Markus Thaller is the category manager for sausage & meats at METRO Germany. Despite his proximity to animal meats, he is firmly convinced that alternative proteins will play an increasingly important role in wholesale and for commercial customers – especially against a backdrop of topics like sustainability and climate change.
How many vegan products does METRO Germany currently offer its customers?
At METRO Germany, commercial customers can now find an assortment of well over 1,500 vegan alternatives in all product groups. The focus of the vegan assortment is on the product groups nutrients, frozen foods, dairy products and meats & sausage. In the meat & sausage category, we currently have around 80 vegan alternatives. We are also continuously adding products made from alternative proteins to our METRO own-brand range in the meat & sausage category. Currently, and in the course of the spring, we are releasing a whole range of articles for our customers.
How have sales of vegan products at METRO Germany developed in recent years?
We are seeing a significant increase in demand from year to year. More and more people are interested in vegan alternatives, and our customers in the hospitality industry are responding to this trend. The winner of the METRO Award for Sustainable Gastronomy 2020, the Bunte Burger restaurant from Cologne, for example, is relying on a completely vegan concept. And restaurants with more traditional cuisine are now also recognizing that there is a demand and are expanding their menus. For the wholesale market, this makes us one of the pioneers, especially when it comes to alternative protein sources.
We recognized this trend early on and were the first German wholesaler to make Beyond Meat products available to our customers. The subsequent hype and the development of the market prove that this is only the beginning. It was therefore logical for us to launch our first own-brand products based on plant-based alternatives under the METRO Chef brand in 2020. At the moment, we are already working on further solutions – always based on current market developments and the needs of our commercial customers.
Which product groups are growing particularly?
From our point of view, the target group is becoming broader and broader as the professionalization of products increases. Basically, there is a great interest in everything that makes up the “middle of the plate”. Our customers are therefore primarily looking for a sustainable alternative to meat, which traditionally defines especially German cuisine, but also many other national cuisines. Overall, interest in alternative, sustainable protein sources without animal ingredients is growing across all product groups.
In 2018, METRO was one of the first retailers in Germany to launch Beyond Meat items on the German market. How have the products of European producers developed in the last two years?
Products that hit the zeitgeist like this are very rare. In our view, the great success of the Beyond Burger was one of the initial sparks for interest in plant-based alternatives. Since then, many suppliers and partners have caught up: On the one hand, in terms of appearance and palate pleasure, but also in terms of the versatile product range. From our point of view, European producers are extremely innovative and respond flexibly to the needs of our customers and the market.
This is, of course, especially true for the brand manufacturers. However, our customers are also asking more and more for high-quality, price-oriented products. We believe that a sustainable alternative must also be affordable. Based on the needs of our customers, we recently launched some of the first purely vegan items of our own brand METRO Chef in METRO wholesale stores across Germany. Others will follow continuously. To start with, these are vegan meat sausage and vegan minced meat, both from the fresh produce department. They are each 100% vegan and without soy. It is important for us to become even more sustainable and to keep the supply chain of the raw materials as short as possible. Therefore, we have chosen a base of sunflower-potato and pea protein for these two products. For us, sustainability also means offering different protein sources so that we can offer our customers a selection of plant-based alternatives from raw materials which are as diversified as possible.
How do you expect the growth in the vegan sector to continue to 2025?
We are currently noting a growing interest in plant-based alternatives, which may continue to increase. As already mentioned: with continuously improving products made from different raw materials and a versatile product range at more affordable prices, price-oriented customers can also be addressed with plant-based alternatives. At the same time, the products are also becoming more and more sustainable and thus, in total, more interesting for many consumers. Especially items made from meat scraps may be substituted with plant-based alternatives. In the end, however, the fact remains that people will buy what tastes good – and if it is also sustainable, it will continue to be in high demand.
Is METRO planning special promotions for vegan products in the near future (vegan weeks, vegan barbecues, etc., special presentation areas)?
We are also concerned with meeting the growing demand for vegan alternatives in the commercial customer segment, especially in the hospitality industry. That’s why we are currently working on specific solutions for customers in these sectors. They are facing major challenges in the current situation. We focus on ensuring their success. That is the core of our daily work. We are committed to supporting the hospitality and events industry with all our power and offer a wide range of solutions, from digital tools to customized offers and consulting solutions.
Of course, METRO particularly offers food as well as non-food assortments. This also includes sustainable packaging materials to optimize restaurant operations for delivery service and out-of-home business. At the same time, we bring our vegan food assortments to the attention by regularly featuring them in our trend flyers and advertising brochures. Especially around the holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, we inspire our customers to try alternative proteins. We are currently testing a variety of new vegan items for our dry food range in several stores and checking how they are perceived by our customers. Of course, we are very much looking forward to the results.
Why are vegan products listed in the meat & sausage section at METRO? Isn’t that contradictory?
That is not a contradiction at all. We were convinced early on that even avid meat-eaters are generally interested in alternatives. This perception is reflected in our assortment and placement. Yes, we have a “vegan shelf” in the fresh foods department. But we deliberately place plant-based alternatives near the animal products. By doing so, we are sending a clear signal: no matter which product a METRO customer would like to buy, we have it – and it doesn’t always have to be meat.