How this 100-year-old food company pivoted in the middle of a crisis

How this 100-year-old food company pivoted in the middle of a crisis

By
Arman Anatürk
May 14, 2020

Interview with Stephanie Naegeli

Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO) at the SV Group, Dübendorf (Switzerland)

There’s one sector of the food industry that’s gone relatively under the radar during this pandemic. A place that typically feeds hundreds of hungry mouths a day and is responsible for fueling office workers across the globe. It’s our cafeterias. Often times, the heart of a corporate office, where employees come to grab a quick snack on the way to their next meeting or have a sit-down meal to catch up with colleagues in between their busy workdays. But with offices operating on skeleton staff, and most employees working from home, the demand for these large communal dining areas went down with it.

Stephanie Naegeli,  Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group
Stephanie Naegeli, Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group

Rather than sit around and wait for things to normalize, one company spent the downtime working on future-proofing their business. The SV Group is one of the largest gastronomy and hotel companies in Switzerland employing around 8,400 people and is better known for tradition rather than innovation. With the current pandemic grinding a halt to their business, I reached out to Stephanie Naegeli, the recently appointed Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group - to discuss how the company remained flexible in these changing times, adjusting to working from home and what the future of cafeterias, and their business, could like.

  • FoodHack: When the new restaurant regulations were put in place, what was the reaction from SV Group and what were some of the early actions you took to help you cope?

    Stephanie Naegeli: As early as the end of February, we formed a crisis management team within the SV Group, consisting of a team of experts across all divisions and departments. It met every other day and decided on the current measures. Obviously, as the largest gastronomy and hotel company in Switzerland, it was a rather big shock to close half of our restaurants and hotels and to put nearly all of our staff into short-term employment. The good thing was that we were well prepared and already had a clear pandemic plan in place, which helped us to navigate the storm.

Citrus noodles with vegetables.jpg
Source: SV Group
  • And how did this affect your role as the Chief Strategic Business Development Officer? Was your unit still active during this time?

    At first, it was hard to figure out how to manage the crisis. But I had to see the crisis from an innovation perspective.

    We very quickly shifted to say “OK, there are also opportunities in this crisis” and took a closer look at customer needs. We realized that while in-office staff restaurants were closed, as were nearby restaurants, not all offices shut down completely. There were 20 or 30, sometimes even 50 people in some offices, and they were looking for fresh food options. And so we focused on creating a solution for small offices.

    And that led us down the path of creating a virtual cafeteria. The way it works is that the corporate office can let us know if they want to participate. We send them a link for the online shop where their employees can browse the menu and order what they like directly from there. Our team delivers daily to the offices, and employees can pick up their orders from there. We called it Andiamo Delivery – andiamo means “let’s go” in Italian. As Andiamo is already a brand we use for take-aways in our restaurants, customers and guests are familiar with it and trust it.


  • Are your own employees doing the deliveries, or are you using an external third-party delivery service?

    It’s our own employees. When prototyping the service, we discovered that we had over 100 cars in the company, from corporate cars to the ones that employees drive to work. And so we decided to put these to use during the lockdown, and now some of our cooks who have had their working hours reduced, are out doing food deliveries.


  • Traditionally you wouldn’t expect a company of your size to act so quickly. Why do you think SV Group was able to pivot and adapt so fast, and how did your unit approach it?

    Yes, you are right. SV Group is a 100-year-old company with over 8,000 employees. We serve around 38 million meals per year in over 600 restaurants in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. And clearly, you wouldn’t expect a 100-year-old company to be that nimble and adaptable.

    I think why it worked is that my department, the Strategic Business Development Unit, is new within the company. We established it last November and have been operating for a few months only. But the way we have set it up is that we operate as a lean start-up internally, prototyping, coming up with minimum viable products, then going out and testing them.

    It was really with that mind-set that we tried to approach Andiamo Delivery because we knew if we would do this in the timescale of a traditional project, it would take months to develop. And by that time, the opportunity will be over. So what we really had to think about is what is the minimum viable product in order to be able to test this quickly?


  • What did the MVP product look like?

    We have never had a food delivery service in place. But we did know how to cook big volumes of high-quality and tasty food. We created central hubs that prepared the food for the online shop and would fulfil all the logistics and carry out the delivery. It took us just a week to set up the first central hub, and then it took us few additional days to set up the online shop on which people can place orders.


  • What did this process of rapid prototyping look like inside the company during this time?

    We had a very cross-functional team between operations, controlling, logistics and the product development team. And bringing that together was what allowed us to move quickly. We were doing daily touch points and calls, and going over the top level problems.

    In these daily calls, we would all go through topics like operations, packaging and logistics. Every person had their specific focus area and we would discuss problems across the entire group. Everyone could weigh in with their suggestions and then you had 24 hours to go and find your solution – almost like a hackathon. The next day you’d come back to present your solution and indicate where you next need help, and we’d do it all over again.

    I always say one thing that big corporations can learn from a start-up is their focus and dedication. And during this moment of crisis, I saw this spirit within our company, all of our employees suddenly acted like entrepreneurs and were all single-mindedly focused.

    Obviously, this was also possible because the traditional business came to a halt and people had the time. But I also believe it’s because we were building something new. You started to feel that entrepreneurial magic amidst the crisis, people felt a sense ownership for what they were building.


  • How was senior management involved during this process?

    One thing that was critical in helping us was that we had weekly executive meetings, whereas in pre-coronavirus times we would only do this every month. So our entire executive board would get together each week and we’d have a moment to present what we’re working on, where we stand and what we need in order to progress, whether additional resources, people or expertise, and so on.

    I think that is one of the most important things in a crisis. You need to shorten the path of decision making and decide quickly. The weekly communication with the executive team was essential in order to act and pivot quickly.

  • And your team did this while everyone was working from home. Was remote working new to the company or was it something that SV Group had already had experience with in the past?

