As a retail company, METRO does not make its own products and therefore does not conduct research and development in the strict sense of the term. As part of our innovation management, we rather aim to take the food retail and food service sector to a new level and taking advantage of the unique opportunities arising from the digitisation of the entire industry sector. We want to stay relevant to our customers and provide them with the best possible service. This means: we will create better, longer-lasting experiences for our customers at all touchpoints. In the store, while delivering goods, in e-commerce, with the apps we develop and while providing customer services. We are also optimising internal work processes.
Our development of digital innovations focuses on 3 different areas: customer-oriented solutions, user-centric solutions and solutions for our customers’ own businesses. These 3 areas of development constitute an interlinked innovation process. They support our core business – stores, e-commerce, delivery and the trader franchise model – with requirements that vary for each country, on the one hand, and our customers with services, on the other hand.
In the field of customer-oriented solutions, our staff at METRO Cash & Carry France works closely with its customers to develop a new store format. We are using virtual reality in the developmental stage. Another example is the continuous improvement of the payment procedure as a central factor in customer satisfaction. Together with customers and employees, we are trialling and optimising self-scanning and self-checkout solutions.
In the field of user-centric innovations for internal users, we are constantly working on improving our range of internal and external IT solutions. In the field of food service distribution, this includes an innovative online ordering system and apps for customer managers and drivers.
In addition, our services also include the development of solutions for our customers’ own businesses. We understand that assisting them in becoming more successful will also deliver rewards for our company.
One of the key target groups of our wholesale business are independent companies in the fields of hotels, restaurants and catering services (HoReCa). The hospitality industry is experiencing increasing pressure to adapt to its customers’ changing lifestyles. Customers have been integrating digital technologies in their daily lives for a long time and are now keen to put their benefits to good use, for example, when visiting a restaurant. But many operators in the hospitality industry fall short of their customers’ expectations. METRO is well aware of this situation thanks to its long-standing business relationships with millions of independent companies. To survive and succeed in the future, these companies need to become more tech-savvy and embrace digitisation. In 2015, we established the new business unit HoReCa Digital with the objective of supporting the digital revolution in the hospitality industry. Our international team is currently working on the following initiatives:
Development of digital solutions for the food service industry
Most small independent companies lack the time and financial resources necessary to deal with the issues brought about by digitisation. We know the daily work of food service operators by heart and develop targeted and simple digital products that require little time and money. For example, we give our customers an opportunity to create their own website in less than 5 minutes and free of charge. Financial year 2016/17 saw around 10,000 customers using this service.
Another example from practice is the “Gastrocockpit”, a clearly laid-out management tool for food service operators. It shows the most important key figures, such as sales (per day, week and month), a per-table analysis and a break-even analysis, all available in a single place. The tool also analyses and illustrates data from the cash register and incorporates certain global parameters, such as public holidays, weather data as well as individual parameters, for example, costs. A web application makes the data accessible from anywhere at any time. Analyses and intelligent forecasts can assist with process optimisation, cost saving and sales increase. They enable the hospitality operator to take targeted action rather than responding to situations as they arise. This approach in turn leaves the operator with more time for what’s really important: customer service.
Development of efficient sales channels
Our HoReCa Digital business unit also offers support services for the development of efficient sales channels. This allows us to provide our own digital solutions and assist start-ups in their efforts to offer suitable, usually digital solutions to independent companies from the food service and hotel industries. The objective is to offer digital solutions that have been tailored to the needs of the individual company and that can therefore support our HoReCa customers in their operative business. This process can also help METRO Cash & Carry establish contact with new customers and nurture existing customer relationships. To ascertain which digital products and functions are particularly helpful and how they can help to significantly improve customers’ daily operations, HoReCa Digital launched pilot projects in more than 500 restaurants in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona and Milan. These projects give the start-ups important insights into user behaviour and preferences and connect them with potential future customers.
