Dr. Dhananjay Datar, Chairman and Managing Director, Al Adil Trading
Where do you see recent changes in behavior, on the side both of retailers and consumers, enduring long after the pandemic has subsided?
Consumer sentiment and behavior has changed. There is a major shift in the attitudes and shopping behaviour. There is a change in consumption pattern with special attention being paid to food items that help to increase immunity. More than anything else, they are worried about the health of their families. Consumers have also got used to online shopping. Retailers that adapt quickly to these shifts will win big.
Corporate social responsibility has been a huge area of focus for you. What new initiatives are you happy to have undertaken?
I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to give back to the society. No organization can survive if it fails to address the needs of those who have numerous problems. I have made CSR an integral part of my organization and we have various activities designed to meet the diverse needs. The joy that comes when our CSR activities get the desired results are much higher than many of our business achievements. All my initiatives are focussed on meeting the needs of those who are in dire needs and I make sure that anyone who approaches me for help is not turned down.
Where is Al Adil at right now in its expansion plan? How many new stores do you plan to open overall in 2021?
Al Adil recently opened its 46th outlet at Zahiya Road, Abu Dhabi. We have already opened 3 new outlets this year and we are well positioned to open more outlets in the near future. Our expansion plan is very strategically planned and we open our stores after studying the market requirements. We want to ensure that our stores are at arms reach of ur customers and we will do all that is possible to meet this. The company’s major focus is on establishing a marked presence in the UAE by catering to the demands of predominant Indian expatriate community in the UAE while expanding its operations to other Middle East countries in the coming years.
Yogesh Valaulikar, Managing Director, Aqua de Fonte
How did you see the pandemic changing the water bottling industry?
Water being an essential commodity, the industry was relatively insulated from the impact of a pandemic induced lockdown. Furthermore, more customers started opting for bottled water on hygiene grounds and this kept the demand firm. The UAE Government has also been supportive to small business enterprises such as ours and ensured that we were least impacted and able to serve our customers efficiently. The pandemic has had a positive impact on sales and we saw our brand gaining substantial mileage during the last six months. We even promoted the brand at various sporting events such as IPL, lending the brand visibility.
In a category where every bottled water brand is trying to differentiate, what’s Aqua de Fonte’s strategy?
There already were established brands and players serving the UAE market when we launched Aqua de Fonte in 2017. Rather than fulfilling a need in terms of un-serviced or underserviced segments of the market, we saw an opportunity in positioning ourselves as a modern refreshing brand with high levels of brand awareness and appeal among the end users. Aqua de Fonte focussed on getting product placement right across key service formats and establish strong brand recall with proactive customer engagement campaigns run by our marketing team and supply chain partners. Additionally, we have been able to create new pockets of demand from new customer segments with our innovative packaging solutions. As I mentioned earlier, our strategy to position Aqua de Fonte as youthful and energetic brand has created a key differentiator in the market that attracts consumer attention.
What are your plans for expansion?
As Aqua de Fonte gains traction and brand equity, we will leverage this to launch new products in allied market and customer segments. For instance, responding to increased demand for hygiene accessories, we launched Aqua de Fonte brand of hand tissues last month, and are drawing up plans to enter the fresh and natural juices segment this year. We are also looking at packaging water in fancy glass bottles this year. Besides, we are strategising to get Aqua de Fonte to gain prominent shelf space in leading UAE supermarkets and hypermarkets. Our enhanced distribution fleet will also help us cater to a wider geography in the UAE and expand to other GCC countries. We are already official beverage partners of many A-league UAE hotels and will be expanding in this space. We have added leadership talent in our marketing and strategy team with experience in the B2C space, which will enable us to execute our brand growth. I can assure you that Aqua de Fonte will become the fastest growing bottled water brand in the UAE in the coming year.
Sami Syed, CEO, Phoenix Group Dison-Tec
Phoenix is the preferred supplier for food and beverage producers. What made you venture into this business?
