The contents of a pan are examined with a critical eye, a fork is poked in to test the consistency and a spoonful is scooped out for tasting. Here in the Gastronometro kitchen, professional chefs create, test and refine innovative recipes and new food creations. Gastronometro is METRO Turkey’s culinary training and development centre and community platform in Istanbul. Opened in 2015, the centre works ceaselessly to develop innovative products for the company’s own brand label in a space covering 1,700 square metres.
Test kitchen for the METRO own brands
The highlight of the centre is the test kitchen with its own dining room. ‘We work on an average of 150 projects a year across all food categories,’ explains Emrah Küçük, Head of Product Development at Gastronometro. ‘In recent years we have launched a number of new convenience foods, from ready-to-eat chicken to canned fish.’ Current successes from the Istanbul ideas factory include prawn couscous, bulgur with smoked salmon and tuna bulgur pilaf. The products for the METRO Chef own brand offer unmistakable oriental flavours and can be used in a variety of ways, from starter to salad ingredient.
There is a lot of ingenuity within the food sector, with 40,000 new products being launched on the market every year. According to a study by the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE), around 80% of the companies questioned brought new or improved products or services to market between 2017 and 2019. New products account for a relatively high share (8.4% on average) of the companies’ total sales.
Agile is the way – quick and nimble
The specialists at Gastronometro use a systematic process based on Scrum, an agile method that originated in software development. In Scrum, every work step is made transparent to every participant, continuously reviewed and modified where necessary. The aim is to maximise the benefits of research and development and minimise the effort and expense.
‘Right from the start, we look at new ideas from the perspective of a chef and, in doing so, put the demands of professionals at the very heart of the innovation process,’ explains Emrah Küçük. ‘Our cooks have a holistic view – they don’t just see the product but also the story behind it, the production process, the various possible uses and the flavours that can be unleashed.’
Green light for voyage of discovery
The process starts with a kick-off meeting: the Gastronometro Scrum team and representatives of other departments such as quality assurance, own brands or the respective product category take part. The Scrum team consists of kitchen professionals – the developers – as well as a Scrum Master, who organises the work steps, and a product owner who is responsible for the success of the product. The participants determine the schedule and discuss key questions: What requirements does the new product need to meet? Which customer target group are we hoping to reach? Which products provide the benchmark for our innovation? The team records all results on the Scrum Board, a visual tool that documents all processes and responsibilities.
A crucial step in the Scrum workflow is the application testing that is used to determine the quality of a new product and its usability in practice. For example: a whipping cream is carefully examined in the test kitchen to see how it performs under hot and cold conditions. In a sensory analysis, the Gastronometro specialists use their trained senses to assess the appearance, consistency, smell and taste of the cream: Does it have the right texture when whipped? Can it be used to decorate baked goods? Does it have a rounded and balanced taste? Can it be heated and used as an ingredient in a pasta sauce? Does it have an appealing colour, both when chilled and when heated? These questions are analysed in direct comparison to the selected benchmark products.
Hit or miss? The quality decides!
After the stress testing in the development kitchen, the product innovations have a few more hurdles to clear – including a tasting session to which the Scrum team invites employees from the METRO Own Brand department. At the end of the process, all test and tasting results are summarised in a report with a final assessment that includes photos and serving suggestions.
If any weaknesses are identified in a new product, it gets sent back for improvement. Only when all the necessary quality criteria have been met does the Scrum team give the green light, clearing the way for the next steps in the market launch process. This ensures that only those innovations that deliver top performance in the professional practical test make it to the retail shelves. As Head Developer Emrah Küçük puts it: ‘We develop innovative products by professionals for professionals. What matters is that the new items meet the highest standards and satisfy the requirements of the HoReCa sector in every respect.’
Urgently needed: brilliant ideas
As well as developing own brand products, METRO promotes promising innovations in a number of other ways. For example, the wholesaler’s NX-Food innovation hub plays an important role in helping start-ups to get their pioneering products to market. Another example is the METRO subsidiary Classic Fine Foods (CFF), whose areas of focus include promoting the development of alternative proteins. In the company’s own research centre, entrepreneurs can work with chefs to create new recipes, test products and share ideas and experiences.
METRO prides itself on being a trailblazer in the area of plant-based alternatives to meat products. It was the first German wholesaler to stock the meat-free innovations of Beyond Meat. METRO also develops own brand products for its vegan range. For example, vegan minced meat and a vegan bologna have been available in Germany under the METRO Chef brand since early 2021.