NX-Food and their business partners — Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, TiNDLE — are finding great success with a new go-to-market approach: Gastronomy First. Gastronomy First takes retail out of the question by positioning new brands through partnerships with culinary experts. Given their gastronomic expertise, chefs are called upon to demonstrate the product, thus providing proof of quality and use. This endorsement provides consumers not only the knowledge that experts believe in it, but also how best to use the product.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. My guest today is helping build a bridge from your products to the consumer. NX-Food is joining us today. Frank Anders, head of strategy and financial planning. Welcome to the show.
Frank Anders: Thanks, Nicole. Thanks for having me. Yeah, very happy to be here today.
Nicole Astra: Let's just jump right in with a little bit about your background and what NX-Food does for our industry.
Frank Anders: Well, NX-Food basically has two roles. So we started off a couple of years ago as the food innovation hub of the Metro Group, which is one of the largest wholesalers in the world operating in most in Europe and in Asia. And so our role there is to bring food and food-related innovations into the group. They are the focus [inaudible 00:00:57] on the gastronomy customer, and that's where the topic of today comes from. And the second part, about a year ago, we decided that the expertise and the network that we've built and all the experiences could also be very interesting to external clients. So we founded a separate company and NX is now a standalone company that also supports external clients in the fields of... We share our expertise, we provide access to our ecosystem, so the networks that we've built over the years, and also we share our experiences in implementing projects together with our clients. So these are basically the two roles that we have.
Nicole Astra: Let's talk about that go-to-market approach. What is gastronomy first?
Frank Anders: Gastronomy first, in an essence is a go-to-market strategy where you do not start in retail, but you focus on the independent gastronomy, that's where you take for market entry. So, that's what it's all about in essence.
Nicole Astra: And how much did the consumer play a role in developing this strategy?
Frank Anders: Well, at the end of the day, of course, you want to have a large impact with your company, be it financially, or be it environmentally. But you need to build the awareness with the consumer. So you need to go where your target consumer is. And the interesting and the fascinating thing about gastronomy first is that you start off with a very small targeted customer group. Take, for example, Impossible Foods. They specifically target meat-eaters. So they went to specific restaurants and chefs that had the clear focus on meat and by convincing those chefs and their customers, well, you get the best stamp of approval and credibility that you could possibly get. And from there, you can spread the word and build your brand because you have the credibility, you have the awareness of this really clear, focused customer group that then you can use for a broader audience.
Nicole Astra: I did a little bit of research on this culinary term, and I thought it was such an exquisite thing because it's known as the art of the table and originally was distinguishing between good and fine experiences. So with that in mind, what are the benefits of going straight to the culinary experts for partnerships?
Frank Anders: It's about the first impression that you could create with the consumers that is so important. So think about a new product or even a new category. And if you place it in retail, the consumer buys it, takes it home, doesn't know how to handle it, screws it up, never buys it again. The first impression, misery. Or if you place it into the hands of an expert who can actually do justice to the product, knows how to handle it even might be able to cover some flaws since the beginning, well, you have a very, very high likelihood to create an excellent first impression and to give this first experience to the customer that is positive and create a reference case so that the consumer knows, "Oh, well, that was a good, good impression, and now I want to have it at home. And I know it tastes good. It smells good." And with this, you have a positive experience that the consumer can take at home. So that's all about gastronomy.
Nicole Astra: And it essentially then is creating your own demand with the consumer, and it's fascinating. Have you had trouble getting the visionaries behind the brands to think this way? This isn't how it's always been done.
Frank Anders: No, it's certainly not done this way most of the times. It's a relatively new approach that we saw with a couple of companies. And from our experience, it is relevant for, let's say, two specific criteria. First of all, you need to be an... You don't need to be, but usually it's important for emergent brands, because if you're an established brand, you have your channels, you can directly go to retail and place a new product. So, not really interesting. The second part is you need to have a product, or it's interesting to products where the consumer is not familiar with. So it's a new product, or even a new category that you need to build. And I think for these, it could be alternative proteins, but it could also be drinks or something in this line, but you need to be some, let's say, new development.
