Organic food by Cargo Bike.
15.03.2023 | Business
A good idea, plenty of idealism and a good amount of courage: five students started from scratch to set up an online shop for organic food within a matter of months, followed by a delivery company. Their mission: good food, fair conditions for all, and sustainable logistics for towns and cities – using a Cargo Bike, of course.
The idea came to them spontaneously, unplanned and without a concept: simply to do something good to help other people.
It was 2020, and Jonathan Kümmerle, 24, was studying Sustainable Business at Alanus University near Bonn, when the coronavirus pandemic paralysed public life. He was sitting with four fellow students at the time. “We were thinking about what we could do. How could we make ourselves useful in this situation?”
The initial idea was simply to help older people with errands. But there was no need for that in their local area. The next idea: to support a friend who was wanting to set up his own delivery company in Hamburg. But Jonathan had just settled in after moving to Bonn, was working on his Bachelor dissertation, and didn’t want to leave. His friend understood but suggested: “Then set up your own delivery service – in your city!”
The idea took hold. The friends decided to try it. To do some good. Their concept: a sustainable delivery service that would transport locally sourced organic produce to the people of Cologne and Bonn. On Cargo Bikes and at a fair price. They scraped together some start-up capital, and also turned to a public company with an innovative shareholding structure, which connected up farmers and local producers. The concept worked, the necessary backing was secured.
The indirect route to the Packster
From then on, things took off very quickly: the five students initially started the business as Himmel un Ääd – a wordplay on a traditional local Rhine dish consisting of apples and potatoes. They only had a few days between the launch of their organic delivery service and their first delivery. It almost all went wrong at this point: Their logistics service provider cancelled the deal they had struck just a few hours beforehand. The students had to reschedule things at the last minute.
What now? In the early weeks, Jonathan and the others hired Cargo Bikes from various associations and initiatives. At some point they were introduced to Riese & Müller bikes – and were sold on them. They quickly got in touch, described their unfortunate situation, raved about the idea of their organic delivery service, and a short time later had the promise of a loan Packster 60.
“That was our salvation,” Jonathan says. “At that time, we were still very small and were packing our vegetable boxes in a basement in south Cologne. But Riese & Müller thought it was a great idea, believed in us, and simply got us off the ground.”
The organic delivery service was now operating as Hofdealer. The basic idea was still the same: seasonal, organic, local produce delivered by Cargo Bike. Their target group was explicitly people who didn’t have a lot of money for healthy food. That’s why the Hofdealer team strived to keep prices low by dealing directly with the producers. There are also student discounts and reduced prices for people on benefits.
Delivering sushi by Cargo Bike
The success of the online shop also gave them the green light for a separate logistics division that the Hofdealer team set up: VEMO. The VEMO brand offers companies delivery logistics by bike for the first and last mile.
Demand grew accordingly. More bikes were purchased: the fleet soon ran to 14 bikes, including larger three-wheeler Cargo Bikes and trailers that could be used to transport pallets. Nonetheless, the Riese & Müller Packster was still in use every day, says Jonathan. “It has a good 11,000 kilometres on its clock and we certainly put it through its paces!”
The bike’s strengths come into their own in the hilly surroundings: “There are hills I just can’t climb with a big bike. But the Packster handles them with ease.” They also use the Packster for small-volume deliveries where speed is called for, most recently to deliver sushi and soon also medicines. “The perfect use case,” continues Jonathan.
Nevertheless, many customers were still sceptical about first- and last-mile logistics by Cargo Bike. “It can sometimes be difficult to convince companies to use bikes as the first or last mode of transport in the supply chain,” explains Jonathan. “They often respond to us along the lines of: 'Whaaaat? How can you operate an efficient logistics company with a bike? In a city?'”
“We are expecting a Cargo Bike boom”
The benefits are obvious to Jonathan: “You never get stuck in a traffic jam and can park at the front door, hand over the delivery, and ride on. You are simply faster as the bikes are so manoeuvrable.” He reckons driving a panel van would be a whole lot more awkward by comparison. “Where can I park? How far do I need to walk to the customers? We cut all of this out.”
What is more, Cargo Bikes are becoming particularly competitive, especially with rising energy prices. “It costs just a few cents to charge a battery – we can essentially ignore this in our calculations. Even if electricity prices were to triple or quadruple.”
Jonathan and his colleagues are therefore anticipating a Cargo Bike boom in the logistics sector in the medium term, at least in towns and cities. VEMO and Hofdealer have ambitions to get in on the act. “We want to invest in other sectors over the long term and set up more companies,” explains Jonathan, “to drive forward social and ecological transformation.”
If this all takes off, a whole series of good business ideas would then have evolved from a single spontaneous idea.
Riese & Müller has had a partnership with Alanus University in Alfter near Bonn since 2020, working with the “Business Administration – Rethinking Business with Professional Experience” course. The Bachelor course is aimed at young people who are interested in socially and environmentally sustainable business practices. The knowledge students acquire during the theoretical phase is then applied throughout the practical phases at Riese & Müller’s headquarters in Mühltal.