Last-Mile Innovators: Rethinking the Urban Supply Chain
There’s a pivotal food supply-chain sequence early in Martin Scorsese’s last film, The Irishman. Philadelphia meat-truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), destined to become a mob hitman, kicks off his life of crime by detouring to a mafia-run steakhouse during a delivery, where he sells beef hindquarters to the mobster owner, Skinny Razor, at a cut rate.
Another recent Netflix production, the hard-hitting docuseries Rotten, makes criminality in the food system the focus of 12 globe-spanning episodes. The illegalities it uncovers—deceptive labeling, financial fraud, environmental abuses, labor exploitation—would come as no surprise to Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi, founder and CEO of London’s Collectiv Food, a startup offering restaurants a digital platform connecting them to ethical producers of meat, seafood, and plant-based proteins. Launched in 2017, the company also oversees the logistics of food transport and delivery, bypassing big wholesalers, whose operations have long lacked transparency and whose clout can disadvantage both food producers and restaurants.
The Sprouting of Collectiv Food
The great-great-grandson of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, Hibbert-Garibaldi served as a forensic accountant for Big Four firm Deloitte in his first career, where he witnessed corruption in the food system up-close. Detailed to Africa, he spent seven years investigating fraud, bribery, and other dishonest practices by food and mining companies. He later joined a team probing a profit-reporting scandal at British supermarket giant Tesco.
In 2015, he founded Caprera, a small online consumer marketplace for U.K. artisanal food. It was during his two years running this startup when his eyes were opened to the difficulties restaurants faced in accessing clearly sourced and sustainably produced food. Collectiv Food emerged as a solution. Dedicated to direct food sourcing, the company emphasizes environmental commitments and fairness to partners throughout the supply chain.
Three years in, Collectiv Food works with more than a thousand food producers. Whether a supplier of Scottish salmon or a Brittany farmer raising free-range chickens on a small farm, these food professionals value the platform’s exposure and the relationships that can develop with restaurateurs and chefs.
Transparency, Agility, and Sustainability: A New Supply Chain Model
“Through us, producers have visibility on who buys and uses their product,” says Hibbert-Garibaldi, who traces his passion for food to childhood, watching his French and Italian grandmothers cook meals. He mentions a farmer who was proud to know which London restaurants were serving his food to hundreds of diners. “Producers can set their own prices and still remain competitive, thanks to our lower logistical costs and thinner markups.”
Meanwhile, the restaurants save an average of 14 percent on food costs by not depending on wholesalers and their “inefficient and obsolete” supply-chain model.
“Big wholesalers buy in bulk and stock enormous amounts of products at large warehouses, with unsold inventory going to waste,” the entrepreneur points out. “We operate with a ‘just-in-time’ or ‘in-and-out’ stock model, which shrinks our storage footprint.”
Two more innovations power the company’s sustainability commitment.
In the last stage of the supply chain, rather than rely on large trucks crisscrossing the city on daytime routes, Collectiv Food uses what it calls PODs (a term derived from “points of distribution”). Custom refrigerated containers are loaded with restaurant-bound food at a consolidation center and moved to microhubs in Central London overnight.
“With PODs, we’re addressing urban congestion,” says Hibbert-Garibaldi. “During the day, the restaurant orders are accessed by our last-mile delivery partners using vans already in transit, with cargo room to spare. Transport costs are lowered, too.”
Soon Collectiv Food will unveil its Producer Sustainability Index. Integrating data on food provenance, food safety, packaging, food waste, and even greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram for each produced protein category, the index will generate an eco-score restaurants can use to identify sustainable producers of meat, fish, and more.
And with company expansion underway, having successfully launched in Paris most recently, Collectiv Food is working to expand its geographic footprint while keeping its environmental footprint low.
Bond Tackles Last-Mile Logistics in NYC
Across the Atlantic Ocean, another tech-driven startup, New York City’s Bond, is doing its own reimagining of supply-chain logistics. Food enters into their story as well, since the company was born of a pivot from a Tel Aviv-based online grocery delivery business, Shookit.
