Last month StartLife and METRO GROUP Wholesale & Food specialist, an internationally leading specialist in wholesale and food retail based in Germany signed a partner agreement in order to develop innovative FoodTech solutions. With this collaboration, METRO is also officially partnering with F&A Next. We had a chat with Fabio Ziemssen, Head of Food Tech and Food Innovation at METRO and learned more about his perspectives on innovation.
F&A Next: Could you introduce yourself and METRO?
Fabio: My name is Fabio Ziemssen and I am the head of Food Tech and Food Innovation at METRO GROUP Wholesale & Food Specialist. That means I am responsible for food innovations that have the ability to bring in disruptive, creative ideas into the existing food system, be it products or technologies like for example vertical farming or meat substitutes.
F&A Next: Could you elaborate on your role in the food and agri innovation landscape?
Fabio: My task is to identify partners with whom we can start new pilots, discover the future business model or retail model define the role of big retailers in a future where challenges like urbanization, growing population or the climate change are facing us. It is critical to have the right partners, the right solutions and new ideas to face these big challenges.
F&A Next: What are the most prominent trends according to you?
Fabio: The most prominent trends are also the most challenging ones. For example, one of them is alternative protein sources. Today we have 1.1 billion pigs, 280 million cows, and around 17 billion chicken on this planet. According to independent assessments current ways of meat production cause around 18% of global CO2 emission. This urges the industry to drive sustainable development and to search for new sources of protein. Thus everything that is a substitute product for meat and fish is a big trend. On the other hand, the big topic of vertical farming is emerging and with it all kind of solutions that speed up or target circular economy for the future. We are talking about everything that reuses biomass and decreases food waste and food loss. This includes traceability or transparency solutions as well as logistics solutions. The final big trend is everything that enables the consumer to become a producing consumer or prosumer. This trend ranges from small growing cubes for home use to 3D printing. It revolves around the customer evolving into the core element of the supply chain of tomorrow. We are not talking about a horizontal supply chain anymore, we are talking about circular economy and therefore the customer could be the one who is in the middle in data, production and supply chain infrastructure.
F&A Next: METRO GROUP is a global company; can you shed some light on how food innovation is developing in Europe compared to regions like the US?
Fabio: In Europe, I would say it’s very decentralized because we have hotspots in Holland (Wageningen), Italy (Milan) and Germany (Berlin). So if you want to compare EU to US, based on different cultural differences, many food startup places and startups hubs are emerging and this is something that is really interesting.
F&A Next: What would your advice be for aspiring food start-ups?
Fabio: Find the right people because the team is the key success factor for food startups. In addition, don’t be influenced by others, telling you what the right metrics are. In the food business the metrics are very different from a pure digital business. The ability to scale up is affected by many other factors and this is something that food start-ups should keep in mind. Last but not least, start-ups have to find the right partner network, not only with retailers but also with the right supplier, packaging company etc. They need to keep their supply chain very close, this is key in bringing the right product in the market.