    I was used to working remotely in my previous job, but for many in Switzerland and across the SV Group, remote working was new. Some people have never used teleconferencing solutions before, and some of our early meetings just involved getting people acquainted with these new technologies.

    But that’s what is interesting with technology: when you need it, adoption curves are really fast. Coronavirus accelerated the adoption of some core technologies, like remote working solutions, teleconferencing, chatting functions, as well as ordering food online. Just look at delivery services like Eat.ch, Smood or Uber Eats. Within a few weeks people shifted to using these services, and they became commonplace.

  • What led your team to focus on a delivery based solution? Why not take a different route?

    We looked at underlying trends that were already prevalent in society and how the crisis would fuel those particular trends in order to identify the innovation opportunities that we wanted to go after. We knew food delivery was already something that had been growing in Switzerland, and with offices shut and people at home, this would only continue to grow.

    For us, it was not just about figuring out what to do during the crisis, but understanding the future of our business. We know that traditionally staff restaurants have been largely undisrupted and that there is opportunity for technology and digitalization to change the way people interact in these environments and how they order food.

    People in offices have less time to eat. They want more flexible options to pick up their food and maybe eat it somewhere else. People don’t want to stand in line waiting. We look at how technology can be used in the restaurant industry to create convenience and save time.

  • So what do you think the future of the cafeteria will look like?

    I believe there are two major changes that are going to happen. On the one hand, the shift to working from home has accelerated due to the coronavirus. People want more flexibility where they work and this crisis has shown employers that home office is a feasible option. Our corporate partners create cafeterias to support their employees with healthy and good food at work. If people work from home, we need to think how to bring food to where their employees are.

    The second big trend I see is the use of digital technologies in staff restaurants. And you can already see it in the fast food industry. If you go to a McDonald’s today, you will see many people opting to order their food at a kiosk as opposed to at the counter. We especially see this with the younger generation, who likes to order at a digital kiosk so they can individualize their order – this is something they may be less comfortable doing face-to-face with a cashier. I think this idea of using technology to personalize your order will be something that will come the food service industry as well.


  • What is your approach to digitization at SV Group?

    We think about where technology can enhance the value of what we are creating. We don’t want to introduce technology for the sake of it, or just because everyone else is doing it. At the end of the day, eating out is about human connections. It is about enjoying a good meal to recharge your batteries and engage with co-workers and friends.

    The way we are approaching digitization is asking where we can use technology to do our jobs better and provide a smoother customer service. You want to leverage technology in the best way possible to enhance the experience. I think every start-up and every entrepreneur knows that. And every corporation has to think the same way. It is just sometimes harder for corporations than for entrepreneurs to leverage new technologies.

  • In a post-COVID world, how will we balance introducing all of these new technologies whilst maintaining the human element intact in restaurants?

    We’re looking at how we can use technology in a way to become better hosts and focus even more on the human-to-human connection so that our service staff at one of our restaurants or hotels can ask, “How was your day?” rather than “Please enter your pin details”. If we can cut down on the time in taking an order or checking someone in, we can focus all our attention on the customer experience.

Menuausgabe_300dpi.jpg
Source: SV Group

  • Jumping back to Andiamo Delivery. Is this something that will be continued by SV Group, or will it be phased out eventually?

    It is interesting because the demand is starting to increase even more now as people are getting back to work.

    SV Group’s brand promise has been providing healthy, fresh food that is cooked from scratch every day at work. Until now, we served bigger companies by building in-office restaurants. With Andiamo Delivery, we’re able to broaden our scope of customers to provide the exact same service of delicious meals to smaller companies, delivering fresh daily.

    Now, any company can use the Andiamo Delivery to provide food for their employees at work. We see this as a long term opportunity.

  • What are some other things that you were working on in your innovation department?

    One project we launched last year is our smart fridge, Emil Fröhlich, that provides fresh food at the office 24/7. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as healthy snacks and smoothies. What makes Emil Fröhlich unique is the seamless experience – it’s a tap, grab and go experience. You open the app when you are in front of the fridge, the fridge opens, you take out what you want, and then close the fridge and leave – that’s it. We work with RFID technology to make that whole experience easy and convenient. No need to scan anything afterwards, the fridge knows exactly what you have taken out, and you get your receipt directly in the app.

    We have also been innovating around plant-based recipes. SV Group was one of the first to work with the plant-based chicken start-up Planted and offer other plant based meat menus including the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. We take a strong stance on sustainability and believe you can only convince people to eat plant based if it tastes really great. It’s also cool to see that we can support start-ups, like Planted by working with them to bring their innovative solutions into our restaurant.

  • What type of start-ups would you collaborate with and who should reach out to contact you?

    We’re looking for sustainable packaging, in particular for take-away. And again, plant-based products, like dairy and meat substitutes. We are also looking for certain technology partners on the delivery side to make delivery even more seamless and faster. Also, we see interesting restaurant technology that can digitize processes in the front and back of the house.

  • What advice would you have to other corporates or SMEs that might struggle to innovate on how to build an innovative team and convince others in the company to adopt that mentality?

    You need a vision and commitment for innovation that comes from the top down. Having a dedicated team and resources, as well as an innovation budget is key. Try to remove all the barriers and friction points to innovate internally and create short communication paths.

    You also need to know in which direction you want to go and how innovation fits into the overall strategy of the company. Whether that’s for product development, long-term competitive advantage, and so on. In the end, what’s really important is to just get started, either with a specific project or collaboration with a start-up. Get started and see how innovation can transform your company.

About Stephanie Naegeli
Stephanie Naegeli joined the SV Group in November 2019 as Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO). After completing her studies at the University of St. Gallen, Stephanie worked in brand consulting at Meta Design in Zurich and then worked for Nestlé for eleven years. First as Brand Manager at the headquarters in Vevey, and then in the coffee business in Frankfurt. In San Francisco, she opened an innovation outpost for Nestlé as Global Director of Marketing and Innovation Food, focusing on digital services and new business models.

