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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Country: The Netherlands
Bike Manufacturer: Urban Arrow
Facebook: Marleen Kookt Facebook
Instagram: Marleen Kookt Instagram
Tom Parr: Interview with Joris Keijzer, Nov 2017
Volkskrant: “Uitgekookt” (2012)(Dutch)