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Sat 30 Sep 2006 08:00 PM

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Fresh & fast service

John Vouyoukas, business development manager for Fresh Express, talks to Caterer about the logistical challenges of distributing perishable goods across the UAE

When was your business established?

Fresh Express was established in 1991 in response to the demand for high-end products. This was due to an increase in international chefs coming to the region, alongside a rising number of fine dining restaurants opening up in the Middle East.

Who makes up the bulk of your business?

Our customers include five-star hotels and fine dining restaurants, not only in the UAE but across the whole of the Gulf region.

Can you list some of the products Fresh Express supplies to the market?

Our product range covers fresh produce including vegetables, aromatic herbs, wild mushrooms and fruits, as well as cheeses, game and a massive range of seafood. We are not just limited to foodstuffs though, we also supply a range of beverages including coffee and syrups.

What are a few of the more popular products in

Recently we have been seeing an increased demand for exclusive salad mixes from Australia, micro-herbs from Holland and cepes mushrooms from France. We are also importing an increasing number of feta cheeses from Greece, as well as line-caught sea bass from France and diver scallops from Scotland.

Where do you source your products?

In order to ensure quality and freshness we source our products directly from the producers — the farmers and the fishermen. We also follow the season of every product, so summer is usually a quiet time for us. As a result, our shipment volume drops quite a lot during this time of year.

Is there a lot of competition in the market?

At the moment the UAE market hosts some of the best chefs, who all have amazing backgrounds in the art of cuisine. Because of this, companies and suppliers have to be of the same standard. So for us, we have to compete to be the best in terms of quality.

What challenges do you face importing produce into?

The main challenge would have to be the logistical aspect, as the connection and deliveries with our suppliers can only be done by air. This is because we distribute perishable foodstuffs, so by its very nature it has a short shelf life. Also, when it comes to items like lobsters, crabs and shellfish, they need to be delivered within less than 14 hours, so time and shipments are our major issues.

How do you guarantee and maintain standards when importing fresh produce?

Our products are all sourced from the producers, who in turn use specialist packers to take care of the product during transportation, this includes the packing, stacking and monitoring of temperatures. It is then handed to our shippers who fly and deliver the shipments to the UAE.

What type of facility do you have?

We currently operate from three different offices in the UAE,

with our warehouses located at Al Quoz, Dubai. The facility is fully equipped with chillers and freezers that can handle any

food product.

How do you maintain the right temperatures during storage?

We have 21 temperature-controlled vehicles, ranging from 2°C–4°C. They are used across the UAE to ensure on-time delivery.

What percentage of the market share do you hold?

Fresh Express offers a wide range of products from across the globe, and we are currently the third leading French product importer in the UAE. We also represent 75% of the total Norwegian seafood portfolio.

What is the current state of the Middle East market?

The UAE is one of the fastest growing markets worldwide, so naturally the food and beverage industry has to grow day-by-day in order to meet these needs. However, we have to move quickly because the market is expanding rapidly.

Are chefs becoming more aware of new products that are available in the market?

Chefs are always keen to try new products and it is our job to keep them up-to-date. But it is also our job to make sure that any new product is of the highest quality.

What does the future hold for Fresh Express?

Although Fresh Express currently has three offices in the UAE, by the end of the year we will be opening our first branch outside of the emirates, followed by a second office by the end of 2007

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