Written by
Arman Anatürk

Lived across North America, Europe and Asia, leading to my questionable cooking style. Jumped two feet forward into the startup world in 2013, and haven't looked back since. Always on the hunt for the next story or inside scoop to cover - email me or connect on LinkedIn.

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Interview with Stephanie Naegeli

Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO) at the SV Group, Dübendorf (Switzerland)

There’s one sector of the food industry that’s gone relatively under the radar during this pandemic. A place that typically feeds hundreds of hungry mouths a day and is responsible for fueling office workers across the globe. It’s our cafeterias. Often times, the heart of a corporate office, where employees come to grab a quick snack on the way to their next meeting or have a sit-down meal to catch up with colleagues in between their busy workdays. But with offices operating on skeleton staff, and most employees working from home, the demand for these large communal dining areas went down with it.

Stephanie Naegeli,  Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group
Stephanie Naegeli, Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group

Rather than sit around and wait for things to normalize, one company spent the downtime working on future-proofing their business. The SV Group is one of the largest gastronomy and hotel companies in Switzerland employing around 8,400 people and is better known for tradition rather than innovation. With the current pandemic grinding a halt to their business, I reached out to Stephanie Naegeli, the recently appointed Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group - to discuss how the company remained flexible in these changing times, adjusting to working from home and what the future of cafeterias, and their business, could like.

  • FoodHack: When the new restaurant regulations were put in place, what was the reaction from SV Group and what were some of the early actions you took to help you cope?

    Stephanie Naegeli: As early as the end of February, we formed a crisis management team within the SV Group, consisting of a team of experts across all divisions and departments. It met every other day and decided on the current measures. Obviously, as the largest gastronomy and hotel company in Switzerland, it was a rather big shock to close half of our restaurants and hotels and to put nearly all of our staff into short-term employment. The good thing was that we were well prepared and already had a clear pandemic plan in place, which helped us to navigate the storm.

Citrus noodles with vegetables.jpg
Source: SV Group
  • And how did this affect your role as the Chief Strategic Business Development Officer? Was your unit still active during this time?

    At first, it was hard to figure out how to manage the crisis. But I had to see the crisis from an innovation perspective.

    We very quickly shifted to say “OK, there are also opportunities in this crisis” and took a closer look at customer needs. We realized that while in-office staff restaurants were closed, as were nearby restaurants, not all offices shut down completely. There were 20 or 30, sometimes even 50 people in some offices, and they were looking for fresh food options. And so we focused on creating a solution for small offices.

    And that led us down the path of creating a virtual cafeteria. The way it works is that the corporate office can let us know if they want to participate. We send them a link for the online shop where their employees can browse the menu and order what they like directly from there. Our team delivers daily to the offices, and employees can pick up their orders from there. We called it Andiamo Delivery – andiamo means “let’s go” in Italian. As Andiamo is already a brand we use for take-aways in our restaurants, customers and guests are familiar with it and trust it.


  • Are your own employees doing the deliveries, or are you using an external third-party delivery service?

    It’s our own employees. When prototyping the service, we discovered that we had over 100 cars in the company, from corporate cars to the ones that employees drive to work. And so we decided to put these to use during the lockdown, and now some of our cooks who have had their working hours reduced, are out doing food deliveries.


  • Traditionally you wouldn’t expect a company of your size to act so quickly. Why do you think SV Group was able to pivot and adapt so fast, and how did your unit approach it?

    Yes, you are right. SV Group is a 100-year-old company with over 8,000 employees. We serve around 38 million meals per year in over 600 restaurants in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. And clearly, you wouldn’t expect a 100-year-old company to be that nimble and adaptable.

    I think why it worked is that my department, the Strategic Business Development Unit, is new within the company. We established it last November and have been operating for a few months only. But the way we have set it up is that we operate as a lean start-up internally, prototyping, coming up with minimum viable products, then going out and testing them.

    It was really with that mind-set that we tried to approach Andiamo Delivery because we knew if we would do this in the timescale of a traditional project, it would take months to develop. And by that time, the opportunity will be over. So what we really had to think about is what is the minimum viable product in order to be able to test this quickly?


  • What did the MVP product look like?

    We have never had a food delivery service in place. But we did know how to cook big volumes of high-quality and tasty food. We created central hubs that prepared the food for the online shop and would fulfil all the logistics and carry out the delivery. It took us just a week to set up the first central hub, and then it took us few additional days to set up the online shop on which people can place orders.


  • What did this process of rapid prototyping look like inside the company during this time?

    We had a very cross-functional team between operations, controlling, logistics and the product development team. And bringing that together was what allowed us to move quickly. We were doing daily touch points and calls, and going over the top level problems.

    In these daily calls, we would all go through topics like operations, packaging and logistics. Every person had their specific focus area and we would discuss problems across the entire group. Everyone could weigh in with their suggestions and then you had 24 hours to go and find your solution – almost like a hackathon. The next day you’d come back to present your solution and indicate where you next need help, and we’d do it all over again.

    I always say one thing that big corporations can learn from a start-up is their focus and dedication. And during this moment of crisis, I saw this spirit within our company, all of our employees suddenly acted like entrepreneurs and were all single-mindedly focused.

    Obviously, this was also possible because the traditional business came to a halt and people had the time. But I also believe it’s because we were building something new. You started to feel that entrepreneurial magic amidst the crisis, people felt a sense ownership for what they were building.


  • How was senior management involved during this process?

    One thing that was critical in helping us was that we had weekly executive meetings, whereas in pre-coronavirus times we would only do this every month. So our entire executive board would get together each week and we’d have a moment to present what we’re working on, where we stand and what we need in order to progress, whether additional resources, people or expertise, and so on.

    I think that is one of the most important things in a crisis. You need to shorten the path of decision making and decide quickly. The weekly communication with the executive team was essential in order to act and pivot quickly.

