This is the third in a series of RIPPL articles supported by Gemeente Groningen. To celebrate the International Cargo Bike Festival, which took place in the city this June, we’re taking a deep-dive and focussing on how cycle-logistics works in this city of bikes.
Groningen-based startup Dropper recently announced a partnership with PostNL (the Dutch post office) to deliver postal packages by bike in Groningen. This development is just the latest chapter in Dropper’s remarkable rise from dynamic startup to fully-fledged, multi-disciplinary cycle logistics business. The move also goes hand in hand with the city of Groningen’s push to achieve emission-free city logistics by 2025, and PostNL’s own goal to deliver emission-free in 25 Dutch cities – also by 2025.
Dropper are initially delivering PostNL parcels in the city centre; an area that is set to expand to outer areas as the project progresses. The bikes, cargo bikes and trailers used by Dropper will directly replace the out-of-scale delivery vans PostNL have until now been using in Groningen’s narrow, historic streets.
Dropping it like it’s hot…
But how did startup Dropper – which was only founded in 2016 – get to this point? Rewind a little and Dropper began life as FoodDrop, the brainchild of Jantine Doornbos, then a recent Information Science graduate from Groningen University with an entrepreneurial background and an eye for innovation.
Doornbos was passionate about healthy eating and saw a disconnect between restaurants and their customers. Having blogged about the best places in town to eat, she had developed extensive knowledge about, and a good feel for, Groningen’s food scene. At the same time, she found herself disappointed that home delivery was not an option from many of her favourite restaurants.
Of the restaurants that did deliver, most of them independently organised their own couriers – something that struck her as inefficient. Moreover, these deliveries were almost always carried out on petrol-powered mopeds – in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Lastly, services were inflexible. Deliveries could only be made to home addresses; not to the park if you just happened, for example, to be sitting there on a summer’s evening.
“The bikes are already there.” says Doornbos, “Everyone already has their own bike. Everyone has a smartphone. These people are already in the city. They move around anyway. Why not use them to deliver food from A-to-B?”. Taking these frustrations and turning them into an opportunity, Doornbos decided to do something about it.
What she realised was that these three parties; restaurants, customers and bike riders (or “Droppers”, as they’re known at Dropper), just needed to be connected. It became clear to her that she needed to make this connection in a way that responded to the needs and wants of all three parties, via an easy-to-use system. The idea was that this system would take the form of a portal, on which each restaurant could present themselves to their customers.
Working together with a PhD student, Doornbos set about developing the custom IT platform from the ground up. Dropper is in fact still using, adapting and constantly fine-tuning the same system to this day.
Shortly after, FoodDrop begun delivering meals from 10 restaurants in Groningen to customers, focussing on working only with good quality restaurants with a promise that orders would arrive within 1 hour. This quickly grew to 16 restaurants, and today around 80 restaurants use Dropper to deliver.
Doornbos says it wasn’t exactly a case of simply meeting demand. The demand was there, just in latent form. Doornbos activated, and then met it: “People didn’t realise this could be done – when people were hungry they went out to get their food because there was no alternative. We made it possible and convenient to receive your food at home.”
The food delivery by bike model is nothing new. In recent years, big national and global players such as Deliveroo, UberEATS, and Thuisbezorgd in the Netherlands have all vyed for space in what has become a crowded market. From the client’s point of view, there is perhaps only a marginal difference between using one of the big players and FoodDrop. The service is aimed squarely at people with busy lives. It’s about convenience; they do the legwork for you.
Despite these similarities, Doornbos was keen from the start to differentiate FoodDrop on quality, using their in depth knowledge to ensure they only with Groningen’s best restaurants. Order on FoodDrop, and the idea is that you’re guaranteed high quality food.
Another difference is that all Droppers are directly employed. Look after your team, and they will look after your reputation. There are certainly cheaper ways to operate, but doing things like this also means the company avoids controversy over zero-hours contracts often used by others in the trade, which have been labelled by some as exploitative. But perhaps the biggest difference came once FoodDrop had been operating for a couple of years.
