Business corporations that are driven by a customer-centric approach have a high probability of succeeding in the cutthroat competition environment.
In the food and beverage industry, the rising significance of a healthy lifestyle/ healthy nutrition has dragged the spotlight to consumer choice of healthy food.
Awareness about healthy food choices is on the rise among a bigger chunk of consumers. When a person chooses food products, they prefer them to be nutritionally rich and, at the same time, low in trans-fats, added chemicals, sugars, salts, and flavors, etc.
Edible oil, packaged foods, and frozen products have an ever-increasing demand in consumer markets. For such product choices, consumers prefer a brand that has gained their trust over the years through providing strong sustainable quality foods.
A firm that focuses on meeting all the mentioned healthy food demands while delivering excellent quality products to the UAE markets is United Foods Company (PJSC).
A seasoned leader, Fethi Khiari (CEO), has led UFC for over a decade. He has taken the company to new levels of growth with innovative food products while keeping quality food production at its core.
Let’s explore the company’s outstanding journey to satisfy consumer demands:
Pioneering the Food Sector
United Foods Company (PJSC) is a publicly listed entity in Dubai Financial Markets. The company was established in 1976 by the late Sultan Al Owais, an Emirati serial entrepreneur, poet, and one of the most recognized figures in the UAE for decades.
It is pioneering the Gulf region’s edible oils and fats industry. The company owns the flagship brand Aseel, that is the leading brand in vegetable ghee (85% of the market). Along with Aseel, it also owns the Mumtaz brand, the table margarine leader (78% market share).
For the last 45-plus years, UFC has been providing quality products in the Gulf region. The success of Aseel and Mumtaz, in the edible fats category, has been build through meticulous progress, in organization and in quality.
Offering Healthy Food Products
United Food Company has set high standards for manufacturing good health products for the market.
“We offer the best quality products and aim towards giving healthier food options to our consumers, and also food with more added value. This added value is not just at nutrition, intrinsic quality or organoleptic levels. It is also at environment footprint level, social responsibility, etc..” says Mr. Khiari.,
Referring to the innovations introduced by United Food in the last two years, he marks, “Our categories have seen innovative introductions such as the olive oil-based vegan margarine, the newly launched higher quality tahina., the processes revision and upgrade for ghee production..”
UFC revisited all its ghee, shortening, and margarine recipes and made these products 100% trans-fat-free seven years ago. Since then they have been revisited every two years, for major overhauls and improvements.
Efficient Use of Technology
Technology helps United Food Company to produce more efficiently and with greater quality assurance for a growing population. New IT-driven technologies are thoroughly helping the company improve its overall supply chain, product quality, safety, and quality consistency.
“Above the technology, we believe in the value-added by our managers and shop floor workers, from new product development or improvement inception to its industrial runs, sales, marketing, etc.,” says Khiari.
Overcoming The Challenges
The company, over the years, has overcome various challenges successfully to maintain its leadership in the Gulf region’s consumer markets. As Mr. Khiari says, “Initially, the challenges were mainly about re-centering the company on its domestic market, reworking the major marketing P’s, building bridges with the key retailers and other wholesale players, and starting to build consumers’ awareness and preference.” The company dealt with these challenges successfully while continuing on its own growth.
Today, the set of challenges for the company is different. According to Mr. Khiari, global oil price increases have led to major supply chain problems.
Along with this, some of the other challenges that the food manufacturing company is dealing with are political and financial instability in UFC’s traditional export markets in the Middle East; the rising cost of both packaging materials and sea and land freight; and the volatility of the import regulations in neighboring markets.
Change Is a Daily Necessity
The organization that learns from its experiences is the one that keeps on progressing non-stop. Having a detailed understanding of the past helps minimize the shortcomings and gives its management ideas about the areas that need to be focused on.
We asked Khiari about the overall takeaway lessons that were learned by the company’s management from UFC’s extensive journey, to which he answered, “The main takeaway of the journey at United Foods is that change is a daily necessity, while routine can be considered the cancer of any organization.”
“And, in order to make a positive change happen, we need to dive every day and avoid surfing. We need to go into the smallest detail in order to have a solution that strongly works at every level of the company’s management,” he adds.
Additionally, he says, “Diving helps with detailed planning and implementation, avoids false assumptions, and jumps on to the easy solutions. The detailed analysis leads to ingenious planning that, in turn, needs a committed management team for careful and successful implementation.”
Words of Wisdom
Experience in the industry gives you insights like none other. During his years of an efficacious career, Mr. Khiari has gained vast expertise in the industry. When we asked him what suggestion or advice he would like to give people who aspire to venture into the food product manufacturing industry, he said, “Firstly, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, then start with a simple business plan and grow it as needed.”
He adds, “Focus on something you have a passion for and understand your target customers and existing market.” Lastly, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
A Roadmap for the Bright Future
United Foods Company has steadily grown in the last ten years thanks to a clear vision that has been strongly backed by its Board and shared with the management team: your domestic market is always more reliable than your export markets.
Mr. Khiari says, “Exports depend on so many numerous external factors, such as war or currency troubles. Thus, all our dirhams will go first to strengthen our bases and positions in the UAE.”
Today, UFC enthusiastically focuses on gaining a considerable hold in the local market. The efforts that are put into it are documented and rewarded. Its sales and marketing teams regularly make an extraordinary effort to grab more availability and visibility in the consumer market.
“We have a strong pipeline allowing us to offer our retailers and consumers more food options, such as ice cream and other frozen foods,” concludes Mr. Khiari.
The Passionate Leader
Mr. Fethi Khiari is the CEO of United Food Company. He began his journey in the food industry in Paris, where he did his university graduation. His first job at Nestle promised him the chance to travel around the whole world. He puts, “I have been first in Spain, then in Mexico as a category manager of the ice cream and frozen food products in each of the markets.”
After nine years with the Swiss-based multinational, in 1992, he moved to Chupa Chups, the worldwide champion of guerrilla marketing at that time. He handled the Africa-Mena region from Barcelona before moving to Colombia and later to Brazil to start local industrial setups.
Fourteen years later, he joined Iffco in Dubai to manage and grow their Tiffany confectioneries business. He shares, “It was a memorable journey. Each of the three companies has its own philosophy, business model, and market approach.”
In 2012, ten years ago, he decided to quit the sugar-based confectionery and bakery activities and take on a new challenge: to manage a pure edible oil commodity industry. At the time, United Foods was heavily relying on its exports to Syria, substantially overlooking its local UAE market. “AlHamdulellah, we succeeded in changing the business model,” he says of successfully tackling that challenge.
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