By Gavin Gibbon
Despite the geopolitical challenges, CEO Dr Ata Atmar revealed year-on-year business growth of 20% up to February 20 this year
The CEO of Saudi-based gourmet date grower, producer and seller, Bateel has confirmed plans to expand the company’s footprint in China are currently on hold as a result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Dr Ata Atmar told Arabian Business that China is still very much part of their plans, as well as additional outlets in the US, Europe and India.
“We have had very good signs from the US, Europe and India, and China we were about to start, but now in the last two months, we’ve had to put a freeze on that.
“I think in 12 months we want to be fully established in China if we can. I think this has had a setback, but we want it,” he said.
Dr Atmar revealed that growth in China would go a long way to addressing issues the company is having with Chinese bulk-buying Bateel products and selling them at inflated prices in their home market.
He explained: “We find sometimes Chinese tourists literally buying 100/200 boxes at Bateel retail prices, then they go back to China and put it on the internet, they sell it at double the prices.
“So we can see there’s strong demand. I think there’s two sides to it, firstly there’s the quality of the product, I think they’re surprised that they’ve found something that tastes so good and so healthy. And secondly, we are a luxury brand and the Chinese love anything luxury.
“There is not much we can do, they come and buy it and they sell it. How much money we want to spend to legally challenge that? But once we actually establish our own presence there, they cannot compete so we’re not worried about it.”
Bateel started business in 1991, though its date farms have been around since the 1930s. The company harvests more than 617,000 pounds of dates annually from more than 100,000 palm trees planted in the Al Ghat region, north of Riyadh.
Exports from Saudi Arabia rose 27 percent in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, for revenue exceeding $202 million.
Despite the geopolitical challenges, Dr Atmar revealed year-on-year business growth of 20 percent up to February 20 this year. Although he conceded the current crisis surrounding the deadly coronavirus will have an impact, he insisted the company is well placed to weather the storm.
He said: “We still do not have a full measure of what the impact might be. Nobody can predict how severe it could be but we need to develop some contingency plans of how to deal with it. If suddenly business goes down 50 percent, we need to find a way to deal with that, but we don’t have detailed plans at the moment.
“With the reduction in travel, we are big players in the travel industry, we are in Duty Frees and the supplier line, so that will be impacted.
“I think we are well positioned in terms of where we are and we have significant resources both in terms of management and finances, so we should be able to deal with it, but it’s going to be a challenge.”