Startups in Amsterdam are a massive boost for the economy, adding tons of jobs. And among them, the fastest growing sector is the foodtech startups. We caught up with some of Amsterdam’s innovators that are currently disrupting the worldwide food industry, Just Eat Takeaway.com, Crisp and Connecterra, to see how they contribute to the general growth and whether COVID-19 threw a wrench in their plans or not.
Foodtech fastest growing in Amsterdam
Foodtech is booming in Amsterdam. According to the startups job-report created by Dealroom, it is the fastest growing industry among startups in the Dutch capital. It grew a solid 36 percent in 2018-2019, leaving other fast growers Digital Media and Healthcare well behind them. The 64 foodtech companies in the city employ 2294 people, which is 963 more than four years ago.
Responsible for a big part of that growth is Just Eat Takeaway, one of the household names in the Amsterdam foodtech industry. Founded by Jitse Groen as Thuisbezorgd.nl over 20 years ago, the online food delivery platform is an obvious example for going big. After a merger with UK-based Just Eat they recently struck a massive deal in buying American Grubhub for €6.5 billion, giving them a solid foothold in the USA. “We reckon only one or two large players will remain in online food delivery”, says Joris Wilton, Manager Investor Relations of JustEat Takeaway. It is another way to articulate the ‘winner takes most’ mindset that has been the foundation of the company’s rapid expansion.
Adding thousands of jobs
Takeaway.com is the fastest growing company in The Netherlands. Based on the FTE added from 2016 to 2019, Takeaway left every other company in the country behind by adding 4703 jobs. The company currently employs roughly 350 people in their office in the heart of Amsterdam, says Wilton. “We keep occupying more floors in the building. We love to stay at that same place but at some point, we may have to look for a new office in the city.”
So how was this fast growing company affected by the Dutch lockdown following the spread of COVID-19? Wilton: “Initially we had a big downfall in orders. People cleared the shelves of the supermarkets and had their fridges full. With restaurants closed, those orders dropped as well. We did have a lot of new restaurants signing up as they made the switch to pick-up or delivery. But it took a little while before they were all visible on our platform.”
Post-COVID growth for Takeaway
The dip didn’t take long, says Wilton: “One or two weeks after the quarantine started, the number of orders started to grow again. In April and May, they were significantly higher. In The Netherlands, they grew with 40 percent. But for example in Canada, they grew 100 percent.” Wilton realizes this fast, post-COVID growth is not sustainable but he doesn’t expect another dip either. “31 percent of the adults in The Netherlands use our service, while around 70 or 80 percent sometimes orders food, mostly by phone. We want to grow that penetration, it’s what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years. The coronavirus has accelerated this for us. Not only because people order more, also because more restaurants sign up for our platform.”
Crisp accelerates on two big trends
Also riding the wave of increased online food orders is Amsterdam foodtech-startup Crisp. The startup recently raised €5 million in Series A funding round. The app-only delivery supermarket differentiates from pioneer Picnic by offering nothing but locally sourced food grown by small scale suppliers. A concept that really caught on during the lockdown that shut large parts of The Netherlands from March on. Tom Peeters, co-founder and CEO of Crisp, says his company operates on the intersection of two mega-trends: the shift to online and the shift towards transparently, often locally sourced, fresh and tasteful food. “Both trends have accelerated during the virus outbreak”, Peeters says.
“Initially, at the end of March, we experienced a massive spike in customer demand and to some extent more fluctuations in supply. Italian artisanal products were for a short period in time harder to get, and some local Dutch suppliers were in trouble as the demand from restaurants fully stopped,” says Peeters. What helped is that Crisp is set up as a marketplace. “We are super flexible and built to adapt fast to changing and seasonal supply. We’re connecting hundreds and hundreds of often small and local suppliers and we’re experienced in high growth.”
‘Tripled in size’
Evidence of the accelerated growth is in the numbers, says Peeters. “Last year, we grew 9.5 times our order volume. This year, in the 6-week period following the outbreak, Crisp has tripled in size. It required basically that the full team supported our warehouse operations. Most importantly, we realized this growth while keeping our stellar high customer satisfaction. As 90 percent of our sales continue to come from returning customers, this is what counts.”
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Crisp currently employs 60 people in their head-office in De Pijp-area, in downtown Amsterdam, although Peeters says they are partially working from home at the moment. Another 200 are working in their operations team in Amsterdam West. Peeters is eager to add more: “We continue to receive hundreds of applications per month. But still, we’re always looking for top talent in tech, operations and data science. We have no magic machine. It’s the talent and teamwork that makes our business.”
Connecterra connecting the farms
On the other side of the supply chain in the food industry, Amsterdam-based Connecterra is making waves. Initially, they surfaced as the ‘fitbit for cows’, connecting cattle to the cloud and employing AI to keep them happy and healthy. But that moniker is outdated, says Emmy Koeleman, Global Market Communications Manager of the foodtech startup: “Our aim is to connect the farm and the total dairy value chain. We have developed ‘Ida’, a predictive intelligent AI platform and are also active in finding solutions regarding regenerative, sustainable agricultural practices. Ida is not only trained to deliver accurate predictive insights but can manage inputs, optimize processes and even integrate machinery, such as automatic gates and milking robots.”
Connecterra currently employs 33 people and has completed two funding rounds, their latest an impressive €7.8 million series B funding round. The startup is founded by Yasir Khokhar and is currently active in 17 different countries all over the world. Among their clients are big names such as Danone, Bayer and food safety expert Kersia.
‘Farmers keep going’
The impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide operations of Connecterra is different from startups dealing with the consumer side, says Koeleman: ” When the world panics, the farmers keep going. We did see that the number of visits to farms, for example from the feed advisor or veterinarian, were reduced, due to the social distancing regulation.” Connecterra moved quickly to adapt to the new situation, rapidly rolling out new features on their platform.
“We launched a share feature for example, that enables farmers to share the in-app insights on animal health or fertility of the cows with their external advisors. This way, they could advise from a distance and give recommendations to the farmer based on the data from Ida. We also did some extra communication around our Ida platform and how farmers can use the current and new features in their benefit during Covid-19.”
For Connecterra, the crisis around COVID-19 validates their idea that farms should be more connected, says Koeleman: “The crisis has illuminated the key issues around labour and efficient planning. Empowering labour with technology to help scale up resources that you have available on farms is key. Furthermore, as the industry is not connected, in the crisis food companies were struggling to understand supply, demand and logistics processes creating a few months of market uncertainty. We now see a much more increased focus on digitizing the ag sector from large enterprises.”
Header image: Crisp founding members, with Tom Peeters in the middle.