  • And your team did this while everyone was working from home. Was remote working new to the company or was it something that SV Group had already had experience with in the past?

    I was used to working remotely in my previous job, but for many in Switzerland and across the SV Group, remote working was new. Some people have never used teleconferencing solutions before, and some of our early meetings just involved getting people acquainted with these new technologies.

    But that’s what is interesting with technology: when you need it, adoption curves are really fast. Coronavirus accelerated the adoption of some core technologies, like remote working solutions, teleconferencing, chatting functions, as well as ordering food online. Just look at delivery services like Eat.ch, Smood or Uber Eats. Within a few weeks people shifted to using these services, and they became commonplace.

  • What led your team to focus on a delivery based solution? Why not take a different route?

    We looked at underlying trends that were already prevalent in society and how the crisis would fuel those particular trends in order to identify the innovation opportunities that we wanted to go after. We knew food delivery was already something that had been growing in Switzerland, and with offices shut and people at home, this would only continue to grow.

    For us, it was not just about figuring out what to do during the crisis, but understanding the future of our business. We know that traditionally staff restaurants have been largely undisrupted and that there is opportunity for technology and digitalization to change the way people interact in these environments and how they order food.

    People in offices have less time to eat. They want more flexible options to pick up their food and maybe eat it somewhere else. People don’t want to stand in line waiting. We look at how technology can be used in the restaurant industry to create convenience and save time.

  • So what do you think the future of the cafeteria will look like?

    I believe there are two major changes that are going to happen. On the one hand, the shift to working from home has accelerated due to the coronavirus. People want more flexibility where they work and this crisis has shown employers that home office is a feasible option. Our corporate partners create cafeterias to support their employees with healthy and good food at work. If people work from home, we need to think how to bring food to where their employees are.

    The second big trend I see is the use of digital technologies in staff restaurants. And you can already see it in the fast food industry. If you go to a McDonald’s today, you will see many people opting to order their food at a kiosk as opposed to at the counter. We especially see this with the younger generation, who likes to order at a digital kiosk so they can individualize their order – this is something they may be less comfortable doing face-to-face with a cashier. I think this idea of using technology to personalize your order will be something that will come the food service industry as well.


  • What is your approach to digitization at SV Group?

    We think about where technology can enhance the value of what we are creating. We don’t want to introduce technology for the sake of it, or just because everyone else is doing it. At the end of the day, eating out is about human connections. It is about enjoying a good meal to recharge your batteries and engage with co-workers and friends.

    The way we are approaching digitization is asking where we can use technology to do our jobs better and provide a smoother customer service. You want to leverage technology in the best way possible to enhance the experience. I think every start-up and every entrepreneur knows that. And every corporation has to think the same way. It is just sometimes harder for corporations than for entrepreneurs to leverage new technologies.

  • In a post-COVID world, how will we balance introducing all of these new technologies whilst maintaining the human element intact in restaurants?

    We’re looking at how we can use technology in a way to become better hosts and focus even more on the human-to-human connection so that our service staff at one of our restaurants or hotels can ask, “How was your day?” rather than “Please enter your pin details”. If we can cut down on the time in taking an order or checking someone in, we can focus all our attention on the customer experience.

Menuausgabe_300dpi.jpg
Source: SV Group

  • Jumping back to Andiamo Delivery. Is this something that will be continued by SV Group, or will it be phased out eventually?

    It is interesting because the demand is starting to increase even more now as people are getting back to work.

    SV Group’s brand promise has been providing healthy, fresh food that is cooked from scratch every day at work. Until now, we served bigger companies by building in-office restaurants. With Andiamo Delivery, we’re able to broaden our scope of customers to provide the exact same service of delicious meals to smaller companies, delivering fresh daily.

    Now, any company can use the Andiamo Delivery to provide food for their employees at work. We see this as a long term opportunity.

  • What are some other things that you were working on in your innovation department?

    One project we launched last year is our smart fridge, Emil Fröhlich, that provides fresh food at the office 24/7. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as healthy snacks and smoothies. What makes Emil Fröhlich unique is the seamless experience – it’s a tap, grab and go experience. You open the app when you are in front of the fridge, the fridge opens, you take out what you want, and then close the fridge and leave – that’s it. We work with RFID technology to make that whole experience easy and convenient. No need to scan anything afterwards, the fridge knows exactly what you have taken out, and you get your receipt directly in the app.

    We have also been innovating around plant-based recipes. SV Group was one of the first to work with the plant-based chicken start-up Planted and offer other plant based meat menus including the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. We take a strong stance on sustainability and believe you can only convince people to eat plant based if it tastes really great. It’s also cool to see that we can support start-ups, like Planted by working with them to bring their innovative solutions into our restaurant.

  • What type of start-ups would you collaborate with and who should reach out to contact you?

    We’re looking for sustainable packaging, in particular for take-away. And again, plant-based products, like dairy and meat substitutes. We are also looking for certain technology partners on the delivery side to make delivery even more seamless and faster. Also, we see interesting restaurant technology that can digitize processes in the front and back of the house.

  • What advice would you have to other corporates or SMEs that might struggle to innovate on how to build an innovative team and convince others in the company to adopt that mentality?

    You need a vision and commitment for innovation that comes from the top down. Having a dedicated team and resources, as well as an innovation budget is key. Try to remove all the barriers and friction points to innovate internally and create short communication paths.

    You also need to know in which direction you want to go and how innovation fits into the overall strategy of the company. Whether that’s for product development, long-term competitive advantage, and so on. In the end, what’s really important is to just get started, either with a specific project or collaboration with a start-up. Get started and see how innovation can transform your company.

About Stephanie Naegeli
Stephanie Naegeli joined the SV Group in November 2019 as Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO). After completing her studies at the University of St. Gallen, Stephanie worked in brand consulting at Meta Design in Zurich and then worked for Nestlé for eleven years. First as Brand Manager at the headquarters in Vevey, and then in the coffee business in Frankfurt. In San Francisco, she opened an innovation outpost for Nestlé as Global Director of Marketing and Innovation Food, focusing on digital services and new business models.

