Through their packaged groceries, supermarkets are a significant source of waste—in particular of plastic. The average European consumer produces about 30kg of plastic per year, two-thirds of which stems from packaged food. This means that switching to waste free supermarkets could save up to 20kg of plastic per person per year.
Impossible? Not according to co-founders Jouri Schoemaker and Martijn Bijmolt of Rotterdam-based startup Pieter Pot—the first circular supermarket in the Netherlands. Driven by their own urge to reduce their climate impact and dissatisfied with existing solutions, they founded Pieter Pot in late 2019. As they observe, everyone wants less waste, but it is currently too difficult for the average consumer to realize this. Consumers don’t want to bring their own pots and packages and fill them in the supermarket, they want convenience. Enter Pieter Pot.
How It Works
The first thing to do is add yourself to the waiting list. Having launched in May 2020, Pieter Pot served a mere 3,000 customers at the end of 2020. Not because of a lack of demand—there are already 30,000 people on their waiting list. But getting the infrastructure ready and at scale simply takes time.
Once you made it to the top of the waiting list (I had to wait for about 7 months) the process is surprisingly simple. You order on their website, pick your delivery date and receive one or more burlap deposit bags filled with deposit glass pots delivered by Dutch post PostNL’s special food delivery service.
Once your pots are empty, you collect them in the bags—dirty as explicitly requested by Pieter Pot to avoid water spilling—and hand them over to the deliverer with your next delivery. Once returned to Pieter Pot, the deposit for the pots and bags is added to your account which you can use as credit for your next order. That’s it, a smart and convenient circular system.
On the side of Pieter Pot, the system is simple too. They buy their products directly from suppliers in bulk thereby reducing the amount of waste throughout the entire supply chain. The pots are cleaned in an industrial dishwasher and filled at sheltered workshops, after which they are handed over for delivery.
How Waste Free And Sustainable Is It?
Pieter Pot’s approach is virtually waste free. There is no packaging at the consumer side other than the reusable pots and bags and also in the supply chain they use reusable bulk packaging wherever possible. The primary waste that is left are merely the printed paper labels on the pots. As they proudly claim, by working this way they have already saved 180,000 packaging units in their launching year 2020.
The cynic could ask whether all of this is really good for our planet. Sure, there is hardly any waste, but what about the carbon footprint of all the transport of these heavy glass pots? As Pieter Pot claims, even when you live in a rural area and your pots are delivered by a non-electric vehicle, the carbon footprint is still lower than if you would buy your groceries from your local supermarket.
So yes, it arguably is the most plastic free, waste free and sustainable alternative currently available. More details and data about this can be found in Pieter Pot’s sustainability report.
About The Company—And Its Name
Pieter Pot started in 2019 with €300,000 gathered via crowdfunding and a €100,000 subsidy. In November 2020, they received a further €2.7 million from three sustainability investment funds: Shift Invest, Future Food Fund and InnovationQuarter, enabling them to scale up.
They currently carry 250 different non-perishable and long-lasting products, such as rice, lentils, cookies, and ketchup. Their best sellers are peanut butter, olive oil, and oatmeal. Most of their products are white-label products, only carrying the name of their supplier—such as Odin and IDorganics for their organic products. But, the first A-level brands have found their way to Pieter Pot as well: Haribo sweets, Heinz tomato ketchup, and the (for the Dutch) indispensable chocolate sprinkles from De Ruyter, are also available in Pieter Pot pots.
Compared to the over 30,000 items carried by the average supermarket, 250 is obviously a very low number. However, by limiting choice to one or two types per category, their total variety in categories of products is richer than one might expect. Furthermore, their assortment is growing while scaling up.
Pricing is comparable to conventional supermarkets—and sometimes even lower. As Schoemaker and Bijmolt explain, this is possible by shortening the supply chain and by directly delivering to the consumer.
And then the name. The “Pot” in Pieter Pot is obvious. But what about the “Pieter?” Besides being a Dutch surname similar to ”Peter,” Pieter Pot implicitly refers to a well-known children’s animation series about a mailman that is running since the early 1980s. In the UK he is known as Postman Pat and in the Netherlands as Pieter Post. Remove the s and there you are.
The True Disruption: Growing Together
In and of itself, Pieter Pot is an innovative startup in the process of successfully launching a circular, waste free supermarket. They have a novel and original offering making it easy and convenient for consumers to buy groceries without producing waste. Furthermore, with their deposits and delivery system they have adopted a smart “soft lock-in” business model that stimulates existing customers to stay with them.
Looking ahead, their direct ambitions are to further grow their business, primarily by increasing the number of customers and the number of products they carry. Their target is to save on 1 million packaging units in 2021. Furthermore, they are also developing a new, even more sustainable lightweight pot that will replace the glass pots. Altogether, this will contribute to their further growth and success.
The true disruption, however, goes beyond the boundaries of their firm. Their two core values are “Transparency” and “Grow Together.” This means that they are very open about their approach and where they stand and that they team up with other sustainable brands such as Mud Jeans, Seepje, and Peerby and with impact initiatives such as the Plastic Soup Foundation.
But, most importantly, it reflects their focus on impact. They are quite aware that, to truly make a difference, it is conventional supermarkets that will need to make the shift towards a circular, waste free approach. To achieve this, they are targeting Albert Heijn and Picnic, the largest conventional and online-only supermarket chains in the Netherlands, to explore how they could also adopt Pieter Pot’s system. Once that happens, they are ready to truly disrupt the supermarket landscape.