Michael, you’ve been with METRO since 2010. How have customer needs changed during this time?
What we are clearly seeing is the increasing demand for organic and regional products. This suits us very well since both are METRO core competencies. And generally, the topic of sustainability has become extremely important.
Sustainability in what regard?
Definitely with regard to products. And especially also in terms of the packaging of products. An aftereffect of the coronavirus pandemic is that many restaurateurs are continuing to offer their meals to take away. And that should be as environmentally friendly as possible.
How has METRO responded to this?
One way is by significantly expanding our product range and converting to many natural materials. Instead of traditional chips containers made of plastic, we have takeaway items in our range, for example, made from cellulose and other degradable materials. Demand from customers is showing how well this is catching on.
At the start, you also mentioned organic and regional products.
Yes, our customers have been paying greater attention to this for a while now. But it wasn’t a challenge for us because we have been working with local and regional producers a lot for quite some time. Especially with fruit and vegetables – local strawberries, asparagus, root vegetables, to name just a few. Of course, we also have a large number of nationally sourced products. For these, we look for particular certifications, for example. Fish, for instance, is certified by the MSC (Editor’s note: Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council).
What hospitality trends have you observed?
One extremely significant trend is vegan diets. Previously, many restaurants would have perhaps one vegetarian dish on the menu and that was often really quite boring. This has changed completely. These days, there are not only more vegan products but I also have the feeling that restaurateurs are becoming more creative. As a non-vegan, even I’m often really tempted to try many of these dishes! That wasn’t always the case with the ever-present, boring vegetable lasagne.
About ... Michael Widmer
Michael Widmer himself comes from the hotel industry. He completed his training in hotel management at the Hotel Breidenbacher Hof in Düsseldorf, and then worked in various catering companies and hotels. Widmer has worked at METRO since 2010, where he started out managing the Regensburg store. Since 2015, Widmer has been manager of the METRO wholesale store in Düsseldorf. As Rhineland regional manager, he is taking care of regional customers and those from the surrounding area on an interim basis.
What kind of products come to mind?
Veggie mince, for example. But be careful: you need to know what to do with it! We recently had a really exciting workshop on this with Karl Romboy. For a Bolognese, you first fry the onions, then the other ingredients, and then cook the sauce. The veggie mince, in this case made from peas, was added relatively close to the end. Quite different from a classic Bolognese with meat. With chili con carne too – if you put the veggie mince in the pan first, it results in quite a different consistency than if you add it later. Enjoying experimentation and trying out different things can result in some really tasty dishes.
What does restaurateur shopping behaviour look like? What has changed?
During coronavirus, day-to-day business in the hospitality industry was significantly more difficult to plan, of course. So many customers came into the store more often rather than – as in other times – placing a large order plus making a shopping trip for fresh ingredients. During this time, we got to know many customers more intensively and supported them closely. The personal contact, the advice, and the trust that we were able to gain with our customers is actually an experience that continues to this day. It also gave us the opportunity to grow more strongly in delivery now.
How do the store and delivery complement each other in this regard?
Our very good store network is the foundation that enables us to grow our Food Service Distribution (FSD) area. With the dense network of wholesale stores plus FSD depots, we guarantee the necessary infrastructure for the delivery business. At the same time, the wholesale stores are our freshness showpiece. So every day, I do my own quality check in the fruit and vegetable department. If the rocket isn’t looking so hot, the canned coconut milk won’t be able to make up for it.
Every day, restaurateurs face so many challenges and I have great respect for that.Michael Widmer, METRO Düsseldorf store manager and Rhineland regional manager
What has METRO changed in terms of shopping in the store?
We are developing, improving and testing continually. The METRO app , for example, now shows availabilities in the store – which is very convenient for our customers. Accounting can be completely digitalised using the app. That means that customers have their invoices available digitally straightaway, which helps them keep track of things and is also a huge benefit when sending them all together to their tax advisor. There’s no longer any need to send anything by post – just click on Forward. Job done. Or ‘Scan & Go’ – another innovation that I think is great. This saves our customers an enormous amount of time.
‘Scan & Go’ – what is that exactly?
Our customers can scan products themselves while shopping in our wholesale store. They can vary the quantities and so on using the ‘More’ or ‘Less’ buttons. In the checkout area, the user finalises the purchase, the app generates a barcode, the data are transferred and all the customer has to do is indicate how they wish to pay. And they do this either with a cashier or at a self-scanning checkout. So things are much quicker at the checkout.
Finally, what delights you about the hospitality industry?
I know how much work it takes to get food onto a plate. To serve it and to garnish it. And then to get it in front of the guest in a friendly and cheerful way. Every day, restaurateurs face so many challenges and I have great respect for that. And I think it’s crazy how incredibly innovatively the hospitality industry has responded to coronavirus. During the lockdowns and also afterwards, countless customers have completely reinvented themselves, developing new ideas such as ‘tasting boxes’ or full Michelin-starred menus as takeaway options to enjoy on the sofa. Nobody would have thought of them before – and now many people don’t ever want to go back. I think both the innovative takeaway offerings and the real-life visit to a restaurant have their benefits.