers and offer next day deliveries.
Isn’t it opposing from an environmental aspect if you want to deliver with UPS?
I am fully aware of what you are saying and it is really important to take into account. We are now accepted by a European subsidy program called climate-KIC. They also work with an external company that calculated our environmental impact, from the creation of our resources to recycling of our used parts. It turns out the transport has very little impact. We still make a positive impact. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere and get our jars delivered by a non-electric UPS van, the total CO2 emissions for the full lifecycle are lower than you would buy your groceries in packaging, even in recycled cardboard. Besides, if we wanted to deliver by bike we would need to buy all the bicycles for every city and hire employees to cycle them, as well as extra warehouses. That means much bigger investments. Until now we weren’t able to get this amount of investment. We could say, UPS is not the way to go, but that might be the end of the story.
In this sense, I like the way Tony Chocolonely put it: ‘Together we’ll make chocolate 100% slave free’. We are not there yet concerning fair chocolate (or in our case zero-emission, zero-waste grocery delivery), but we are heading there, we are jointly working towards it.
What kind of waste still exists behind the scenes?
We still get the bulk goods in packaging. However, the bigger the quantities we order, the more leverage we have towards the suppliers. We could already win one supplier to deliver in paper or biodegradable plastic bags. That’s nice of course, but the other ones are still in plastic. Here, we at least have leverage with the sizes. We want at least 20 kg bags to save as much as possible. Future ideas are to get the goods filled at the producer, but we don’t have these quantities yet. But hey, we are making steps towards somewhere where no one has been. So, we are trying (laughs).
How can people support you most at the moment?
To be able to expand nationwide, we are currently running a crowdfunding campaign. People can either crowdfund us by buying a voucher, a starter package or give us a loan against interest. This way we want to raise between 150.000 and 300.000 EUR. If we reach that we can prefinance all jars, products and crates, and a bigger warehouse. If you want to support us, just try us out and get one of our starter packages: crowdaboutnow.nl/pieterpot