Despite everyone’s declarations of good intent regarding sustainability, 2022 turned out to be far tougher than expected for zero-waste e-commerce star Pieter Pot. Investors suddenly demanded profits, and that cost the start-up quite a bit.
Lesson in modesty
The slowdown in e-commerce after the corona pandemic also hits zero-waste online supermarkets. Dutch Pieter Pot had not anticipated this: rather, the company had expected to double both the number of customers in the Netherlands and sales (from one to two million euros per month) and to raise fresh capital for its international expansion.
By contrast, the web supermarket had to make “dozens of people” redundant, in the spring, CEO Jouri Schoemaker told Dutch entrepreneurs’ website De Ondernemer. Pieter Pot had always had a waiting list for customers waiting to join, but that melted away as the story of “automatic growth” was out.
At the same time, investors in the sector were making new demands: where previously growth at any cost used to be the credo, lenders were now demanding profits – and fast. They demanded that Pieter Pot break even by the end of 2023, and that was not possible without a reorganisation and additional funding. Existing investors quietly added an extra 2.2 million euros, but linked that to concrete financial targets.
That profitability became even more of a challenge due to the cost-of-living crisis: Schoemaker thinks the market is still big enough, but high inflation has made it more difficult to reach new consumers with the sustainable – and therefore slightly more expensive – concept. “The size of the target group” has shrunk, the co-founder had to admit.
Still, by broadening the product range, profit should now be in sight: the launch of the partnership with Kraft Heinz in 2022 was an important milestone in this regard. Next year, Pieter Pot also wants to include chilled products and focus on ease of use.