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“Our primary focus is on enhancing our reach”

Dr Dhananjay Datar, Chairman, Al Adil Group of Supermarkets & Flour Mills

Dr Dhananjay Datar

What initiatives have you taken to promote Indian products to the UAE’s multicultural consumers?

Indian products have a high level of acceptance among diverse nationalities living in the UAE. We have ongoing digital as well as mass media campaigns wherein the wide range of Indian products that are available across our stores are promoted. We also execute campaigns that stress on the healthy aspect of Indian organic products.

What are Al Adil’s expansion plans in 2023 and beyond?

Al Adil has put in place a well thought out and conscious plan regarding expansion. Our primary focus is on enhancing our reach and we will be strengthening our online presence as well. In addition, plans are in place to open multiple outlets across the region. New stores will come up at diverse locations in keeping with our policy of reaching out to places where our customers want us to be.

“The focus has now shifted to quick delivery”

Rajiv Warrier, CEO, Choithrams

Rajiv Warrier

What are the key trends shaping grocery retail in the UAE?

The convenience of shopping online has become very important in the last few years and the focus has now shifted to quick delivery. In the past, people were shopping online for weekly or fortnightly baskets. Now people shop online for daily baskets as well. Those who are in a hurry, and don’t want to go to a shop just go online and place a quick order and get it delivered in the next 60 minutes. We see a trend of consumers lowering their basket value but shopping more frequently online. Dark stores are also becoming popular.

The share of e-commerce has risen significantly in grocery retail in the past few years encouraging retailers to create differentiated offers for customers. What initiatives have you taken to enhance your e-commerce segment?

We were probably the first grocery retailer to launch our own e-commerce site, www.choithram.com, way back in 2015. In 2018, we tied up with Instashop, then we added El Grocer, Talabat and Noon. We signed up exclusively with Deliveroo to supply to their dark stores. We have found different ways to access our customers; through our own website, marketplaces, and through dark stores. In the future, we could adopt a dark store model in our stores as well, by carving out some space in our retail stores where we deliver to our marketplace customers in say 30 minutes.

As told to Sony Thomas, Special to GN Focus

“We support small businesses”

Ashutosh Arun Chakradeo, Chief Retail Officer — GCC, Choithrams

Ashutosh Arun Chakradeo

The production of sustainable, locally grown food is key to providing long-term food security for a nation. How do you support the promotion of local brands at Choithrams?

Local brands are largely available for fruits and vegetables. A significant part of the produce that we buy comes from local farms in and around the region. Capsicum, cucumber, and tomatoes are some of the key products that we buy from local farms. Now, apart from that we also support small businesses on the food and grocery side. For example, Protein Bakeshop and Thrive are a couple of local brands that are doing extremely well in our stores. We constantly look for people who are establishing businesses in the UAE, and we support them by providing space in our stores.

Many consumers are shifting their focus to organic, healthy, and sustainable options. How have you adapted to these changes?

The organic, healthy and sustainable food category has gained an elevated importance in the post-Covid era. We have already expanded our assortment across these three categories, and we also run a monthly promotion to promote the organic and healthy segment. We will soon be launching a range of organic products on our own label, Goodness Foods, to further promote these products. And on sustainability, we are working with various local providers to reduce our carbon footprint. Some of our initiatives include introducing biodegradable plastic bags and engaging in activities with Dulsco to collect recyclable waste. We are also looking at the segregation of waste and how some of our food waste can be converted into organic waste or manure.

As told to Sony Thomas, Special to GN Focus 

“We have invested significantly in technology integration”

Kamal Vachani, Group Director & Partner, Al Maya Group

Kamal Vachani

How would you like to assess growth in the UAE’s grocery retail sector?

Retail in the UAE is growing fast after the pandemic. According to the recent IMF report, the UAE’s GDP is expected to grow at the rate of 4.2 per cent in 2023, which will positively impact the grocery retail segment in the UAE. In addition, ongoing support by the authorities, favourable economic situation and booming tourism sector put the country’s retail in a very strong place.

What initiatives have you taken to enhance your digital presence?

Al Maya Group strongly believes in technology-enabled business, and we have invested significantly in technology integration. Our sales team operates through Mobile Sales Force Automation (mSFA), while the merchandising team has a cutting-edge platform from a leading service provider. Similarly, the management team has access to Cognos, a user-friendly business intelligence tool from IBM.

In addition, Al Maya group has taken a majority stake in a leading B2B platform, Conektr, which caters to over 7,000 groceries directly.

These investments in technology are not only enabling and facilitating the business smoothly but also helping the team manage business effectively. We are quite open and have the willingness to integrate new technology for an improved customer service experience.

“Demand for convenience food is increasing steadily”

Afzal Basheer, Managing Partner, Gourmet Foods

Afzal Basheer

Could you share details about Gourmet Foods?

