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Mon 9 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Stand & deliver

Middle East F&B industry suppliers compare notes with the region's buyers on the importance of building relationships, value-for-money and reliable deliveries.

Middle East F&B industry suppliers compare notes with the region's buyers on the importance of building relationships, value-for-money and reliable deliveries.

The suppliers

What are you promoting in the Middle East at the moment?

Matthew Yorke-Smith:We will soon be rolling out a number of exciting and funky cafés, kiosks and carts across the country which will serve our signature coffees and a great selection of fresh food. In the food service sector, we will be launching our hotel in-room coffee solution together with retail packs for sale in top supermarkets.

It is extremely difficult ensuring a consistent and regular supply chain here.

Ashwin Ruchani:We are promoting our Nonions sautéed onion paste. This is a new concept and a very new category, so educating people and creating awareness is important.

We have also recently introduced our Sippy range of sweetcorn kernels, especially for the food service industry. Our products are 100% natural and preservative-free.

Charles Dabdoub:Our main brands supplied to the hotel industry are S.Pellegrino Natural Sparkling Water and Acqua Panna Natural Mineral Water. Another star brand in our portfolio is the Unilever Food Solution range, with brands such as Knorr and Hellmann's.

Recently we have created our own brand, Chefmate, which includes Norwegian smoked salmon and virgin olive oil.

Bhanu Pratap:With an offering of over 1200 flavors, we have a big range of ice creams to suit the diverse tastes of local and ex-pat consumers - and we keep on adding a new flavour every month to enhance our offering. Apart from this, we are focusing on ice cream cakes and developing the segment as a new dessert category.

On the retail front, we are opening up new store formats such as the Baskin Robbins Café and Baskin Robbins Express that will offer new and exciting assortment of beverages and ice cream-based products.

Mark Rogers:One of the key developments is the growth of rosé wine in the region - there has been a lack of quality rosé offerings.

This year there was the introduction of Yering Station ED Rosé and Pink Elephant, a Portuguese blend. There will be more rosés being launched and promoted in 2009.

Mark Allan:We believe that we are only as good as the last order we've delivered. As a result, we are constantly striving to maintain our standards of the very highest quality at competitive prices.

We deal mostly in chilled and fresh fish and seafood, importing by air two to three times a week so that the customer can continue to offer the best from Europe and the rest of the world. We specialise in cold water European varieties, such as dover sole, halibut, turbot and monkfish.

Sylvain Dronet:During this month's Gulfood, we'll be launching a brand new line of purées, Le Fruit de Monin.

This is a range of high quality fruit purées, provinding an easy and profitable solution for creating amazing smoothies and cocktails.

How much business do you do in the Middle East?

Yorke-Smith:Our clients include 150 petrol stations throughout the UAE, through which we sell approximately 50,000 cups of coffee per week. Within the food service sector our clients include Le Méridien, Westin and Kempinski Hotels, IKEA, Carrefour, Abu Dhabi Duty Free, Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

Ruchani:Our clients are spread across the food service and retail markets.

Dabdoub:In the Middle East we are operating only in the UAE, but our trade customer base exceeds 1000 and is growing by the day. We currently supply more than 90% of the five-star hotels, as well as numerous restaurant chains, cafés, and catering services.

Pratap:Although our core business is ice cream parlours, we cater to over 700 supermarkets and 400 hotels in the region - that accounts for 15% of our turnover.

Our target segment is primarily the premium end of the market, be it trade or consumer.

:As a regional importer, we work with the duty paid distributors and retailers as well as the duty free retailers and airlines across the Middle East.

Allan:Our business is based here in the UAE. We are now beginning to receive firm enquiries from other GCC countries keen to sample our produce on recommendations from sister hotel groups based here. On top of the hotel business, we also supply the airline catering industry and are working with a respected hypermarket chain.

Dronet:The Middle East represents 15% of our global sales. We work mainly with food service chains, coffee shops chains, hotels and bars.

What kind of relationship do you have with your clients?

Yorke-Smith:Every single one of our customers is visited regularly and we have key account managers designated to every single customer. This ensures that we are able to maintain extremely high levels of service.

Dabdoub:Horeca's commitment to their customers is borne out by the fact that the sales team, which includes three executive chefs, are highly experienced and come from hospitality and culinary backgrounds.

Positive and lasting supplier relations are of prime importance to

Rather than simply supplying products, Horeca's sales team is also actively involved in training hotel and restaurant staff in product knowledge and the right way of making and serving the product, be it sparkling water, coffee or waffles.

The company engages with its customers on many other levels as well. As a member of the Emirates Culinary Guild, Horeca attends and participates in the monthly guild meeting in order to better understand their needs.

Pratap:On the hotels, restaurants and cafés end we have a very strong and progressive relationship with our customers. They know our product is a premium offering at a competitive price that helps them maintain a consistent quality for their consumers.

Dronet:We emphasise our relationship with our customers through innovation and education; innovation because we every year we bring out new and exciting flavours, based on worldwide trends, and education because we have among the region a team of beverage specialists who help and support all customers if they need exciting beverage recipes.

What are the main challenges of operating in the Middle East F&B industry and how do you deal with such issues?

Yorke-Smith:As most of our goods are imported from various corners of the world, it is extremely difficult ensuring a consistent and regular supply chain here.

The only way to deal with this is to hold excess inventory levels, which then obviously impacts working capital requirements, so it is a very fine balance. We have a zero stock out policy on all our product lines, to ensure our customers are never disappointed.

Ruchani:Challenges are a part and parcel of any new concept, be it in the Middle East or the global market. We do face particular challenges regarding educating people and promoting product awareness.

To help with this, we ask our clients to do a blind test, where they cook the same meal using onions and Nonions.

Then we get an independent inspector to try the dishes, and it is very difficult to taste any difference between the two.

Another common misconception is that innovative products like ours are very expensive, which is not the case.

Pratap:In the premium hotels there is a growing preference for natural ice creams and at the same time many hotels have started preparing their own. But apart from this we do not face any major challenges.

:A big challenge for us is the education required, especially regarding the care of wines so that they are stored and handled correctly.

But there have been huge strides taken here in the last 10 years or so, which is probably reflected in the share wine now enjoys in the total beverage mix.

Allan:The main challenge for a fresh food supplier is logistics. If I buy a fish Monday morning, it won't arrive until Wednesday - how can I guarantee to my client that it's still good? Of course the answer is fantastic suppliers acting as your eyes on the various markets. Mine are guys that I have known for 20 years whom I, and ultimately my customers, can trust implicitly.

Dronet:Definitely the turnover of staff, lack of education for baristas and the lack of a developed community of bartenders and baristas. In non-alcoholic markets like Saudi Arabia, there is a strong need to create a real beverage industry and to develop education and excitement around drinks.

Once again, our focus is to educate and train people by showing them that they can increase their profit margins with great drinks. The Middle East is not just about juice and water anymore; outlets need to have creative menus and we are here to help them.

The buyersWhat kind of relationship do you have with your F&B suppliers?

Rob de Villiers:We have always believed in fostering good relationships and partnerships with our suppliers.

Oliver Steding:Positive and lasting supplier relations are of prime importance for operations. In order to run a business successfully and efficiently, it is imperative for us to forge a good working relationship with our partners.

As most of our goods are imported, it is extremely difficult ensuring a regular supply chain here.

Abraham Thomas:It is a mutually beneficial partnership, where we are assured that the suppliers give us quality products at fair prices so we can pass on any savings to our guests. To establish this relationship, I communicate the hotel's strategy and vision to ensure that together we work to achieve our objectives.
What are the main challenges when sourcing food and beverage suppliers and how do you deal with such issues when they arise?

De Villiers:This specifically relates to our core business, which is beef. We rely on local companies to source this on our behalf; they in turn rely on consolidators from the USA, Australia and South Africa. The challenge therefore is having the export countries understanding our unique needs.

However if problems do arise, our mutual respect within our partnerships with our suppliers supersedes most issues.

Steding:The main challenge is not necessarily the cost of their products; it is finding suppliers who can provide us with a good support structure, especially regarding technical and operational equipment, as well as consistency in product deliveries.

In our day-to-day operations, everything has to be clockwork, and we rely heavily on our suppliers for these efficiencies.

In addition to the above we are always facing new or amended legislations here in Dubai - for instance, the HACCP compliance for all five-star properties.

Thomas:The biggest challenge is sourcing products that conform to HACCP standards. We have to choose an HACCP certified supplier that can give the best price, ensure the chosen product is available at the quantities we need and that the company can deliver on time.

The other challenge is the lack of competitive pricing due to the exclusivity rights that some suppliers in the region enjoy, leading to the monopoly of these products.

Are there any particular problems that arise when dealing with supply companies in this region?

De Villiers:Certainly there are issues with high importation costs and a lack of local producers, however as we are fortunate enough to have been trading in the region for some time; we have adapted to and overcome most obstacles.

Steding:Dubai's exponential growth within the past few years has caused this market to become increasingly unpredictable. At times suppliers face issues regarding limited storage capacity or on the other hand can be too conservative with their stock keeping.

Thomas:In my experience, it is a challenge to source imported spare parts in this region, simply due to a lack of availability of such products in the local market.

Imported items that are not available locally not only cause extra expenses but also a delay in getting the delivery.

How do you think the global economic situation will affect business in the region over the coming year?

Yorke-Smith:When Coffee Planet was started some three years back we implemented extremely robust business models.

This coupled with the market segment in which we operate and our blue chip customer base has resulted in our business holding up to the current credit crisis and we are not expecting this to change during 2009.

Our growth last year was formidable and though we are not expecting the same levels in 2009 we are still budgeting for significant growth this financial year.

Ruchani:We are a very optimistic company; there is always a silver lining to any dark cloud!

In the past, we were telling people that our product was 100% natural and would save money without any change in taste - unfortunately only a few would listen or believe us.

But the current industry mantra is ‘reduce costs without compromising on quality'.

This is where we come in: we offer potential clients two-month trials, because that's when the savings can be seen. Most of them are willing to try it and once they have seen their costs actually reducing, there is no looking back.

Dabdoub:One of the classic concerns in the industry - but more so now, with this dramatic shift in the economy - is the cost element. Restaurateurs and hoteliers are beginning to re-evaluate the costs of running their kitchen. Chefs are looking for solutions to guarantee safe, reliable, consistent and cost effective dishes for the consumer.

At Horeca, we find such solutions and help our partners to effectively and efficiently run their kitchen at the same quality level.

Pratap:We hope to maintain a healthy growth in the region and have plans to open 45 more stores in 2009. Ice cream is an indulgent category and consuming it goes beyond satisfying one's taste buds, it's actually a stress reliever. Historically, we have seen that during market down-turns and recessions, ice-cream sales tend to grow, as people look for affordable options to entertain themselves.

:There may be a need to source alternative products which have even better value, if the end-user is looking at cost savings. Prices need to be carefully calculated, with a balance of margin percentage and cash margin, so the F&B offering stays competitive, especially when considering currency fluctuations that particularly affect tourists from the United Kingdom and Europe.

Rogers: As an importer, it is the time to focus on the core business and get the supply chain right, focusing on products which deliver exceptional value and have the chance to grow across the region.

Allan:All suppliers rely on their customers to pay within their stipulated credit terms. A lull in tourism will reduce visitors here, but hopefully that will not influence those clients to slow down their payments.

I don't believe anyone is immune and Dubai is entering uncharted waters to some extent. The vital thing is that the industry continues to work hard to attract visitors and that those visitors get value for money, especially with their food and beverage experience.

Taking part...Coffee Planet is an edgy, sharp alternative giving coffee drinkers exciting new options to their usual coffee experience. We love coffee and strive to share this passion. - Matthew Yorke-Smith, Coffee Planet operations director

RRRF-ANGT is a company championing products which are 100% natural and free of preservatives, artificial colours and flavourings, such as our key product Nonions. - Ashwin Ruchani, Nonions marketing manager

With Horeca Trade, founder Hisham Al Jamil wanted to create a food and beverage distribution company that was different from the 100-plus other food service companies in the UAE. The company's mission is to provide the food service channel with a dynamic, added-value contribution. - Charles Dabdoub, Horeca Trade marketing director

"Galadari Ice Cream Company started operations in 1979 and is the exclusive licensee for Baskin Robbins in the Gulf. We have 426 ice cream parlors in the region." - Bhanu Pratap, Baskin Robbins country manager - UAE

"Intagulf is an independent wine and spirit merchant established in 2002. It imports from all the major wine-producing countries from around the world." - Mark Rogers, Intagulf FZCO managing director

"Wet Fish was incorporated in 2004 and has grown to be one of the best wholesale fish suppliers in Dubai. The business continues to go from strength to strength." - Mark Allan, Wet Fish managing director

"Three family generations have dedicated Monin to providing the best syrups to use in drinks. Today, Monin has over 100 flavours, distributed in 115 countries." - Sylvain Dronet, Monin sales and marketing director

"The Meat Company is a steakhouse brand. Our executive chef deals with suppliers, but I like to help foster these relationships." - Rob de Villiers, The Meat Co and Ribs & Rumps, regional operations director

"I deal with all suppliers relevant to the five restaurants and four bars I look after. I primarily deal with F&B, but my scope also expands to anything else that is required." - Oliver Steding, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah F&B manager

"I am the main contact for all suppliers and I represent the hotel in all the Dubai Marriot cluster meetings in relation to purchasing matters." - Abraham Thomas, Renaissance Dubai purchasing manager

How suppliers can crack the Middle East market,
Food giant

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