Nowadays, food is so much more than mere nutrition. It is an expression of individualism and personality. Consumers are increasingly keen to eat healthily and responsibly. Our plates reflect this development, at home as well as in the restaurants. And the drive to innovate is boosting the number of products available to us, too. The Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE) reports that as many as 40,000 new products are launched every year. Today, variety is key. To what extent does this make the creations of start-ups more interesting? And how can the innovative products reach consumers?
NX-Food is a trailblazer for innovation in the food industry. The innovation hub of METRO is looking for new technologies, impulses and products. Developments that can make their way into retail and reach the masses. Its start-up shelf is an initiative that brings new food products to the market.
A lot has happened since METRO’s hub for food innovation was established in early 2018. NX-Food launched the first wholesale listing for insect-based products in Germany – just 3 months after the new EU directive on novel food came into force. The team soon entered into multiple partnerships.
An interview with Fabio Ziemssen, Director Food Innovation NX-Food, METRO AG:
Fabio, looking back on the previous years of NX-Food, what is your personal verdict?
The last years were intense for us at NX-Food. It was time-consuming but also full of new, interesting, inspiring encounters and flavours. A few people get together. At the right point in time. In the right place. And they bring to the table all the skills that are needed in a team. That’s what we did and what makes my team special to me. I learned how important passion, creativity and authenticity are for success. And, of course, no team can thrive without humour and mutual trust. This is how we managed to start a lot of projects and help set the food scene in motion.
Since the spring of 2018, we received more than 600 applications from teams of entrepreneurs who are interested in our start-up shelf at select METRO stores and the Eurowings on-board magazine. More than 60 of them have already completed our programmes and 20 have made the permanent jump to the store shelves. Our partnership with Eurowings alone helps us reach more than 2 million customers on around 20,000 Eurowings flights to more than 50 countries every month. In our industry, it is crucial to maintain a continuous dialogue about trends and experiences and ensure a satisfactory transfer of knowledge, so we continue to expand our network: into academia and the start-up scene, on a national and international level. Our own start-up community, which we meet regularly, includes more than 800 teams of entrepreneurs at the moment. We also collaborate with the German Institute for Food Technology (DIL) on our joint project Food 2025 to find innovative and progressive food solutions. With the Fraunhofer Society, we are researching vertical farming, and as of this year, METRO is one of the founding members of the new Association for Alternative Protein Sources (BALPro). These are just a few of the strategic partnerships we have formed so far.
What can we expect from the future?
As a wholesaler, we work with a specific group of customers. This gives us brilliant opportunities to test our innovations on the market while supporting our customers. We increasingly work as a matchmaker of sorts: we connect our partner companies with, say, catering firms to launch new products and solutions on the market (see the article: Permanent Greenery for the Kitchen), including ones that are not yet available in stores. The plant-based burger developed by the British food producer Moving Mountains is a good example. Today’s new generation of catering companies, such as the Düsseldorf burger restaurant “What’s Beef”, knows that a visit to a restaurant is about more than food these days. It’s a statement. Innovative, sustainable products like the ones we promote underscore that statement. Our task was to pave the way for the partnership and to bring the two parties together. Everything else happened organically. Ultimately, we want to close the gap between innovation and implementation completely. And that’s quite a long way to go.