And for these two categories, I think gastronomy first is very interesting. And if you're in the field off developing this kind of product, be it now cultivated meat, or be it fermented meat, or also plant-based with new ingredients or anything. I think those people know about it. And it's rather not about shifting their mindset to new approach. It's rather helping them execute because people or all the professionals out there, they know how to enter retail, but there is no playbook or no guidance how to enter the gastronomy and how to build a successful case through the gastronomy first approach, because finding this network of chefs and restaurants that start building your case and that serves your actual target customer, that's a very, very difficult first step you need to do.
And the second part is then, okay, now we need to find the right distributor who can actually support us in the best case, across different markets in order to open more doors and open the network. Because in retail, the market is usually allocated among five to, I don't know, four to five big, big brands. But gastronomy is completely different. You have a whole market that's very fragmented, usually only one to five restaurants. So it's very, very different to access them and find them. You really need to go out from door to door. And that's where a good distributor like Metro or Classic Fine Foods can actually support you.
Nicole Astra: Help our audience understand that distribution power. How many restaurants, how many countries, there's a lot of power behind Metro.
Frank Anders: Yeah. Metro operates in 25 countries globally, mostly in Europe. And we have around 20 million active buying customers. Of course, they are not all from gastronomy because our slogan is Metro is changing for independent businesses. So in most countries, and that means if you are a business client... So we focus on B2B. If you're a business client, you can buy at Metro. The focus customer is gastronomy, but that means if you are a dentist, so you are a business client, you are allowed to shop at Metro. So you are allowed. But our focus customer is gastronomy. That means we roughly have on a global scale or our core customer group and markets, roughly 3 million restaurant tourists we work with. So it's a huge network. And the brand awareness is close to a hundred percent in the markets we operate. So everyone knows Metro. That's the advantage.
Nicole Astra: That is an advantage. You've mentioned some very big names today, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, [Tyndall 00:09:33]. What role did NX-Food play in their success stories?
Frank Anders: So let me maybe start with Beyond Meat because they, let's say, most established brand. And when Beyond Meat was at a point where they wanted to enter Europe, it was actually NX-Food together with the Metro Group who launched Beyond Meat in their gastronomy sector in Europe. And we are still, as of today, the largest distributor of Beyond Meat in their B2B sector for Europe. So we help them into the sector with events. And of course, we created the first blueprint in Germany, how our market entry by gastronomy could look like, and then we use this blueprint and replicated it in different countries. So now they are spread across different countries.
For Tyndall and Impossible Foods, it was rather not NX-Food as a company itself... Yeah, we made behind the scenes, let's say, some small introductions and we helped them with some publicity, but it was rather another subsidiary company called Classic Fine Foods who mostly works in Asia, who actually then signed a distribution contract with Tyndall and also Impossible Foods and launched them in Singapore, Hong Kong, and now spreading them throughout more markets because they are a premium restaurant and hotel distributor of goods, so they are in the upper segment and then they can open the door to the relevant restaurants on a larger scale across different countries. And that's the important part where they can contribute.
Nicole Astra: So the success stories are certainly what we want to hear about and they fuel our industry forward. But I have to ask the hard question here, can this approach be accessed and ultimately successful for the little guy? The startups are coming with so many varying experience levels, but sometimes with no industry connections. What would be your advice there?
Frank Anders: From our experience, this can work for every company out there. It's just about, okay, go out and establish your network so it can work for everyone. Of course, if you look now at case like Impossible or even Tyndall, they have a broad network. But they built it over a years. They build it over time. So they also started small.
Nicole Astra: Give us a success story of someone you've worked with that did not already have the power of networking behind them or experience with the industry.
Frank Anders: We are working together with a German startup called Happy Oceans Food, and they create plant-based seafood alternatives. And they are going to launch in Germany rather soon, so in August or September. And they did the same approach. So they looked specifically for chefs who supported them in developing the product. And having a first solid product, they reached out to more chefs around them. So they tapped into the network of talk to other startups, talk to investors, talk to chefs, and then they reached out to more and more people. So I think of course, yeah, if you don't have the connections, you need to start somewhere. But don't be afraid to approach network systems, incubators, go to events, and then you would meet the relevant people. And from there, you can, you can build it. And if you're in Europe, well, yeah, call us. And we are happy to help. I'm always happy to help.
Nicole Astra: We appreciate your time today, Frank, and your expertise. I hope we talk again soon.
Frank Anders: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure talking to you, Nicole. Hope to talk to you soon again.