FoodDrop becomes Dropper
The next big development came with a broadening of the company’s horizons; from food-deliveries to, well, anything-deliveries. Doornbos had had a realisation: “if you can deliver food, why not a pair of shoes or a bouquet of flowers? If you order something in your city, it gets sent to a warehouse on the edge of town and then only gets delivered to you the following day. Why not send it directly from A to B? Our Droppers were already riding all over town and I realised we could also do much more with the technology we’d developed. I wanted to bring the whole city within arm’s reach.”
Algorithms within Dropper’s system were adapted accordingly. For example, a Dropper on the way to drop off a pair of shoes at a customer can also be diverted to collect a meal from a nearby restaurant. It’s a flexible approach which ensures the most efficient solution to any given situation.
How did Groningen’s retailers react, then? Did it take a lot of convincing? For Doornbos it was again about creating demand: “It was a case of – they didn’t know they wanted this until they knew about it, but when they knew the benefits, they wanted to get on board”. Partnerships followed with national supermarket Jumbo and several local retailers.
All of this has given Dropper a wealth of experience – call it a real-life testing period – allowing the company to up-scale and meet the exacting demands required by a national post office such as PostNL.
Some would put Dropper’s ability to thrive down to the environment in which the company grew: the city of Groningen. The city is about as far away from the large ‘Randstad’ cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague/Den Haag) as it’s possible to get and still be in the Netherlands. Because of this, many think Groningen exhibits a spirit of independence in which innovation is encouraged. Expertise is certainly available on-tap from the two large universities in the city, and there’s a willingness to experiment.
Groningen has also been dubbed the “World’s Cycling City”, thanks to one of the highest modal shares for cycling (portion of all journeys which are taken by bike) in the world. We’ve covered in previous articles why Groningen is such an ideal city in which to run a cycle logistics operation. In a nutshell, a perfect storm of compact size and world-class cycling infrastructure provide all the ingredients necessary for pedal-power to thrive; both for personal transport and for transporting objects.
Drop to the Future?
Dropper has been built from the ground up as a scalable business model. So it’s no surprise that Dropper is branching out – services started up in the nearby city of Leeuwaarden in the summer of 2019. There are plans to expand to two more (as yet undisclosed) cities soon after. The partnership with PostNL, if successful, also has a good chance of being expanded.
Constant adaptation has been a hallmark of Dropper’s development so far. This strategy, allied with cycle logistics, has served them very well indeed. They’ve already made a big impact in Groningen. Check back in a year’s time; who would bet against Dropper being significantly closer to their own particular version of pedal-powered world domination?
Find out more at: dropper.nl
PostNL: “PostNL start met uitstootvrije pakketbezorging in Groningen” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Leeuwaarder Courant: “Zo wil start-up Dropper het aantal bezorgritten in Leeuwarden terugbrengen” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
RTV Noord: “Vrachtfiets op meer plekken in straatbeeld van Stad” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Logistiek.nl: “PostNL in zee met Dropper voor pakketbezorging in Groningen” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
EMERCE: “Provincie Groningen stimuleert stadsdistributie” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Provincie Groningen: “Provincie draagt bij aan efficiënte pakketbezorging in stad Groningen” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Fast Moving Targets: “Jantine Doornbos” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Dagblad van het Noorden: “Bezorgen in de Groninger binnenstad: ‘Zet radicaal in op de fiets’” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
The Northern Times: “Bike-based take away? Take your pick in Groningen”
Groninger Internet Courant: “Dropper maakt Groningse stadsdistributie stukken efficiënter en duurzamer” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
RTV Noord: “Dropper wil pakketjes van stadswinkels meteen bij je thuisbrengen” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
Parkeer24: “Provincie Groningen ziet Dropper als ideale last mile oplossing” (🇳🇱 Dutch)
This was the third in a series of RIPPL articles supported by Gemeente Groningen. To celebrate the International Cargo Bike Festival, which took place in the city this June, we’re taking a deep-dive and focussing on how cycle-logistics works in this city of bikes.