Delivering more sustainably to the catering industry together

Can food suppliers join forces and deliver orders to the catering industry in a more efficient and sustainable way? And how should they deal with the zero-emission zones? Ilke Bakir and Marjolein Aerts from the University of Groningen are conducting research into this.

To make inner cities more liveable, it would make a difference if there were fewer trucks and therefore less traffic congestion and exhaust emissions. Several Dutch municipalities plan to introduce a zero-emission zone in the center from next year, where vans and trucks will no longer be allowed to run on petrol or diesel.

How many electric trucks are needed in this scenario, catering wholesaler Bidfood wondered. And is it possible to join forces with other suppliers and catering establishments? The company is a research partner of the SMiLES research project that is also connected to Hive.Mobility. In this project, the University of Groningen collaborates with other knowledge institutes, government companies and practical partners with the aim of making mobility more sustainable.

Bundling transport

Ilke Bakir, associate professor and Marjolein Aerts, assistant professor, both from the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen, together with junior researchers and master students, investigated the concept that they have named ‘bundling’. Deliveries from different providers are bundled and transported to the customer simultaneously.

The deliveries are brought together in a hub outside the zero-emission zone and brought to the customer by one carrier – Bidfood in this hypothetical scenario. In this way, customers receive deliveries less often, fewer trucks drive in the city and there is a reduction in the number of kilometers driven.

The researchers conducted interviews with companies in Groningen: restaurants, cafés and hotels and their suppliers. They asked about their attitude towards the bundling concept, their objections and the preconditions for the concept to succeed.

The researchers also conducted a quantitative study to calculate the new situation. “Based on this, we looked at how many trucks are needed in the bundling scenario and what the difference is with the current situation,” says Aerts.

Win-win-win situation

Both suppliers and catering companies are enthusiastic about the bundling concept. These types of solutions can create a win-win situation, the researchers explain. Bakir: “Everyone benefits from the sustainability perspective: driving less means less CO2 emissions. Cities are becoming more liveable for people living in the inner cities. The catering establishments have to receive fewer orders per day and that saves time. Suppliers are less affected by staff shortages and costs are reduced.”

According to the researchers, significant cost savings are possible. “Just because small suppliers do not have to buy electric vans themselves,” says Aerts, “that of course saves a lot of money.” In addition, the number of kilometers and therefore the amount of fuel or electricity required decreases.

Less costs

Exactly how many kilometers and euros you save with this way of working depends entirely on the situation: how many catering companies participate, where are they located, do they partly have the same customers and how many orders are involved? In general, the more companies participate and the greater the overlap in customers, the greater the savings.

Parcel carriers have already carried out pilots in which transport is bundled, the researchers say. However, in the food industry you have to deal with different rules and restrictions and timing is very important: the food must not spoil and the guests cannot wait. “That makes this industry a bit more complicated,” says Bakir.

The researchers also see other opportunities for suppliers to collaborate. Catering companies often need their orders early in the morning when the guests are not yet there, while deliveries in other industries take place in the evening. “If you can use the same trucks for this, you need fewer,” says Aerts.

Discuss collaboration

The catering industry is very concerned about when deliveries arrive. “So a number of things must first be properly arranged: communication and coordination between supplier and catering company and suppliers themselves, the synchronization of processes and IT systems, clarity about who is responsible for what,” says Aerts. “Otherwise it won’t work.”

“It’s not all roses and moonshine,” Bakir also says, “but there is certainly a lot that can be improved. That is why we encourage companies to at least talk to each other, see if collaboration in this area is possible and investigate what this could mean for them. Collaboration can yield a lot.”