Testing Ireland’s first rapid-delivery food shopping service: Will it really arrive in 15 minutes?

Online start-up Shuppa and its team of e-bike riders promise Dubliners a swift service

“I used to dislike the rain, but I don’t mind it now, it’s good for business,” says Sean Meagher, co-founder of Shuppa, Ireland’s first rapid grocery delivery firm that aims to deliver groceries, including alcohol and cigarettes, to customers in just 15 minutes from the time of online ordering. A team of “riders” on the company’s e-bikes is currently getting goods to customers around a delivery zone within 11 minutes cycle-time from the start-up’s location in Dublin 1.

The online service, which costs €1.99 per delivery (fee is waived for orders above €30), is being used by consumers who generally order between six and eight items and spend about €30, according to Meagher. So, rather than leave home to buy sourdough from Firehouse Bakery, Clonakilty black pudding, Denny sausages and Rudds bacon for a weekend brunch; or stop mid-bake when you realise you’re out of flour, you can log on and have the goods delivered to your door in 15 minutes.

So far alcohol, confectionery as well as crisps and snacks are proving to be big sellers, “and toilet roll tears out the door,” Meagher says.

Shuppa’s first so-called “dark store” location – a warehouse-like space, not open to the public, from which orders are fulfilled and dispatched – is in a former car hire depot on Lombard Street East in Dublin city centre. “We launched the first store to prove that this is a customer demand-led trend,” says Meagher, who previously worked with grocery delivery company Ocado in London.

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Rapid grocery delivery is a growing trend, particularly in the US and the UK, where operators such as Gorillas, Zapp, Jiffy and Getir supply time-short, convenience-led consumers in urban areas through a network of local hubs or hyper local fulfillment centres.

The Guardian, citing financial industry analysts PitchBook, last year estimated global investment in this type of start-up, since the beginning of the pandemic, to be $14 billion (€12.2bn). Speed is of the essence for the business model; users of these apps are not willing to wait the 60 minutes required by operators such as the Irish company Buyme.ie, or to sign up for a pre-booked delivery slot from a supermarket chain. They want it now, or at least as quickly as possible.

Meagher, who launched Shuppa nine weeks ago after raising €260,000 in start-up funds from “family, friends and angel investors”, has expansion in mind. “We think there’s scope for 12-15 sites in the near future, within Ireland,” he says. The company currently employs 20 people, but aims to grow that number to 100 by the end of this year.

His co-founder in Shuppa is London-based Patrick Lynch, chief executive of fintech company First Circle, and a friend from their schooldays at Gonzaga College in Dublin. Lynch is a board member but does not have an active role in the company. “He is an incredibly smart guy and he and I bounce ideas off each other,” Meagher says.

Currently, the delivery zone served from Shuppa’s first location in Dublin 1 stretches to Eglinton Road in Donnybrook on the south side, Phibsboro and Drumcondra to the north, and Smithfield to the west. “The delivery radius is set by the cycle time for our riders. So if a rider can cycle it on one of our electric bikes within 11 minutes, then that’s in our delivery zone.” Further sites in south, north and west Dublin are currently under consideration.

The company has 19 riders employed, both full- and part-time, who earn an hourly rate, bonus and tips.

“The basic hourly rate is €10.50 an hour, the bonuses depend on the total number of deliveries completed, and the deliveries completed within 11 minutes, and the tips are at the customer’s discretion. The effective hourly rate for most of them is between €12 and €13,” Meagher says. The riders are insured by Shuppa when doing deliveries.

At the Lombard Street store, the e-bikes are parked up inside the entrance, awaiting the orders coming in. Given that they have a maximum of 11 minutes to get the order to its destination, that leaves just four minutes to pick the items from the shelves, fridges and freezers in the store, split over two rooms.

The area nearest the door has what Meagher describes as “faster-moving items, the things people buy really frequently”. Ice-cream, confectionery, crisps, sliced pans, bottled water, toilet rolls, cigarettes, painkillers and chilled beer and wine figure prominently in this space. Oat milk is here too. “We sell more milk alternatives than we sell milk,” Meagher says.

In the back room is a large variety of wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks, groceries, household cleaning supplies, water and soft drinks and pharmaceutical items. The trays of boxes of condoms, next to the Gaviscon and Calpol, are half empty; Bare by Vogue, in two colours, is there in case of a self-tanning emergency. Another area is dedicated to nappies and baby goods; another stocks gluten-free grocery products.

What’s immediately apparent is that the stock on the shelves isn’t limited to what you’d find in a typical convenience store. There are lots of small producer and artisan food products, including Harry’s Nut Butters; sauces, marinades and ice-cream sandwiches from Chimac restaurant; Lilliput Stores’ balsamic vinegar; the Graham’s condiment range; Sheridans cheeses and crackers; Gubben chorizo; Skelligs chocolate, Happy Pear pesto, and bread from Firehouse Bakery.

“We are looking to bring more on,” Meagher says, in the belief that making these small-producer premium products available alongside global brands will make the offering more attractive to his customers.

In all, there are more than 1,500 items on sale in Shuppa’s virtual aisles. But will it cost you more to buy from there than head to the corner shop or supermarket? “We are cheaper than Centras and Spars and Circle Ks and Applegreens, and we are price-comparible with smaller format supermarkets,” Meagh says, using Tesco Express as an example.

According to Meagher, Shuppa has exceeded its targets so far, and is seeing a healthy amount of repeat business, but won’t wipe out the convenience store model.

“It’s an alternative channel. So, depending on the mood that someone’s in, if they don’t want to leave the house, or they can’t, or they don’t feel like strapping a baby into a pram, or they’re sick or self-isolating, or they are mobility impaired, we offer a service to those people.”

ROAD TEST: Shuppa’s 15-minute promise - does it deliver?

17.34pm, Friday, February 4th: Order placed anonymously for delivery to an address in North Strand, Dublin 3. The order comprised a bottle of Chablis, blueberries, red onions and a Chimac ice-cream sandwich. Bill order total: €34.09 (including 5 per cent tip, delivery free over €30).

17.36pm: Email received saying “We’re packing your order at lightening speed.”

17.51pm: “Still not here”, the colleague who placed the order reports.

17.54pm: “It’s here”, the next message says.

Plus: The ice-cream sandwich was still cold, and the order came with a handwritten thank you card and a little bag of Haribo sweets.
Minus: The order arrived five minutes outside Shuppa's promised 15-minute delivery time.
Shupa's response: Our target SLA (service level agreement) is 15 minutes. We are achieving a high percentage of those. We are achieving 97 per cent of orders within 20 minutes. Will look into it to see what happened.
Plus: The wine arrived already chilled.
Minus: The rider handed over the order, including alcohol, to two pre-teen girls.
Shuppa's response: That's a pure failing on our part, 100 per cent. We train all of our riders as part of their induction on the responsible retailing Act. We also incentivise our riders; there's a reward for any case where they actually bring back the alcohol.