‘Watching how my grandmother prepares pasta alla norma, how she fries eggplants, plucks basil and cooks the tomato sauce – this is one of my most vivid memories.’ When Giancarlo Conoscenti, METRO Academy Chef in Bologna, talks about pasta, one thing is clear: to this Sicilian, pasta is much more than simple sustenance. Pasta is passion. ‘I grew up with pasta, and it will always be part of my life – to us Italians, it’s memory, past and future,’ Conoscenti says with enthusiasm. So it was just as clear to Hilal Ayva, METRO Expert International Offer, that Giancarlo Conoscenti was the perfect choice to help develop a pasta cooker for the METRO Professional product line. Under this own brand, METRO distributes non-food gastronomy products like frying pans, refrigerators and deep fryers – and even pasta cookers. The entire range includes several thousand articles that cover all the main needs of HoReCa customers.
Conoscenti belongs to a group of 7 chefs from Austria, France, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy who regularly support Ayva and her colleagues’ team in the development of new products. ‘At the end of the day, these are the people who work in the kitchen and who use our products or recommend them to other customers. Their feedback is very valuable to us, because it gives us suggestions that we might never have thought of otherwise,’ explains Ayva, who was responsible for the development of the pasta cooker as project manager. Thanks to his close contacts to fellow HoReCa professionals, Conoscenti is also very familiar with other customers’ needs. He brings this knowledge to the creation of new products: ‘As a METRO Academy Chef in Bologna, I meet a lot of different restaurateurs every day. I share new techniques, recipes and ideas with them and try to understand what machines, ingredients and products they need. My job is to help them grow.’
Teamwork par excellence
Developing new products is a real team effort – starting with the first idea. New suggestions come through the METRO Chefs’ inspirations, competition analyses or internal brainstorming sessions. ‘For example, we’ll sit down with the purchasing people from our 5 countries with the highest sales, and think about current trends in their markets. Together, we define what articles we need internationally. And then we get going,’ Ayva reports. METRO France put the idea for the pasta cooker on the table. The team there was already enjoying very successful sales for a similar article.
The desire to develop a new, more advanced pasta cooker for distribution under the METRO own brand was born. Conoscenti also loved the idea from the get-go: ‘In Germany, Italy, France, Spain – we eat pasta everywhere. That’s why we thought about what a machine would have to look like that could be used to cook pasta all over the world, a machine that prepares pasta quickly and easily and also in top quality.’
Once the idea is accepted, Ayva and her colleagues collect important tips and experience from the METRO Chefs: what does a pasta cooker have to be able to do in order to be suitable for daily use? Next comes the benchmarking phase. That means that Ayva compares competitors’ products to see what functions the METRO Professional pasta cooker needs to have, as well as what price it can be sold at to be competitive. On the basis of this analysis, she draws up a list of requirements for the new pasta cooker and sends it to her colleagues in sourcing in Asia and Europe: ‘Our colleagues look for possible offers and preselect a list of suppliers for us. They are supported in this work by a technical engineer who visits the suppliers in the factories to take a very close look at everything on site. Then we decide together which offer is the best.’ After this, product testing begins.
About METRO Professional
The METRO own brand offers restaurateurs professional kitchen appliances, kitchen utensils and cooking accessories in the non-food category. The products are developed in cooperation with chefs and gastronomy experts and are designed to meet the specific needs of HoReCa customers. That is how METRO Professional supports restaurateurs with reliable tools for transforming raw ingredients into finished meals efficiently.
In order to ensure that the products fulfil their intended purpose and are safe and high-quality, METRO puts them through their paces: in laboratory tests and self-tests within Hilal Ayva’s team, and they also put their heads together with the After Sales division at METRO France. ‘For technical devices like the pasta cooker, our colleagues in After Sales check the articles and tell us things like what cable we have to change in order to eliminate the main causes of error. After all, they are the ones who end up repairing the products, so they are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to potential sources of technical faults,’ Hilal Ayva says. The final green light for the products comes from METRO quality assurance once lab tests by agencies like TÜV are in.
Of course, feedback from the METRO Chefs is also a very important part of the testing process. For example, when Giancarlo Conoscenti saw the pasta cooker for the first time, he immediately noticed some issues: the holes for the pasta strainer were too large, so thin noodles like spaghetti could easily fall out during cooking; the maximum possible portion size of 80 grams per pasta basket was too small; and the basket handles didn’t have the optimal placement.
After a change of material and supplier, the problems were solved. The team improved the pasta cooker down to the last detail, from the size of the drain strainer to the size and durability of the pasta baskets down to engravings showing the maximum fill level. Afterwards, the product went back to Giancarlo Conoscenti for a final test under everyday working conditions: ‘I tested the pasta cooker like crazy, because I wanted to discover the machine’s maximum potential. I cooked with all kinds of water temperatures and different types of pasta: with fresh and dried noodles, filled and unfilled noodles, because every type of pasta is different.’ Even the machine’s slip resistance, the size and capacity of the cooking unit, the baskets’ handling and the functionality of the water drainage tap were subjected to his razor-sharp professional eye.
I tested the pasta cooker like crazy, because I wanted to discover the machine’s maximum potential.Giancarlo Conoscenti, METRO Academy Chef in Bologna
About METRO’s 360-degree product development
METRO’s Kitchen, Cooking & Table department is dedicated to the holistic development of gastronomy products in the non-food category and coordinates all the stakeholders involved – from the initial idea to the actual development to helping design the product packaging. Every year, the department brings roughly 100 products to life. The team also handles regular quality checks on the products even after they have been finalised and introduced in the selected countries.
The ultimate pro check
Conoscenti’s verdict: ‘I think the product is fantastic. It’s very light and easy to carry around, such as when you need to take it to events. The pasta cooker is energy efficient, easy to use and heats the water in just a few minutes, so I can prepare the pasta very quickly.’ Additionally, Conoscenti can cook up to 20 portions of pasta before he has to add more water to compensate for the amount lost due to evaporation. And in his opinion, the maximum portion size of 200 grams is now definitely large enough.
After roughly a year and a half of development time, the pasta cooker was ready in early 2021 and is already available in the first METRO countries. A process that is very detailed and comprehensive, but worth it, as Ayva emphasizes: ‘We don’t just buy some product off the shelf. Instead, we really look at things through the customers’ eyes and develop the products so that they fulfil the customers’ wishes – with real teamwork.’ The results speak for themselves: METRO Professional products see only about half as many returns as comparable local products. ‘The trust our local employees have in the products is very high, which is very important to us and something we’re really happy about,’ Ayva reports. ‘Because at the end of the day, we can only grow together,’ concludes Giancarlo Conoscenti. ‘That’s why we all work to help our customers succeed – that’s our business and our passion.’