If you’ve eaten out in Europe, Russia, or Asia, chances are at some point you’ve patronized a café, hotel, or kiosk that purchase food from mega-retailer METRO AG. As the largest non-U.S. wholesale and foodservice company, the Germany-based METRO functions in 35 countries and serves over 24 million businesses.

One place it doesn’t serve is the U.S. However, Andreas Wuerfel works for METRO as Group Director for U.S. Strategic Partnering; keeping a finger on the pulse on retail trends in the U.S. through local partners and applying them to the METRO network. Which means that he is uniquely positioned to track innovation across foodservice and grocery across the globe.

If you want to hear Wuerfel speak about the ways that METRO is forging the future of retail — digitally and otherwise — get your ticket to SKS. Then get a sneak preview with the Q&A below.

You’re the Group Director for U.S. Strategic Partnering at METRO. Tell us about what your role entails.
While METRO Group has no local operations, the US is a key “lighthouse” market for us. US restaurant, hotel, and retail innovation trends often foreshadows development in our Europe and Asia markets. Gaining an understanding early, and working with key US players is important to the degree [with which we] can cooperate across our Europe customer footprint. With that in mind, my role is to help initiate our “bridge-to-Europe” strategic/commercial deal opportunities, to help create win-win-win value for our Europe customers, our US partners, and METRO at large.

You were involved with founding the METRO Accelerator program, powered by Techstars. Why did Metro AG decide to help create an accelerator?
Globally, the retail sector is undergoing rapid change. Much of that dynamics comes from outside our traditional channels. Outside established large IT firms, it is often young startup teams that best ideate, invent and disrupt “the future of retail”. In working with retail tech and hospitality tech founder teams from around the world, our METRO Accelerator is specifically designed as an outside-in innovation program — to help capture, fund, and shape the relevant early-stage digital applications most meaningful for our small business customers and our own stores long term.

How do you stay competitive in the competitive wholesale retail space, especially against giants such as Walmart or Tesco?
Despite the aforementioned retail industry transformation — simply put — it’s still all about ensuring we offer “the right product for the right customer at the right price exactly when and where needed.” To ensure this “contract with our customers” is fulfilled, METRO leverages its unique footprint and supply-chain advantages. (Globally, METRO Cash & Carry is the only wholesaler doing business in 35 countries, with deep access to local assortment and competitive pricing).

What are a few ways you’ve seen tech transform retail?
Inside METRO, we’ve found tremendous value in helping educate and consult the “long tail” of the hospitality and retail industry. We are unique in that our primary customers are 24+ million small business owners. Not consumers but rather the many independent restaurants, hotels, retail operators, catering companies, and small professional offices — all looking to understand and benefit from the use of digital innovation as well as new “next-gen” food & beverage choices. Our down-market innovation programs and corporate investment initiatives therefore all center around enabling our small business customers and their guests, in the process helping to transform the independent retail customer side of our business.

Keep an eye out for more speaker Q&A’s as we ramp up to our fifth year of SKS on October 7-8 in Seattle! We hope to see you there.

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