Earlier, in the 90s people packaged items by hand. I saw the need for a solution to filling and packaging products in a very hygienic manner. We started with semi-automatic machines, but when we were faced with expensive labour and visa issues for manpower from some countries, we decided to make automatic machines that require less manpower. Those days only Italian and German machines were automatic, and I thought of doing something different. In 2007, I started building my own factory to start manufacturing filling and packaging machines for edible oil, grains, and so on. That motivated me to keep innovating and that’s how I made my foray into this business.
How do you manage to constantly create technological innovation to stay competitive?
I have three ways of creating the machines for clients. First is on a budget basis, which means if a customer has a limited budget we build a machine according to his requirement. Second is customisation for a client, who’s not particular about how much he is spending, but has very specific needs. Lastly, I have ready machines for a client who has set up a new business with limited funds and needs machines to start immediately. We work according to people’s requirements and very rarely get an opportunity to compete with other players. That is why we are very stable even during the pandemic. As far as pricing is concerned, we are more reasonable than machines coming from other countries as we have our own manufacturing unit.
How did you deal with the pressure to improve performance, efficiency, and safety standards due to the pandemic?
I have established a company that takes joy in helping others with full-fledged solutions in the area of machinery. My goal is to reach high efficiency output from my machines so that they may require minimal to no manpower. Soon we may have fully automated robotic manufacturing machines. These machines will ensure complete hygiene and can be relied upon, especially in situations such as the current pandemic. Often human error can cause huge problems to the food industry and our aim is to eliminate it completely. From washing to packing, the machines will not need any manpower. We also use steamers to steam the products so that there is no trace of the virus.
Sankha Biswas, CEO, Nutridor
How has the pattern of consumer consumption changed throughout the pandemic?
Consumers in UAE have always been dynamic on purchase decisions. Presently, we have noticed that there has been a substantial shift from in-store to online purchases. Consumption of dairy products have increased and now milk and milk products are considered as a healthy intake. Thus the category has gained momentum throughout the pandemic.
How important is innovation to Nutridor and what are the mechanisms that you use to accelerate innovation at Nutridor?
We thrive to innovate products, the process and service offerings for our consumers. Nutridor uses various tools (developed on our own or outsourced from third parties) to understand the need gap of consumers. Product innovation is initiated and led by the top leadership of the organisation, while a dedicated R&D team works towards that. Innovation is just not a word, it’s in our DNA in Nutridor.
What new products can we expect to see from Nutridor in the near future?
‘Add Goodness to Life’ been our core communication under the Abevia brand’s dairy range. in 2021, our consumers should expect a few products that are researched and developed for healthy benefits, while remaining affordable. We will ensure that healthy food is available and affordable for the entire socio-economic class across geographies. Nutridor will continue delighting families and inspiring lives.
Kamal Vachani, Group Director, Al Maya Group
Grocery retail has seen a lot of changes during the pandemic. What do you see as Al Maya’s leading strengths going forward?
Covid-19 has changed the way businesses were being done, and there is no exception for grocery retail business. Now we are more focused on hygienic conditions, and consumers know the food must be prepared and stored hygienically. In the future, a consumer may continue to prefer home delivery as well as online shopping. We are also focussing on protecting employees and customers’ health by imposing strict safety standards. We have a strong network of supermarkets across the UAE and offer free home delivery 24/7.
Do you see a growing popularity towards a certain category of food brands among consumers?
Study shows consumers are more likely to choose light, organic and gluten free products. There is growing popularity for healthier products. People are more health conscious and items with low fat, sugar-free and reduced sodium salt. We also see an increase in the demand for fruits and vegetables.
What are some of the initiatives going on in terms of refreshing stores and fine-tuning retail formats?
We keep changing and refreshing the store format on a regular basis to engage more attention of our customers and fulfil their changing requirements. We are adopting the maximum use of advanced technology, and our customers are happy with our services. We are also prioritising food quality and safety over merchandising, presentation or store layout.