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Interview with Stephanie Naegeli

Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO) at the SV Group, Dübendorf (Switzerland)

There’s one sector of the food industry that’s gone relatively under the radar during this pandemic. A place that typically feeds hundreds of hungry mouths a day and is responsible for fueling office workers across the globe. It’s our cafeterias. Often times, the heart of a corporate office, where employees come to grab a quick snack on the way to their next meeting or have a sit-down meal to catch up with colleagues in between their busy workdays. But with offices operating on skeleton staff, and most employees working from home, the demand for these large communal dining areas went down with it.

Stephanie Naegeli,  Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group
Stephanie Naegeli, Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group

Rather than sit around and wait for things to normalize, one company spent the downtime working on future-proofing their business. The SV Group is one of the largest gastronomy and hotel companies in Switzerland employing around 8,400 people and is better known for tradition rather than innovation. With the current pandemic grinding a halt to their business, I reached out to Stephanie Naegeli, the recently appointed Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group - to discuss how the company remained flexible in these changing times, adjusting to working from home and what the future of cafeterias, and their business, could like.

  • FoodHack: When the new restaurant regulations were put in place, what was the reaction from SV Group and what were some of the early actions you took to help you cope?

    Stephanie Naegeli: As early as the end of February, we formed a crisis management team within the SV Group, consisting of a team of experts across all divisions and departments. It met every other day and decided on the current measures. Obviously, as the largest gastronomy and hotel company in Switzerland, it was a rather big shock to close half of our restaurants and hotels and to put nearly all of our staff into short-term employment. The good thing was that we were well prepared and already had a clear pandemic plan in place, which helped us to navigate the storm.

Citrus noodles with vegetables.jpg
Source: SV Group
  • And how did this affect your role as the Chief Strategic Business Development Officer? Was your unit still active during this time?

    At first, it was hard to figure out how to manage the crisis. But I had to see the crisis from an innovation perspective.

    We very quickly shifted to say “OK, there are also opportunities in this crisis” and took a closer look at customer needs. We realized that while in-office staff restaurants were closed, as were nearby restaurants, not all offices shut down completely. There were 20 or 30, sometimes even 50 people in some offices, and they were looking for fresh food options. And so we focused on creating a solution for small offices.

    And that led us down the path of creating a virtual cafeteria. The way it works is that the corporate office can let us know if they want to participate. We send them a link for the online shop where their employees can browse the menu and order what they like directly from there. Our team delivers daily to the offices, and employees can pick up their orders from there. We called it Andiamo Delivery – andiamo means “let’s go” in Italian. As Andiamo is already a brand we use for take-aways in our restaurants, customers and guests are familiar with it and trust it.


  • Are your own employees doing the deliveries, or are you using an external third-party delivery service?

    It’s our own employees. When prototyping the service, we discovered that we had over 100 cars in the company, from corporate cars to the ones that employees drive to work. And so we decided to put these to use during the lockdown, and now some of our cooks who have had their working hours reduced, are out doing food deliveries.


  • Traditionally you wouldn’t expect a company of your size to act so quickly. Why do you think SV Group was able to pivot and adapt so fast, and how did your unit approach it?

    Yes, you are right. SV Group is a 100-year-old company with over 8,000 employees. We serve around 38 million meals per year in over 600 restaurants in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. And clearly, you wouldn’t expect a 100-year-old company to be that nimble and adaptable.

    I think why it worked is that my department, the Strategic Business Development Unit, is new within the company. We established it last November and have been operating for a few months only. But the way we have set it up is that we operate as a lean start-up internally, prototyping, coming up with minimum viable products, then going out and testing them.

    It was really with that mind-set that we tried to approach Andiamo Delivery because we knew if we would do this in the timescale of a traditional project, it would take months to develop. And by that time, the opportunity will be over. So what we really had to think about is what is the minimum viable product in order to be able to test this quickly?


  • What did the MVP product look like?

    We have never had a food delivery service in place. But we did know how to cook big volumes of high-quality and tasty food. We created central hubs that prepared the food for the online shop and would fulfil all the logistics and carry out the delivery. It took us just a week to set up the first central hub, and then it took us few additional days to set up the online shop on which people can place orders.


  • What did this process of rapid prototyping look like inside the company during this time?

    We had a very cross-functional team between operations, controlling, logistics and the product development team. And bringing that together was what allowed us to move quickly. We were doing daily touch points and calls, and going over the top level problems.

    In these daily calls, we would all go through topics like operations, packaging and logistics. Every person had their specific focus area and we would discuss problems across the entire group. Everyone could weigh in with their suggestions and then you had 24 hours to go and find your solution – almost like a hackathon. The next day you’d come back to present your solution and indicate where you next need help, and we’d do it all over again.

    I always say one thing that big corporations can learn from a start-up is their focus and dedication. And during this moment of crisis, I saw this spirit within our company, all of our employees suddenly acted like entrepreneurs and were all single-mindedly focused.

    Obviously, this was also possible because the traditional business came to a halt and people had the time. But I also believe it’s because we were building something new. You started to feel that entrepreneurial magic amidst the crisis, people felt a sense ownership for what they were building.


  • How was senior management involved during this process?

    One thing that was critical in helping us was that we had weekly executive meetings, whereas in pre-coronavirus times we would only do this every month. So our entire executive board would get together each week and we’d have a moment to present what we’re working on, where we stand and what we need in order to progress, whether additional resources, people or expertise, and so on.

    I think that is one of the most important things in a crisis. You need to shorten the path of decision making and decide quickly. The weekly communication with the executive team was essential in order to act and pivot quickly.

  • And your team did this while everyone was working from home. Was remote working new to the company or was it something that SV Group had already had experience with in the past?

