Manu Mahdi, Founder and CEO, Organic & Real Image Credit: Supplied

Headquartered in Dubai, Organic & Real is one of the largest online platforms in the region for certified organic, natural, vegan, gluten-free and free-from range of products. With more than 5,000 products across multiple categories, it works directly with local certified farms and organic local and international brands to house the most fresh and healthiest food options, all under one web umbrella.

Manu Mahdi, Founder and CEO, Organic &, talks to GN Focus about the brand’s ambitions and the exponential growth in home delivery orders for organic produce during the coronavirus pandemic.

How mature is the organic food market in the UAE and where does Organic & Real see itself in the scheme of things?

The organic food market has been growing consistently over a period in the UAE and other nearby countries, almost at a rate of 20 per cent growth per annum in the region, but it is still nowhere near its peak. Several factors helped in this constant growth, from easier availability of organic products than before to easing of prices for anything certified organic. There is also more awareness about the harmful impact of consuming food products with excessive chemicals and pesticides, and about produce cultivated using genetically modified or GMO seeds.

Thankfully, more farmers are now committed to producing fruits and vegetables organically even as more retailers offer more dedicated shelf spaces for organic products.

As the pandemic raged, our team rose to the challenge and overnight we scaled up our home delivery system by bringing in more efficiency and stretching ourselves way beyond normal working hours. Ultimately, it paid off as we garnered the approval and satisfaction of our customers who appreciated our efforts amidst challenging times.

- Manu Mahdi, Founder and CEO, Organic & Real

At Organic &, we believe in bringing together the widest array of certified organic and vegan products under one roof and that are sourced globally. allowing ease of access for organic food lovers to purchase and consume. With issues arising from the pandemic, we are seeing scores of people preferring plant-based food diets, and we are at the forefront of making the best vegan and plant-based food options available to UAE customers.

Going vegan is not just a trend, but a healthier lifestyle choice and the biggest challenges customers face are availability and affordability of products that are labeled vegan. Our goal is to be the largest vegan and organic online food supplier in the region with widest range of choices at affordable prices. We have started importing directly from all over the world now, which will eventually bring down the market price.

What traction do you see in home deliveries for organic produce here in the UAE?

Our online deliveries quadrupled as soon as the lockdown started, and it was quite challenging for us to cater to customer demands at the time due to limited or unavailable stocks. Prices started soaring, quality of produce was impacted due to transportation and clearing delays, and most importantly the challenges of moving around amidst the lockdown. However, our team rose to the challenge and overnight we scaled up our deliveries by bringing in more efficiency and stretching ourselves way beyond normal working hours. Ultimately, it paid off as we garnered the approval and satisfaction of our customers who appreciated our efforts amidst challenging times. Our business grew four times over during the pandemic and is still on a strong growth trajectory, resulting in many potential investors showing interest in investing in our company.

How do you see the vegan or plant-based food trend progressing here in the region?

Vegan or a plant-based lifestyle is a global phenomenon with many celebrities turning vegan and openly supporting the benefits of following a plant-based diet. In our region, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is a noted vegan who has been investing heavily in promoting this lifestyle. We, at Organic & aim to be the No. 1 vegan food supplier in the region by 2022. In as little as three weeks, one can see noticeable and amazing results by switching to plant-based living, and most never turn back to their meat-based diets. Global food innovations led by new fledgling brands like Beyond Meat, Oatly, Future Farm, etc. are providing excellent alternatives to those who switched from a non-vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle. Vegan burgers from Beyond Meat and Oat Milk Barista from Oatly are among the fastest-selling products for us for a while now. Currently, we are sourcing brands not available in the UAE by importing them from other countries, just to cater to the demands of the nation’s vegan community.

Are there any plans to expand your platform to other regions in the near future?

Our goal is to be the No. 1 vegan and organic online brand in the region and our first overseas operation will begin this year by expanding to Saudi Arabia. We have been getting numerous enquiries from KSA and it is only logical to open our first overseas operations in Saudi Arabia. Other GCC markets are in the pipeline and by next year, the second biggest overseas move will be opening our operations in India. We have an ambitious goal to reach 20 countries in 10 years and we are well on our way to hit each of our milestones.

How do you read the home deliveries market in a post-Covid phase, have you aligned or tweaked your plans to meet these future requirements?

Our projection was that there will be a slight dip in online deliveries once the market opens, especially during summer. However, to our surprise, our online orders continue to grow strong and we owe this to the uniqueness in the options and offerings we give to our customers and to changes in their online buying habits. Online groceries were not the first preference for many, even among online savvy shoppers, but the Covid months have changed the way most families live and shop, as well as their food habits. We are grateful that our efforts to offer the highest quality customer service and the widest offerings have been accepted by our customers, proven by our increasing customer base and the frequency of returning customers to our online store