February 2021

The life of Özlem Sarı and Bereketli Eller is all about a special vegetable: the purple onion. It is velvety soft, generously juicy, and seductively sweet in taste - no comparison to the sharply biting teardrop onions you usually get in the supermarket. On the Turkish peninsula Kapıdağ in north-western Anatolia, which extends into the Sea of Marmara in the Turkish province Balıkesir, are the ideal conditions for growing purple onions: they love warm summer weather, plenty of light and a loose soil rich in humus.

The deep purple Kapıdağ onion is usually eaten raw and is much sought after by Turkish gourmets. For Özlem and Bereketli of the women's cooperative "Fertile Hands", harvesting is far more than just work. They have a special relationship with the little ones they care for. They do not just grow onions but a Turkish cultural asset - and they are proud of it. With a lot of respect, they carefully turn the onions out of the ground and gently brush the soil off the skin. Observed closely, the smooth marbled Kapıdağ onions are a work of art in nature. And only the most beautiful ones make it into METRO stores in Turkey.

The purple onion

Mehmet Nesim Sezer runs the small restaurant By Çöpşiş in Istanbul. Today he is on his way to his METRO store in Ümraniye. There he is a regular customer and is welcomed like an old friend. The employees know exactly what he is looking for: "Mehmet, today is your lucky day. We have just received a new delivery of Kapıdağ onions." Mehmet is beaming. On the menu is "acılı ezme", a traditional chili paste from his hometown Diyarbakır. His grandmother used to cook with that recipe. When he tastes the paste, tears flow - not because the onions bite his eyes, but because he remembers his childhood and his "Nine", his grandmother.

Mehmet's guests love salad and only he knows the secret: deep purple onions and a hot chilli and tomato paste, produced in a specific local region. "If you prepare acılı ezme, then I will come to your restaurant," says the METRO employee. "Have you ever tried it with pomegranate molasses? Then it gets even more refined." Mehmet appreciates the staff's special dedication. They identify with their employer and live gastronomy in all sense. This is also recognized in the honours: Since 2018, METRO Turkey has been annually awarded the prestigious "International Top Employer" certificate.

"It is the pride, passion and commitment of our producers and customers that drives us every day," says Neslihan Saydan. Neslihan has been a store manager at METRO for 10 years now.

When METRO opened its first store in Turkey 30 years ago, most owners and chefs of restaurants, cafés and hotels spent a lot of time at various food markets and in smaller grocery shops. That is part of Turkish culture.

But along the way, METRO has become the first point of contact for many restaurateurs. There are reasons for this: "We wanted to be perceived as a Turkish wholesaler from the very beginning," explains Neslihan. "Our aim is to preserve the past, honour the present and prepare all those involved for the future". This can be seen in METRO's commitment to the Turkish gastronomy sector and its striving for consistently high standards, top quality and support of local suppliers and producers such as the women's cooperative of Kapıdağ with its purple onions.

Neslihan Saydan

Neslihan Saydan, Store Manager at METRO Turkey

The secret of METRO Turkey's success lies in its integrated business model: "We focus all decisions and processes on one goal. We want to be our customers' partner and jointly promote the economic, ecological, social and cultural development of Turkey," explains Neslihan. METRO Turkey sees itself as a close partner of the gastronomy businesses and producers, offering solutions and products for the entire Turkish gastronomic ecosystem.

For METRO Turkey, producers are far more than faceless trading partners. After all, it is local producers such as Özlem Sarı and Bereketli Eller who make up the DNA of the Turkish culinary culture. And this must be protected: as opposed to the commercially exchangeable, soulless ingredients, METRO Turkey is committed to the existence and diversity of the Turkish food heritage. One piece of the mosaic is the preservation and protection of local heirloom seeds such as the purple onion from Kapıdağ, Seyit and Gülpembe tomatoes from Mediterranean region, dagger peppers, the South Anatolian watermelon from Diyarbakır and traditional potato varieties.