    I was used to working remotely in my previous job, but for many in Switzerland and across the SV Group, remote working was new. Some people have never used teleconferencing solutions before, and some of our early meetings just involved getting people acquainted with these new technologies.

    But that’s what is interesting with technology: when you need it, adoption curves are really fast. Coronavirus accelerated the adoption of some core technologies, like remote working solutions, teleconferencing, chatting functions, as well as ordering food online. Just look at delivery services like Eat.ch, Smood or Uber Eats. Within a few weeks people shifted to using these services, and they became commonplace.

  • What led your team to focus on a delivery based solution? Why not take a different route?

    We looked at underlying trends that were already prevalent in society and how the crisis would fuel those particular trends in order to identify the innovation opportunities that we wanted to go after. We knew food delivery was already something that had been growing in Switzerland, and with offices shut and people at home, this would only continue to grow.

    For us, it was not just about figuring out what to do during the crisis, but understanding the future of our business. We know that traditionally staff restaurants have been largely undisrupted and that there is opportunity for technology and digitalization to change the way people interact in these environments and how they order food.

    People in offices have less time to eat. They want more flexible options to pick up their food and maybe eat it somewhere else. People don’t want to stand in line waiting. We look at how technology can be used in the restaurant industry to create convenience and save time.

  • So what do you think the future of the cafeteria will look like?

    I believe there are two major changes that are going to happen. On the one hand, the shift to working from home has accelerated due to the coronavirus. People want more flexibility where they work and this crisis has shown employers that home office is a feasible option. Our corporate partners create cafeterias to support their employees with healthy and good food at work. If people work from home, we need to think how to bring food to where their employees are.

    The second big trend I see is the use of digital technologies in staff restaurants. And you can already see it in the fast food industry. If you go to a McDonald’s today, you will see many people opting to order their food at a kiosk as opposed to at the counter. We especially see this with the younger generation, who likes to order at a digital kiosk so they can individualize their order – this is something they may be less comfortable doing face-to-face with a cashier. I think this idea of using technology to personalize your order will be something that will come the food service industry as well.


  • What is your approach to digitization at SV Group?

    We think about where technology can enhance the value of what we are creating. We don’t want to introduce technology for the sake of it, or just because everyone else is doing it. At the end of the day, eating out is about human connections. It is about enjoying a good meal to recharge your batteries and engage with co-workers and friends.

    The way we are approaching digitization is asking where we can use technology to do our jobs better and provide a smoother customer service. You want to leverage technology in the best way possible to enhance the experience. I think every start-up and every entrepreneur knows that. And every corporation has to think the same way. It is just sometimes harder for corporations than for entrepreneurs to leverage new technologies.

  • In a post-COVID world, how will we balance introducing all of these new technologies whilst maintaining the human element intact in restaurants?

    We’re looking at how we can use technology in a way to become better hosts and focus even more on the human-to-human connection so that our service staff at one of our restaurants or hotels can ask, “How was your day?” rather than “Please enter your pin details”. If we can cut down on the time in taking an order or checking someone in, we can focus all our attention on the customer experience.

Menuausgabe_300dpi.jpg
Source: SV Group

  • Jumping back to Andiamo Delivery. Is this something that will be continued by SV Group, or will it be phased out eventually?

    It is interesting because the demand is starting to increase even more now as people are getting back to work.

    SV Group’s brand promise has been providing healthy, fresh food that is cooked from scratch every day at work. Until now, we served bigger companies by building in-office restaurants. With Andiamo Delivery, we’re able to broaden our scope of customers to provide the exact same service of delicious meals to smaller companies, delivering fresh daily.

    Now, any company can use the Andiamo Delivery to provide food for their employees at work. We see this as a long term opportunity.

  • What are some other things that you were working on in your innovation department?

    One project we launched last year is our smart fridge, Emil Fröhlich, that provides fresh food at the office 24/7. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as healthy snacks and smoothies. What makes Emil Fröhlich unique is the seamless experience – it’s a tap, grab and go experience. You open the app when you are in front of the fridge, the fridge opens, you take out what you want, and then close the fridge and leave – that’s it. We work with RFID technology to make that whole experience easy and convenient. No need to scan anything afterwards, the fridge knows exactly what you have taken out, and you get your receipt directly in the app.

    We have also been innovating around plant-based recipes. SV Group was one of the first to work with the plant-based chicken start-up Planted and offer other plant based meat menus including the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. We take a strong stance on sustainability and believe you can only convince people to eat plant based if it tastes really great. It’s also cool to see that we can support start-ups, like Planted by working with them to bring their innovative solutions into our restaurant.

  • What type of start-ups would you collaborate with and who should reach out to contact you?

    We’re looking for sustainable packaging, in particular for take-away. And again, plant-based products, like dairy and meat substitutes. We are also looking for certain technology partners on the delivery side to make delivery even more seamless and faster. Also, we see interesting restaurant technology that can digitize processes in the front and back of the house.

  • What advice would you have to other corporates or SMEs that might struggle to innovate on how to build an innovative team and convince others in the company to adopt that mentality?

    You need a vision and commitment for innovation that comes from the top down. Having a dedicated team and resources, as well as an innovation budget is key. Try to remove all the barriers and friction points to innovate internally and create short communication paths.

    You also need to know in which direction you want to go and how innovation fits into the overall strategy of the company. Whether that’s for product development, long-term competitive advantage, and so on. In the end, what’s really important is to just get started, either with a specific project or collaboration with a start-up. Get started and see how innovation can transform your company.

About Stephanie Naegeli
Stephanie Naegeli joined the SV Group in November 2019 as Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO). After completing her studies at the University of St. Gallen, Stephanie worked in brand consulting at Meta Design in Zurich and then worked for Nestlé for eleven years. First as Brand Manager at the headquarters in Vevey, and then in the coffee business in Frankfurt. In San Francisco, she opened an innovation outpost for Nestlé as Global Director of Marketing and Innovation Food, focusing on digital services and new business models.

