You are what you eat: interview with John Manos - Jones the Grocer

Since launching in Abu Dhabi in 2008, the Gulf portion of Jones the Grocer’s business now makes up as much as 40 percent of the Australian firm’s revenue. Company director John Manos details the next steps for the gourmet food retailer

Such was the buzz surrounding the opening of Jones the Grocer’s first outlet in Dubai last year, eyewitnesses reported that one of the first customers was HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, who was spotted with his entourage tucking into a selection of the healthy eating delights served up by the eatery.

The Australia-based concept, which targets high-brow foodies with a blend of restaurant and organic produce retail in a single outlet, is now plotting further expansion in the region to complement its five sites in Abu Dhabi and one apiece in Dubai and Doha.

“We’re just finalising a second site in Dubai,” says John Manos, director of Jones the Grocer, adding that it will be in the city’s Downtown district. “We’re looking at a second site in Doha and one in Kuwait, and we’ve also done some work in Saudi Arabia in terms of assessing the market.”

“[Kuwait] will probably be in the next eight months. We’re talking to various people at the moment and we’re hoping to progress our discussions to the next level in three or four weeks,” Manos adds.

The expansion drive in the region has been fuelled by a recent investment by Singapore-based private equity fund L Capital Asia, which in August announced that it would be taking a stake in Jones the Grocer. According to Manos, L Capital Asia’s shareholding is “around 50 percent” of the business.

“[They’re providing two things:] one is capital and the other is strategic support in key markets, and that’s going to be us leveraging their relationships and the network that they have,” Manos explains.

Since opening its first outlet in Woollahra, a suburb of Sydney, in 1996, Jones the Grocer has broadened its reach to ten sites across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, in addition to its presence in the Gulf.

The firm’s decision to go international was based on an observation Manos made on certain customers’ buying habits.

“One of the things we realised fairly early on was that we used to get a lot of Asian visitors that would come into [our store in Australia], buy AUD$1,000-AUD$2,000 ($1,027-$2,054) worth of groceries and then take them back to Singapore, or Hong Kong or China, because that produce wasn’t available [there],” he says. “So we started thinking about the overseas market.”

After the firm’s expansion into Singapore, Jones the Grocer initially intended to open in Dubai soon afterwards, which at the time was the peak of the emirate’s property boom in 2008.

“When we got here what we found was that the market was probably too hot for us [and] overhyped, so we decided to set up in Abu Dhabi first,” explains Manos. “It proved to be a very good decision, because the rents were much more reasonable, and as soon as we launched in Abu Dhabi, Dubai crashed and the rents came back down by half.”

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Posted by: Valerie Houghton Registered Dietitian

Just to add another perspective: Fast food outlets are not the only sources of ballooning waistlines. The last time I ate in Jones the Grocer (in Abu Dhabi) I saw many waistlines that were straining against clothing and other body parts that were overhanging seats. To be fair, if Jones wants to be aligned with ?healthy? then how about publishing the nutritional content of the items and let the public be aware of what they are eating. While the food is very good, I would argue that the health benefits of the ingredients, even if some are organic, do not represent healthy guidelines and neither do the gigantic portion sizes. Eating organic does not reduce waistlines or ensure health. Eating the appropriate amount of calories from all sources of food groups and participating in daily exercise to burn calories is still required. I wish Jones all the best in their future endeavors.

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