The Business Year

Frank Uszko

SAUDI ARABIA - Industry

A Pure Taste

CEO, Al Safi Danone

Bio

Frank Uszko is the CEO of Al Safi Danone. He has vast leadership experience in the FMCG sector, and started his career in Marketing with Coca-Cola. He then joined Mars—Germany as Marketing Director for nine years. In 2006, he joined Danone Austria as General Manager, after which he moved to Danone Poland & Baltics as General Manager before taking up his current position in 2012.

Al Safi Danone is a historic joint venture here in Saudi Arabia. How did it come to be, and what strengths do both organizations bring to the partnership? Al Safi […]

Al Safi Danone is a historic joint venture here in Saudi Arabia. How did it come to be, and what strengths do both organizations bring to the partnership?

Al Safi has a tradition of more than 30 years in the region. At the end of the 1990s under the leadership of Mohammed Al Sarhan, Al Safi thought about taking the company to the next level. One of the choices was to partner with truly global company, and so the talks started and a joint venture was built. What you find now is a 50/50 joint venture between Danone and Al Faisaliah Group. Al Faisaliah stands for a strong local brand, which is Al Safi. We continued to produce the high-quality Al Safi products that consumers are used to, because they have a strong and loyal consumer base and the products have a high value to consumers in this country. However, we added to this truly local brand the expertise of Danone worldwide. We look at the products such as Danette, Danao, and Activia, which enhances the local offerings with international brands that strengthen our presence in Saudi Arabia.

How do you manage those strong brands?

What we do is adapt Al Safi Danone brands to the local tastes and needs. We are continuing with Al Safi recipes that are specific to Saudi Arabia consumers, and which have been enjoyed over the last 30 years. Our values are that we deliver high-quality food, freshness, and a consistent taste. Al Safi stands for the true meaning of the word purity, and its great taste in products, such as milk, laban, yogurt, and cream. Then we would adapt the international Danone brand, such as Activia, which is one of the largest global dairy brands known as a “Spoonable Yogurt.” Here we adapted a global recipe to a Laban version specifically for Saudi market. We also adapted the Activia brand promise, which is “it helps the digestion,” into a format that fits Saudi culture, which is preferred by local consumers.

Can you talk about your production strategy here in Saudi Arabia?

The distribution of Al Safi Danone includes the GCC and Levant regions and Iraq. We are operating in a total of 11 countries delivering products from Saudi Arabia. Due to some government restrictions and border issues, particularly in Iraq, we decided to invest in a plant in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. We are the first global player in Iraq and Kurdistan. This allows us to effectively and securely maintain a service to the expanding Iraqi market with high-quality products that consumers are demanding.

Where do you expect to be in the medium term?

We built our ambition, in the sense that in the next four years we want to significantly grow our business. The idea behind that is a simple vision of creating loved brands, delivered by a strong team every day. Talking about loved brands consists of few components: high-quality products, innovation, and a clear connection to the consumers. We have defined our key areas, where we want and will change our game. Then, we built dedicated teams to follow every project’s progress. The key projects progress is that we activate different regions according to their potential. First, the turnaround in Saudi Arabia that focuses strongly on Al Safi brand. Second is the GCC market, where we will focus on value-added portfolios, meaning we are fully focused on Activia, Danette, and Danone. Then, third is leadership in Iraq, and all these components will evaluate over the course of the next four years. Behind our ambition there is a significant level of investment into capacity, product recipes, brand activation, chiller space, and people. This directed investment will result in sustainable growth for Al Safi Danone for the upcoming years.

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