Behind this is a big, ambitious plan: METRO Turkey wants to protect the geographical indication of the products grown in their origins and under natural conditions, thus supporting local producers and the national economy.

Sustainability begins in the fields and production facilities of local producers. With various measures such as training courses and joint projects, experts from METRO Turkey coach the producers how to preserve seeds passed on by their families and achieve higher yields with sustainable agricultural methods. This enhances sales opportunities and ensures economic viability for the producers.

After implementing the necessary measures, farmers will be certified with the "GLOBAL G.A.P." which stands for "good agricultural practice". Participants are thus verified that their farming methods do not harm animals or nature. At the same time, the certificate helps open the door for exports to other countries. Özlem Sarı also wants to apply for the certificate now: "We have always cultivated sustainably. But we would never have thought of proving this with a certificate. A good impulse from METRO!"

In order to preserve Turkish cultural heritage in the long term, METRO Turkey launched the project "Geographically Indicated Products" in 2012. The geographical indication of origin is more than just a marketing campaign. It protects Turkish producers from unfair competition and promotes local and global awareness of delicacies from Turkey. The proof is on the shelves in METRO stores: 98 percent of the products on offer come from Turkey. METRO also promotes local products. Depending on the season, METRO offers more than 160 registered and pending products carrying the label. Under METRO's initiative, over 120 Turkish restaurateurs are already cooking with the geographically labelled products.

"We support local projects, but we also engage in major events when it pays off. That's why we organized the 'Istanbul Summit for Geographical Origin' in 2018 and 2019 and brought all important decision-makers to the table," explains Sinem Türüng, CEO of METRO Turkey. Among the influential participants were the Turkish Patent Office, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce.

It's worthwhile when many people work together: along the way, over 470 products with geographical origin have been registered in Turkey. These include the apricot from Malatya, the fig and chestnut from Aydın, the orange from Finike, the Sultaniye grape from the Aegean region, the black fig from Bursa and the garlic from Taşköprü. METRO offers at least one third of such labelled products. In 2018 and 2019, METRO Turkey exported 7,500 tons of geographically labelled and local products for METRO customers in ten other countries.

Sinem Türüng

Sinem Türüng, CEO of METRO Turkey

The Turkish food culture, with its influences from the Mediterranean region, the Aegean, Central Asia, Levant, the Balkans, Persia and the Arabic cooking culture, is one of the most exciting cuisines in the world. The dishes are diverse and full of inventions. Only the best and freshest ingredients get into the pots and pans. "We see it as our task to pass on recipes to a new generation and hand down Turkish culinary tricks through generations", says Maximilian Thomae, who is responsible for Gastronometro.

METRO is deeply connected to the local "cooking community". Under the umbrella of the "METRO Kültur" publishing house, it distributes its own magazine and publishes many successful gastro books: METRO Kültür and its publications already won twelve times the "Gourmand World Cookbook Award", the "Oscar Award" equivalence for the world's cooking books.

Maximilian J. W. Thomae

Maximilian J. W. Thomae, Gastronometro

The "Gastronometro" opened in 2015 in Istanbul at METRO's flagship store was an important milestone for METRO Turkey. In an area of 1,700 square metres, a unique Turkish gastronomy world has been created. At this centre for training, development and events, training chefs under the direction of Max Thomae share new methods and traditional and fancy recipes of Turkish cuisine. With his innovative approaches, Thomae is one of the leading chefs in the country. Repeatedly, world-famous Michelin-starred chefs grace the Gastronometro with their presence. The cooperation with the Basque Culinary Centre and the Écol Hôtelière de Lausanne also provides exciting impulses for the open-minded Turkish chefs. At the same time, cooperation promotes the Turkish cuisine at high profile international culinary stages.

What makes Gastronometro special is that METRO designed all activities to meet the needs of the entire sector - from METRO employees, chefs to suppliers; from restaurant and hotel owners to gourmets. However, Gastronometro is not only about cooking but also about research: employees carry out tasting and product cooking tests and experiment with molecular cuisine, innovative food pairings, and unusual recipe and menu combinations. Young chefs are also trained in the Gastronometro.

