STRATEGIC EXPONENTIAL GROWTH

Abu Dhabi 2019 | AGRIBUSINESS & FOOD SECURITY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joachim Yebouet, CEO of Foodco Holding PJSC, on its next strategic business plan, the UAE's organic food market, and the role of technology in the FMCG industry.

Joachim Yebouet
BIOGRAPHY
Joachim Yebouet holds over 30 years of extensive experience with the private and public sector organizations, having covered senior management positions in multinationals and family conglomerates, and in-depth operational management expertise across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He has held the position of Vice-president for Foods Supply Chain at Unilever and was responsible for the Africa, Middle East, and Turkey region for around 10 years. He re-joined Foodco Holding in 2018 after a two-year stint as CEO of East African Tiger Brands Industries from 2015 to 2017. From 2009 to 2013 he held the role of COO at Al Islami Foods based in Dubai.

What are your priorities for Foodco Holding, and how do they reflect the opportunities in the local FMCG industry?

Foodco is coming out of the cycle of former strategic plans that almost tripled the size of the company in the past four years. We are now embarking on a transformation program and designing the next strategic business plan to take the company over the 2020 horizon and double the size of the present business. In doing so, we will have to realign Foodco's portfolio and become the first choice for quality, wellness, and nutritious food products in the entire GCC. The company's aim is to provide the good taste of life for our consumers by consistently delivering quality, nutritious, and high-value food products while creating value for our stakeholders and employees. Moreover, we will connect with consumers through Foodco Innovative Brands and Products Portfolio, ensuring they have excellent execution at all points of purchase, and optimized services in an efficient and simplified environment, achieved on the back of talented people working for the company.

What trends have you seen among consumers?

Floating populations are growing as the UAE increasingly becomes a travel hub. Consumers are also cutting back on their expenses and becoming more aware and confident about their needs in terms of health and nutrition. As a result, deciding between ready-to-eat or home-made food has become a day-to-day decision. Similarly, choosing between eating at a restaurant or ordering take away is another question consumers ask themselves. Packaging proposals and offers will have to address those needs, which will vary based on families' incomes.

What is your assessment of the UAE's organic food market?

According to studies on consumer attitudes towards health and organic food, more than 70% of the sampled population in the UAE acknowledged the health and environmental benefits of buying and eating organic foods, and around 80% favor improving availability, pricing, and education in relation to organic produce. At present, availability and price are seen as major barriers; however, availability is gradually improving, and leading western-style supermarket and hypermarket chains are increasing their organic product ranges. Previously, organic foods were mainly found in specialist chains. In terms of demand, organic reduced fat milk is the most dynamic, while organic baby food has also seen huge growth. Nonetheless, organic products still represent only 10% of items at any store. Therefore, producers still need to find the right balance between cost and quality.

How have new technologies changed the FMCG sector?

In order to understand the needs of a modern-day consumer, we need to understand changing consumer habits. Traditional retail style purchases have slowed down in recent years due to economic challenges. Comparatively, e-commerce is expected to grow as access to internet applications increases. Digitization has brought in new ways to connect with consumers, affecting the entire supply chain. In terms of delivery, there is still great potential, but there are still significant issues that hamper the full development of online shopping in the region. Even in considerably developed countries such as some European countries, the percentage of online orders for giant hypermarkets remain minimal. The consumer still has an emotional attachment with walking through the supermarket and pushing trolleys, and technology may not have as big of a disruption as we expected. The chain of processing and ordering deliveries lacks automation. Once that is achieved, online shopping will grow.
How can you increase the participation of locals while still bringing in foreign expertise?
It is more about an individual's willingness to deliver. In doing so, we must integrate and consider wherever and whenever a local candidate is available. The policies regarding competition will allow us to bring in the best and most qualified candidates for the benefits of the company and the entire community.