Shookit founders were happy with their tech but frustrated with last-mile delivery costs and poor customer experiences at the delivery stage, handled by third-party couriers.
They began envisioning a new company focused solely on the “post-purchase journey” of an ordered item. If such a startup were to make delivery uniquely smooth and convenient, maybe even delightful (a Bond goal), that would reflect well on the brand that sold the item. It would give the brand another way to distinguish itself. Customer retention would increase.
A greener delivery approach would add additional brand appeal, given the growing consumer interest in sustainability. Excited with their concept, the Shookit team launched Bond in 2019.
Making Delivery Delightful
But how do you make e-commerce delivery delightful? How do you reverse “Satisfaction Death Valley,” as Bond founders call the annoyance-riddled legacy delivery process?
It starts with tech ensuring consumer ease when arranging delivery. While on a brand’s website, you schedule the date and time via Bond’s user-friendly interface. Orders placed before 1 p.m. arrive that afternoon, pedaled from a microhub by a courier, dubbed a Bondr, seated on an e-trike with a vibrant red, pink, and blue visual design.
Tracking updates arrive throughout the process. What’s more, you can communicate directly with your Bondr, introduced to you by name, at any point. The Bond model, with its nimbleness, opens up possibilities. Want flowers delivered to your Central Park picnic for two? Bond can do that. Wish to change your delivery location and have a Bondr meet you outside a friend’s place? Done. Do you need to return an item? A Bondr will drop by shortly to collect it.
What if you’re stuck at work and missed your delivery window? No problem. The Bondr will return the package to the nearest microhub and get it to you the next day.
“We’re a data-driven company,” says Bond co-founder and CRO Michael Osadon, and that data aids sustainability. Their technology provides constant updates on how much of a brand’s stock needs to be stored at which microhub. These distribution hubs have ranged from tiny, unused storefronts to cargo trailers in New York City parking garages. Day-of-week demand fluctuations across zip codes are finessed by mobility—Bond shifts stock accordingly. Truck deliveries to hubs and trailer relocations take place at night, mitigating urban congestion.
“With the spike in online shopping during the pandemic, there’s been a corresponding spike in returns,” says Osadon. Bond is introducing ways for e-retailers to economize and practice sustainability in the returns process. “Traditionally, you had a situation where different returns from one building might all ship back individually. We’re optimizing package commingling.”
In addition, Bond is developing a locker system for exchanges, which offers convenience for customers who can’t be home for a handoff.
“After you order the replacement item,” says Osadon, “we’ll deliver it to a nearby hub locker. You show up, grab the new item, put the original in its place. We’ll pick it up.”
Currently Bond serves roughly 30 brands, delivering things like Alaskan fish, designer clothing, and desserts. Some large, marquee retailers are due for onboarding in 2021, Osadon says, and the company is expanding to Philadelphia, Miami, and the West Coast.
The Cargo Bike Revolution
As for those colorful Bond e-trikes, they’re not the only cargo cycles on American streets. DHL, as part of its GoGreen initiative, launched an e-trike pilot program in Miami this past May. The shipper was also part of a New York City cargo bike pilot launched in 2019. DHL’s pedal-assist bikes, called Cubicycles, self-charge with solar panels. They’re already a familiar sight to people in Germany, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
All the big shippers envision an increased use of cargo cycles going forward. With cities closing off streets to vehicle traffic, instituting congestion pricing, and creating more bike lanes, the agility and parking advantages of cargo cycles make them an enticing alternative to traditional delivery trucks and vans. UPS, to cite another example, tested cargo bikes in Seattle in 2018.
But for sheer visual distinction, it’s hard to beat those Bond e-trikes, which deliver a playful vibe to city streets.
“Distribution in general is a very traditional, old-fashioned industry,” says Osadon. “Along with our tech and vision, we wanted our bright colors to show that we’re different. We’re young, with a lot of energy. We did the design in-house. People comment all the time.”
Author of the book Life After Favre, Phil Hanrahan is a Milwaukee-based writer and editor working on a book sharing the story of a pioneering art college in rural Ireland.