Meet Marleen, your home chef today.
The meal delivery business is exploding, with numerous platforms and market places entering every day to get a share of a market estimated to be $1,000bn by 2030. This is a story about MarleenKookt. Not just another mass market meal delivery service, but actually the opposite.
It must have been somewhere back in 2011, the Financial Crisis had just hit the Netherlands. Banks went bankrupt and people lost their jobs. During a dinner in a small Vietnamese restaurant on Elandsgracht in Amsterdam Marleen Jansen said to her husband and now business partner Joris Keijzer: “let’s start a meal delivery venture”. She actually meant a more premium one, defying the new economic climate. This was the start of “MarleenKookt”, (Dutch for Marleen cooks) which is now their successful meal delivery business in Amsterdam and Haarlem.
It wasn’t a completely random idea. Marleen had been a marketeer working with Dutch food and non-food retailers and Joris acted as an innovator for retailers and had been a GM in the photo printing industry. Both had enjoyed a sabbatical on Mallorca island, where Marleen had rediscovered her passion for cooking and how she loved writing recipes. So back in Amsterdam it was probably the most logical thing to do. But was it?
MarleenKookt has been growing steadily ever since. More than 1,000 meals are being served out every day to around 400 households. From Monday to Friday some 25 couriers are driving impressive electrical cargo bikes in and around Amsterdam and Haarlem. To families with just not enough time to buy and prepare a home meal. More and more elderly people are also using MarleenKookt.
Marleen used her marketing experience to build a strong and unique customer proposition. The success of the business is based on the insight that not being able to buy and prepare a healthy meal for yourself (and family) feels like a significant short coming and creates a nagging, guilty feeling. People will try to use alternatives and ‘next best’ options. So the motivational drive is to decrease guilt. The closer an alternative option resembles a good home cooked meal, the better it is.
What is MarleenKookt offering? It’s actually quite simple, there is a different menu for every day of the week. With daily three mains (meat/fish, vegetarian and a classic dish), one kid’s dish, a soup and a dessert. Pricing of a main course is just below €12, and if you buy more than one meal in a delivery drop there is a pricing benefit (the price decreases to around €8 per main when you get 4 meals delivered at once). For MarleenKookt you would need some day planning as the order slot closes around 11AM. The courier will arrive at your door between 4PM and 8PM at your preferred time slot, with a 30-minute bracket.
All interaction and dialogue runs via e-mail and via marleenkookt.nl.
What really differentiates MarleenKookt is the fact that all meals are cooked with fresh and often organic ingredients just a few hours before serving out. Additives and preservatives are not being used. Blast chilling enables that meals can be delivered cooled, without any chance on bacteria. Moreover, meals are being served out in porcelain bowls. Much better looking than the trade mark of the food delivery industry, the infamous plastic or aluminum trays. Marleen actually delivers a standard you would love to make yourself for a special Saturday night dinner, now being available on a regular weekday. The taste is beyond expectation, really delicious.
Off course there are plenty of alternatives. Buying pizza around the corner might be easy (and kids love it), but it’s a less healthy alternative. Going to a fast food restaurant might be more convenient and pricing is okay, but on the guilt axis it's a complete “no go”. The many meal kits available, like Hello Fresh, might offer a smart alternative but then again this will take some time to prepare. Some will say that Marleen’s €12 is far more expensive than buying a ready meal in a supermarket around the corner. But then again, those meals are being prepared with a lot of additives and preservatives to stretch shelf time and often lack quality and taste. Others will prefer a restaurant as an alternative, but the expense is significant higher, and a restaurant visit with children is less intimate (and often less convenient). Very popular are the online market places like Doordash, Grubhub and Uber Eats, delivering meals from restaurants anywhere near your location. Often at a higher price, but very convenient because you can order last minute. These engines are very much efficiency driven.
Marleen’s customer proposition is on the complete other side of the spectrum, contrary to those mass market places. She could be the woman next door, taking care for your family. She writes as if she personally knows you. With lots of “I” like in “I choose this recipe just because of ….”. Weekly menu mails and confirmations are written with the same personal touch; the whole mentality of MarleenKookt breathes authenticity and intimacy. The courier boy or girl, which brings the meals to your front door, is super friendly and, unlike the Uber Eats guy, genuinely interested in if you liked last week's dish.
There is no catch other than the fact that, after dinner, the empty bowls in the signature (re-usable) MarleenKookt-bag are probably waiting somewhere in your kitchen, to be returned again with a next delivery. Acting as a persistent and smart visual incentive to re-order.
It all sounds perfect, and it is, but at the same time it’s the result of a lot of hard work and gruelling exercise. The kitchen staff is Marleen’s department, as is the buying and sourcing, with deliveries from independent suppliers coming in as early as 7AM. The recipes are developed by her and the chefs, with close feedback loops to customers. Next to the kitchen department there are packers and dishwashers in Marleen’s team. Joris manages customer service, the back and front end of the Magento website, (online) marketing, a really good and sophisticated CRM and the delivery staff. Around 4PM the kitchen team finishes of and the couriers are dropping in, starting the routes around town. With a total staff of around 100 young people on the pay roll, there is a pleasant buzz.
The growth these past eight years has been really organic. Marleen and Joris have been using word of mouth, with parents acting like promoters on the school yard, aided by some Facebook advertising and referral marketing as the most important acquisition drivers. The iconic electrical cargo bikes in the Amsterdam streets are building brand awareness. But as in any business the real opportunity lies in increasing the order frequency and decreasing churn rate. Joris knows how these metrics work and how they are vital for growth. He’s convinced that growth to around 2,000 meals a day is possible within present infrastructure.
The growth of the food delivery market is huge, with many new platforms and brands entering almost every day. Supermarkets are the latest category to enter, like Albert Heijn in the Netherlands and now Wegmans in the US. They already operate logistic and distribution networks and own a food infrastructure, which is in their favor. Analysts even calculate that the global meal delivery market might grow from today $120bn to anywhere between $1,000bn and $3,000bn annual sales (depending on the number of deliveries per week) by 2030. Share coming from both the restaurant business as from food retail. China with its many “dark kitchens” is already surpassing the US with around $80bn sales annually.
Surely Marleen and Joris didn’t have a clue back in 2011 that this market was going to explode. They just ventured into a passion as many people do. With a unique customer proposition, build on the strong insight that customers would like to have a good and personal alternative for home cooking, there is no doubt that their business will continue to grow. Amsterdam, Haarlem….. what’s next? Not drone delivery, that's for sure.