With a manufacturing facility in industrial area 2 of Ajman, Gourmet Foods launched its operations in 2016 and has grown over a short period of time as one of the leading value-added food processors in the GCC. We believe in using the best raw materials, skills and technology to deliver quality processed products. We have built a strong client base across the GCC and the Levant regions.

Starting with two people, Gourmet Foods today employs over 130 professionals and its core competencies lie in its manufacturing practices, quality standards and a strong distribution network. With the registered brand, Altaam, Gourmet foods has a manufacturing capacity of 4,500 tons per annum and boasts a strong footprint in the hotel and restaurant sector (HORECA), retail and other channels of distribution.

How would you like to assess demand for convenience food and ready-to-cook products?

Demand for convenience food is increasing every year. Revenues in the convenience food segment amounted to $31.84 billion in 2022 and the segment is expected to reach $250.31 million by 2029. We have a wide range of ready-to-cook products ranging from the calibrated chicken breast, chicken burgers, chicken Zingers, chicken nuggets, chicken fillets, chicken tandoori tikka, samosas and cooked parathas, catering to the different needs of customers. We continue to innovate and launch new products based on our market research.

“We put agronomy at the heart of all we do”

Jacco Alblas, Managing Director (MENA), McCain Middle East

Jacco Alblas

What does sustainability mean to McCain? What initiatives have you taken to enhance McCain’s resource efficiency?

At McCain, sustainability goes to the heart of our purpose as a business — to celebrate real connections through delicious, planet-friendly food. For us, this means putting agronomy at the heart of all we do to ensure healthier soils which lead to more sustainably sourced food. It means reducing our climate impact and supporting the communities where we operate. In 2022, we made huge headways in our commitments to sustainability, including an 8 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions per tonne from potato farming, storage, and freight; 17 per cent reduction in CO2 per tonne of product produced; using renewable energy up to 18.5 per cent; launched our First Farm of the Future, investing in research and technologies dedicated to developing regenerative agricultural practices; and 100 per cent of McCain-owned facilities became GFSI certified.

What new products have you launched to cater to the changing customer demand post pandemic?

Covid-19 saw a huge shift in consumer dynamics, and interestingly, a lot of these shifts in behaviours have stayed, most noticeably, the growth of food delivery. As a leading expert in fries, we’ve taken these simple potato treats to a new level with our industry leading McCain SureCrisp product that stays crispy for longer, even in delivery.

Post-pandemic we also saw consumers craving togetherness after long periods apart. To this end, we have launched a range of appetisers, including our new indulgent Emmental Sticks — perfect for sharing and creating memorable moments together.

We’re a company that’s not only a supplier of potatoes, we pride ourselves to be at the forefront of innovation – be that tasty new appetisers and potato products, leading farming practices or the latest manufacturing technology. And we are always hand in hand with our partners — farmers, customers, employees, communities and beyond.

“We have plans for new product development”

Eugene Levterov, Head, MHP MENA

Eugene Levterov

What are the new trends shaping the F&B sector in the UAE?

Consumers are increasingly moving towards healthier eating, artisanal food and home cooking, while opting for sustainable food options. This change in food choices has been triggered by a growing awareness about the health benefits of nutritious and plant-based diet. An influx of expats and the rising footfall of tourists have strengthened the hospitality industry in the UAE, giving restaurants the right exposure to changing customer preference. People nowadays are looking for genuine and tailor-made services and are opting for home-grown and exclusive F&B experiences. Additionally, they are turning to local produce and food with natural ingredients which help reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact of the F&B sector.

Demand for convenient and healthy food options is rising across the world. What innovative ranges have you launched to cater to this segment?

Qualiko’s extensive range of products is represented by frozen poultry meat — whole chicken and cuts, and convenience food products. Research shows that 88 per cent of consumers in the region are willing to pay more for healthier food options. In retail, Qualiko’s positioning has always been geared towards a healthier and balanced life. This has been further consolidated with the introduction of an easy cooking range that helps customers save preparation time in the kitchen. This range features special cuts, individual quick freezing (IQF) portions, marinated and tenderised whole chicken and chicken parts. Additionally, we recently tapped into the convenience food segment with the launch of a breaded line which includes nuggets, strips, popcorns, fillets, and burgers.

What are Qualiko’s expansion plans for 2023 and beyond?

Driven by MHP’s vision of culinary transformation, the company’s aim in the next five years is to gradually move from a raw commodity entity to a value-added organisation and capture 70 per cent market share in the value-added culinary product segment.

Having said that, the company has aggressive plans within the new product development area and 2023 will see us continuing to focus on operational excellence and customer-centric new product innovations. Last year, we focused on expanding our regional footprints and set up a second distribution unit in KSA with offices in Jeddah and Riyadh. This has given us the opportunity to be closer to our customers in Saudi Arabias and cater to their needs.