Interview with Stephanie Naegeli

Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO) at the SV Group, Dübendorf (Switzerland)

There’s one sector of the food industry that’s gone relatively under the radar during this pandemic. A place that typically feeds hundreds of hungry mouths a day and is responsible for fueling office workers across the globe. It’s our cafeterias. Often times, the heart of a corporate office, where employees come to grab a quick snack on the way to their next meeting or have a sit-down meal to catch up with colleagues in between their busy workdays. But with offices operating on skeleton staff, and most employees working from home, the demand for these large communal dining areas went down with it.

Stephanie Naegeli,  Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group
Stephanie Naegeli, Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group

Rather than sit around and wait for things to normalize, one company spent the downtime working on future-proofing their business. The SV Group is one of the largest gastronomy and hotel companies in Switzerland employing around 8,400 people and is better known for tradition rather than innovation. With the current pandemic grinding a halt to their business, I reached out to Stephanie Naegeli, the recently appointed Chief Strategic Business Development Officer at SV Group - to discuss how the company remained flexible in these changing times, adjusting to working from home and what the future of cafeterias, and their business, could like.

  • FoodHack: When the new restaurant regulations were put in place, what was the reaction from SV Group and what were some of the early actions you took to help you cope?

    Stephanie Naegeli: As early as the end of February, we formed a crisis management team within the SV Group, consisting of a team of experts across all divisions and departments. It met every other day and decided on the current measures. Obviously, as the largest gastronomy and hotel company in Switzerland, it was a rather big shock to close half of our restaurants and hotels and to put nearly all of our staff into short-term employment. The good thing was that we were well prepared and already had a clear pandemic plan in place, which helped us to navigate the storm.

Citrus noodles with vegetables.jpg
Source: SV Group
  • And how did this affect your role as the Chief Strategic Business Development Officer? Was your unit still active during this time?

    At first, it was hard to figure out how to manage the crisis. But I had to see the crisis from an innovation perspective.

    We very quickly shifted to say “OK, there are also opportunities in this crisis” and took a closer look at customer needs. We realized that while in-office staff restaurants were closed, as were nearby restaurants, not all offices shut down completely. There were 20 or 30, sometimes even 50 people in some offices, and they were looking for fresh food options. And so we focused on creating a solution for small offices.

    And that led us down the path of creating a virtual cafeteria. The way it works is that the corporate office can let us know if they want to participate. We send them a link for the online shop where their employees can browse the menu and order what they like directly from there. Our team delivers daily to the offices, and employees can pick up their orders from there. We called it Andiamo Delivery – andiamo means “let’s go” in Italian. As Andiamo is already a brand we use for take-aways in our restaurants, customers and guests are familiar with it and trust it.


  • Are your own employees doing the deliveries, or are you using an external third-party delivery service?

    It’s our own employees. When prototyping the service, we discovered that we had over 100 cars in the company, from corporate cars to the ones that employees drive to work. And so we decided to put these to use during the lockdown, and now some of our cooks who have had their working hours reduced, are out doing food deliveries.


  • Traditionally you wouldn’t expect a company of your size to act so quickly. Why do you think SV Group was able to pivot and adapt so fast, and how did your unit approach it?

    Yes, you are right. SV Group is a 100-year-old company with over 8,000 employees. We serve around 38 million meals per year in over 600 restaurants in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. And clearly, you wouldn’t expect a 100-year-old company to be that nimble and adaptable.

    I think why it worked is that my department, the Strategic Business Development Unit, is new within the company. We established it last November and have been operating for a few months only. But the way we have set it up is that we operate as a lean start-up internally, prototyping, coming up with minimum viable products, then going out and testing them.

    It was really with that mind-set that we tried to approach Andiamo Delivery because we knew if we would do this in the timescale of a traditional project, it would take months to develop. And by that time, the opportunity will be over. So what we really had to think about is what is the minimum viable product in order to be able to test this quickly?


  • What did the MVP product look like?

    We have never had a food delivery service in place. But we did know how to cook big volumes of high-quality and tasty food. We created central hubs that prepared the food for the online shop and would fulfil all the logistics and carry out the delivery. It took us just a week to set up the first central hub, and then it took us few additional days to set up the online shop on which people can place orders.


  • What did this process of rapid prototyping look like inside the company during this time?

    We had a very cross-functional team between operations, controlling, logistics and the product development team. And bringing that together was what allowed us to move quickly. We were doing daily touch points and calls, and going over the top level problems.

    In these daily calls, we would all go through topics like operations, packaging and logistics. Every person had their specific focus area and we would discuss problems across the entire group. Everyone could weigh in with their suggestions and then you had 24 hours to go and find your solution – almost like a hackathon. The next day you’d come back to present your solution and indicate where you next need help, and we’d do it all over again.

    I always say one thing that big corporations can learn from a start-up is their focus and dedication. And during this moment of crisis, I saw this spirit within our company, all of our employees suddenly acted like entrepreneurs and were all single-mindedly focused.

    Obviously, this was also possible because the traditional business came to a halt and people had the time. But I also believe it’s because we were building something new. You started to feel that entrepreneurial magic amidst the crisis, people felt a sense ownership for what they were building.


  • How was senior management involved during this process?

    One thing that was critical in helping us was that we had weekly executive meetings, whereas in pre-coronavirus times we would only do this every month. So our entire executive board would get together each week and we’d have a moment to present what we’re working on, where we stand and what we need in order to progress, whether additional resources, people or expertise, and so on.

    I think that is one of the most important things in a crisis. You need to shorten the path of decision making and decide quickly. The weekly communication with the executive team was essential in order to act and pivot quickly.

  • And your team did this while everyone was working from home. Was remote working new to the company or was it something that SV Group had already had experience with in the past?

    I was used to working remotely in my previous job, but for many in Switzerland and across the SV Group, remote working was new. Some people have never used teleconferencing solutions before, and some of our early meetings just involved getting people acquainted with these new technologies.