Promotion of start-ups via the METRO Accelerator programmes
In cooperation with the US company Techstars, we have been organising and promoting the development of innovative digital services for independent hospitality companies for 3 years. Since 2017, we offer the same service to the retail sector. The Accelerator initiative was established with the objective of promoting the development of innovative start-ups in this environment, for example, by helping them improve their chances of success and their access to growth capital from professional investors. The year 2017 saw the launch of the third hospitality programme and the first programme in the retail sector. 10 international teams compete in the programme, which is based in Berlin and spans over 3 months. They are supported by around 100 mentors from the start-up scene and investor communities, as well as food service and retail companies. HoReCa Digital invests in the companies participating in the Accelerator programme. Our partner Techstars supports us in our decisions in terms of accepting start-ups into the programme and placing our investments.
Investments in relevant start-up companies
We seek to accelerate the digitisation of the HoReCa industry by simplifying the target group’s access to promising products and services. We therefore invest in start-up companies that develop solutions for the HoReCa industry. We frequently do this in partnership with other professional investors. Our objective is to participate in the growing value of these young companies. The acquisition and integration of these companies however does not serve the purpose of transforming METRO’s core area of business. All investments are managed by a team of experienced experts. They are supported in their decision-making process by the Investment Committee, which is separated from the METRO Cash & Carry business. The investment strategy focuses on potentials to create additional value beyond METRO’s core business. METRO also makes its resources available where advisable and helpful, thus providing opportunities to realise additional value. This is exemplified by METRO Sales Force, which is stimulating customer demand by providing proactive customer service.
In financial year 2016/17, HoReCa Digital invested in the start-up companies Planday from Denmark and Yoyo Wallet from the UK. Planday offers workforce management solutions enabling companies to switch from paper and pen to a lean digital process for their staff roster planning. This delivers significant savings in terms of time and resources. Yoyo Wallet offers a combination of quick and easy technologies for mobile payments, mobile ordering and personalised customer loyalty and bonus programmes. The application is supported by an analysis and event platform for retail companies.
Food technology and food innovation
The Food Technology and Food Innovation department at HoReCa Digital is concerned with trends, innovations and new solutions for the food industry. HoReCa Digital considers itself an interface between new technologies, food concepts and consumers. From new farming technologies to new approaches in recycling – the context of digital disruption and global megatrends creates new concepts on a daily basis. These new concepts must be explained to the consumers and validated together with the respective companies.
HoReCa Digital offers a number of different programmes aimed at supporting young start-ups on their way to the market. Together with them, the company also develops strategies for assessing the marketability of products. Partnership projects, such as the initiatives with the Association for Vertical Farming, the Schmiede.one AgTech Accelerator or the incubator initiative at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands provide us with the privilege of gaining early access to new approaches in food technology, which are then tested and trialled together with the Purchasing, Quality Assurance and Sustainability departments. Our community activities, such as “Innovation in Retail” and the “Rising Spoon” meetups, create an environment that allows entrepreneurs and innovators to discuss the latest developments and receive inspiration from novel ideas. The goal is to not merely gather the visionaries around a table, but to engage with them proactively in designing the future.
Exchange of experiences and observation of trends in the hospitality industry
HoReCa Digital promotes the exchange of experiences and community building in the HoReCa sector, for example, by establishing a cooperation with Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), which started in February 2016. Our joint efforts have resulted in the establishment of an academic chair for digital innovation in the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors. The goal of the METRO Chair of Innovation is to research the digitisation in the HoReCa sector in key markets like France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Japan as well as to strengthen academic teaching in this area. HoReCa Digital further pursues systematic social media activities (for example, for the finalists of the METRO Accelerator powered by Techstars) to strengthen the company’s online reputation and help advance digital solutions for the food service and hospitality sectors.
Since financial year 2015/16, the Trader cluster comprises the METRO Cash & Carry countries Moldova, Poland, Romania and Ukraine. The HoReCa, Multispecialist and Trader clusters replace the previous reporting regions of Germany, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia.