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Fri 8 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Throat wars

In the world of beverage, getting ahead of the competition is the key to success. Here Caterer Middle East speaks to key industry professionals about ways to win "share of throat" at the IMES Consulting Beverage Conference.

In the world of beverage, getting ahead of the competition is the key to success. Here Caterer Middle East speaks to key industry professionals about ways to win "share of throat" at the IMES Consulting Beverage Conference.

The Middle Eastern beverage industry is an increasingly competitive place, with new players entering the market with new portfolios every quarter according to industry professionals. As local and multinational brands jostle for market share, the business of increasing profit margins is becoming a difficult task.

The conference is a step forward in educating companies to the essentials that will give them a head start on the competition. - Thorsten Hartmann, director of IMES consulting.

IMES consulting addressed these issues at a conference entitled "Winning the Battle for Share of Throat", aimed at industry professionals and conducted by a series of regional experts in their field.

The conference tackled a range of issues, from measuring return on marketing investments to difficult but lucrative new regional markets, such as Lybia and Iraq.

On the whole, there is a lack of this type of information in the market according to IMES Consulting managing director David Edwards.

"I've been invited to speak and act as chairman at a number of conferences over the last four years in Dubai but none of them were specialised on the beverage industry," he says.

"We perceived that there was a huge gap and an opportunity in the market, which was something that the industry really needed," he added.

The conference was an economic event with no gimmicks, gala dinners or award ceremonies and a modest entry cost of AED 3600 (US $995) Edwards says.

"We didn't want all the frills and extended adverts you see at other conferences. We had two basic guiding philosophies for doing this; one was that the content should be very good and the second was that it should be accessible to everyone in the industry."

Delegates from across the complete canvas of beverage companies turned out for the event including multinational brand representatives from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé as well as local key industry professionals from Oman, Saudi and Egypt.

"We received a very good initial response from interested companies and this can be seen in the diversity of people taking part in the conference," Edwards says.

Speakers from six specific areas of the beverage industry presented their expert advice on product expansion, knowledge, branding, distribution and pricing and provided practical advice to businesses to implement these into their own marketing strategies explains Edwards.

"Companies can take this advice on board and assess whether these are opportunities they can exploit. The overall theme we're running on is ‘winning the battle for share of throat' and all the presentations are about some aspect of how to get ahead; how can we win compared to the competition," he says.

"Winning Through Planning" was the first presentation given by Pepsi-Cola insight manager Middle East and North Africa Abdulcadir Sharif. This reviewed beverage marketing metrics and focused on making returns on investments comments Edwards.

"Too many companies spend their marketing bucks without having a clear idea about the effect it's having; this presentation gave a thorough insight into how companies can measure the effectiveness of their marketing and how useful it is to their strategy."
Field experience

IMES Consulting has been actively researching the beverage industry for the last 25-30 years in the Middle East having started to research the Saudi soft drink market at the end of the 1970s says Edwards.

"We basically ask a lot of impertinent questions and we get an array of co-operation because we've built relationships over a period of years."

"Companies know that having helped IMES has never undermined their business. They know that we only use that data in the way we say we do," he adds.

This is an obvious advantage when it comes to getting and presenting good data, but it is also essential in getting a very accurate overview of behavioral changes in the marketplace.

We had two basic guiding philosophies for doing this: very good content and accessibility to people in the industry. - David Edwards, managing director, IMES consulting.

According to Edwards, these are the things beverage professionals need to know and based on IMES' extensive history and experience in the region, it has access to accurate information.

"We literally and metaphorically get business handed down from father to son, but of course we're supplying data to them as well, so if they are giving us dodgy information then they can expect to read dodgy information in their reports.

"That's not to say that some people don't try and mislead us, but that's part of the skill of what we do - we have to be able to look at information and assess its level of credibility," he adds.

The conference is a step forward in educating companies to the essentials that will give them a head start on the competition according to IMES director Thorsten Hartmann.

"So far we've received fantastic feedback. People seem very happy with the presentations and are very responsive during question-and-answer sessions," Hartmann says.

"It's very tricky because you need to get the speakers who have a certain passion about their project and product and are really enthusiastic and interested in sharing their knowledge."

Edwards confesses that getting the right caliber of presenters wasn't an easy task.

"I had requests from speakers that we had to turn down because we had a very strict format for this conference in order to give companies the most beneficial information, which they can actively use in their business strategies."

With the apparent success of this conference, IMES Consulting is considering conducting another conference on winning "share of throat" in the near future.

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