    But that’s what is interesting with technology: when you need it, adoption curves are really fast. Coronavirus accelerated the adoption of some core technologies, like remote working solutions, teleconferencing, chatting functions, as well as ordering food online. Just look at delivery services like Eat.ch, Smood or Uber Eats. Within a few weeks people shifted to using these services, and they became commonplace.

  • What led your team to focus on a delivery based solution? Why not take a different route?

    We looked at underlying trends that were already prevalent in society and how the crisis would fuel those particular trends in order to identify the innovation opportunities that we wanted to go after. We knew food delivery was already something that had been growing in Switzerland, and with offices shut and people at home, this would only continue to grow.

    For us, it was not just about figuring out what to do during the crisis, but understanding the future of our business. We know that traditionally staff restaurants have been largely undisrupted and that there is opportunity for technology and digitalization to change the way people interact in these environments and how they order food.

    People in offices have less time to eat. They want more flexible options to pick up their food and maybe eat it somewhere else. People don’t want to stand in line waiting. We look at how technology can be used in the restaurant industry to create convenience and save time.

  • So what do you think the future of the cafeteria will look like?

    I believe there are two major changes that are going to happen. On the one hand, the shift to working from home has accelerated due to the coronavirus. People want more flexibility where they work and this crisis has shown employers that home office is a feasible option. Our corporate partners create cafeterias to support their employees with healthy and good food at work. If people work from home, we need to think how to bring food to where their employees are.

    The second big trend I see is the use of digital technologies in staff restaurants. And you can already see it in the fast food industry. If you go to a McDonald’s today, you will see many people opting to order their food at a kiosk as opposed to at the counter. We especially see this with the younger generation, who likes to order at a digital kiosk so they can individualize their order – this is something they may be less comfortable doing face-to-face with a cashier. I think this idea of using technology to personalize your order will be something that will come the food service industry as well.


  • What is your approach to digitization at SV Group?

    We think about where technology can enhance the value of what we are creating. We don’t want to introduce technology for the sake of it, or just because everyone else is doing it. At the end of the day, eating out is about human connections. It is about enjoying a good meal to recharge your batteries and engage with co-workers and friends.

    The way we are approaching digitization is asking where we can use technology to do our jobs better and provide a smoother customer service. You want to leverage technology in the best way possible to enhance the experience. I think every start-up and every entrepreneur knows that. And every corporation has to think the same way. It is just sometimes harder for corporations than for entrepreneurs to leverage new technologies.

  • In a post-COVID world, how will we balance introducing all of these new technologies whilst maintaining the human element intact in restaurants?

    We’re looking at how we can use technology in a way to become better hosts and focus even more on the human-to-human connection so that our service staff at one of our restaurants or hotels can ask, “How was your day?” rather than “Please enter your pin details”. If we can cut down on the time in taking an order or checking someone in, we can focus all our attention on the customer experience.

Menuausgabe_300dpi.jpg
Source: SV Group

  • Jumping back to Andiamo Delivery. Is this something that will be continued by SV Group, or will it be phased out eventually?

    It is interesting because the demand is starting to increase even more now as people are getting back to work.

    SV Group’s brand promise has been providing healthy, fresh food that is cooked from scratch every day at work. Until now, we served bigger companies by building in-office restaurants. With Andiamo Delivery, we’re able to broaden our scope of customers to provide the exact same service of delicious meals to smaller companies, delivering fresh daily.

    Now, any company can use the Andiamo Delivery to provide food for their employees at work. We see this as a long term opportunity.

  • What are some other things that you were working on in your innovation department?

    One project we launched last year is our smart fridge, Emil Fröhlich, that provides fresh food at the office 24/7. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as healthy snacks and smoothies. What makes Emil Fröhlich unique is the seamless experience – it’s a tap, grab and go experience. You open the app when you are in front of the fridge, the fridge opens, you take out what you want, and then close the fridge and leave – that’s it. We work with RFID technology to make that whole experience easy and convenient. No need to scan anything afterwards, the fridge knows exactly what you have taken out, and you get your receipt directly in the app.

    We have also been innovating around plant-based recipes. SV Group was one of the first to work with the plant-based chicken start-up Planted and offer other plant based meat menus including the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. We take a strong stance on sustainability and believe you can only convince people to eat plant based if it tastes really great. It’s also cool to see that we can support start-ups, like Planted by working with them to bring their innovative solutions into our restaurant.

  • What type of start-ups would you collaborate with and who should reach out to contact you?

    We’re looking for sustainable packaging, in particular for take-away. And again, plant-based products, like dairy and meat substitutes. We are also looking for certain technology partners on the delivery side to make delivery even more seamless and faster. Also, we see interesting restaurant technology that can digitize processes in the front and back of the house.

  • What advice would you have to other corporates or SMEs that might struggle to innovate on how to build an innovative team and convince others in the company to adopt that mentality?

    You need a vision and commitment for innovation that comes from the top down. Having a dedicated team and resources, as well as an innovation budget is key. Try to remove all the barriers and friction points to innovate internally and create short communication paths.

    You also need to know in which direction you want to go and how innovation fits into the overall strategy of the company. Whether that’s for product development, long-term competitive advantage, and so on. In the end, what’s really important is to just get started, either with a specific project or collaboration with a start-up. Get started and see how innovation can transform your company.

About Stephanie Naegeli
Stephanie Naegeli joined the SV Group in November 2019 as Chief Strategic Business Development Officer (CBDO). After completing her studies at the University of St. Gallen, Stephanie worked in brand consulting at Meta Design in Zurich and then worked for Nestlé for eleven years. First as Brand Manager at the headquarters in Vevey, and then in the coffee business in Frankfurt. In San Francisco, she opened an innovation outpost for Nestlé as Global Director of Marketing and Innovation Food, focusing on digital services and new business models.

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