Unreserved respect: At METRO in Turkey, this applies to all living creatures. "Sustainable animal breeding and animal welfare is our top priority. All meat products come from animals that are bred, slaughtered and packed according to the highest quality standards", explains Sinem Türüng. Experienced veterinarians regularly inspect meat farms and poultry farms on site. A project launched in 2012 focuses on training and implementation of cage-free egg production.

In 2014, METRO initiated the project "Traceability for red meat". The company developed "METRO Tracking", a barcode application available in all stores. Customers scan the barcode in the store and track the entire supply chain of the meat from the farm all the way to their shopping trolley. Since 2020, the GS1-128 barcode system has been used in accordance with international standards. METRO is the first Turkish company to document on invoices the entire process of fresh meat products and vacuum-packed meat products from the farm to the shelf. The restauranteur Mehmet Nesim Sezer has also already tried METRO Tracking: "My guests appreciate it when I can tell them exactly where the meat on their plates comes from. Everyone feels better and the business benefits from it too".

It is not only COVID-19 that is changing the customer behaviour. Years ago, METRO Turkey invested in a sophisticated 24-hour delivery network with online ordering services. Those orders are picked overnight and delivered by employees driving 192 trucks to 66 Turkish provinces in the early morning hours. In this way, they keep the cold chain intact and thus prevent product loss and food waste.

Making shopping easier and faster: With the Metro Türkiye app, customers can access the current catalogue and offers anytime and anywhere, monitor the expenses and invoices, and plan their purchases in advance. The new "METRO Fast" application, which is already in use in 37 METRO Turkey stores, goes one step further: With this application, customers pay fast without having to wait in queues at the checkout.

METRO also empowers customers with knowledge and technical opportunities. After all, digitalization is of great importance for the highly competitive food and gastronomy sector. "As a reliable business partner, we want to support our customers in all stages towards their digital transformation", says Sinem Türüng.

Through its subsidiary Hospitality Digital, METRO offers digital solutions and innovations for restaurateurs. Mehmet Nesim Sezer is also already using DISH tools (Digital Innovations and Solutions for Hospitality): "The DISH platform has helped me to make my restaurant By Çöpşiş more digitally visible and to accept reservations online. With the various DISH tools, I reduce my operating costs and increase efficiency. I finally have an excellent overview of the costs of my dishes, the ingredients, and always know exactly what I need to buy," explains Mehmet.

METRO Turkey stands more by its customers in tough times that threaten their existence. In April 2020, METRO Turkey launched the "Küçük İşletmem İçin" project, supporting over 5,000 small businesses in the gastronomy sector. Together with various partners and food producers, METRO built a platform that connects restaurants with large companies willing to help. These firms donated their products and services to the restaurants, so that the restaurants were enabled to allocate a cash budget for essential expenses such as paying a monthly rent, the utility costs or the wages for two employees.

Restaurant "By Çöpşiş in İstanbul" takes part in the "Küçük İşletmem İçin" programme. (Video only available in Turkish)

METRO Turkey impressively proves that with a lot of tact, courage and respect for all parties involved, there is a path that leverages the opportunities offered by globalization and digitalization while keeping the cultural identity.

For Özlem Sarı, this particularly holds true: "The purple onion is one of the most important products of our country. METRO Turkey has accompanied us throughout the entire process of this valuable product; from production to purchase, from providing jobs for women to registering the geographical indication of the product. Together with METRO we have achieved a lot and we can be proud of it. For those who have not yet tried it: Cook with purple onions!"

The purple onion

METRO Turkey

  • Store number: 35
  • Depot number: 2
  • Employee number: 4,200
  • Customer number: approx.  2 million
  • Supplier number: approx. 5,000
  • Sales 2018/19: 1.027 billion EUR