Can you give us an introduction to the company and its evolution?
DHARMDEV BHATT We started the company with 10-12 people, and today we have around 165 people, with four units in Sharjah and a 20,000-sqm production facility in Ras Al Khaimah, which will be sufficient for the next 10 years. We continue to grow and incorporate new technologies into our business. Initially, we focused on meat and dates and subsequently moved into other sectors including coffee, spices, cosmetics, and pharmaceutics. We do vacuum packaging and modified atmospheric packaging, where there is nitrogen flushing to ensure extended shelf life. This is the reason why we have a loyal customer base. Our clients are extremely pleased with our price, service, quality, and consistency. We have all the required certifications for quality controls, including an effective environmental management system. We are also extremely stringent in terms of quality control, which gives our customers greater assurance. We have introduced technologies that no other regional competitor has, as we focus a great deal on innovation.
What have been some of the company's recent achievements and how are you expanding?
HARISH TAHILIANI We have been in a continuous expansion phase and have reached many new markets. We are also coming up with the consumer brand pack. Our company is 32 years old, and while we were formerly only active in the wholesale business, we are now entering consumer packaging as well. We have one project in the Hamriyah free zone that is almost 50% complete. This is a silo project for the storage of pulses with a capacity of 52,000 tons. The commissioning of the silos has already started. By the end of 2019, we will have completed the project and become the first company to make a silo in this region specifically for pulses. We are the second-largest company in the world in terms of pulse production. We have 18 lines for manufacturing under one roof and have dedicated separate lines for different lentil types. Our annual production is about 200,000 tons.
What is your short-term plan to expand within the region?
DB Our products have great demand across the Middle East and Africa. We export all the way to Egypt, providing foil for cheese triangles that in the past only a few European companies were able to provide. It is extremely complex, since it is extremely thin and needs to have a ceiling that maintains the moisture of the cheese. We have our own warehouse and three marketing managers in Saudi Arabia. We won the Saudi government's dates tender, which was extremely prestigious and worth AED4.5 million. The Saudi government hands out dates to many charities, and we supply the packaging material, which has given us a bigger name and reach in the Saudi market.
Are you planning to introduce any lines of foods or spices?
HT This facility was relocated in 2006, and we have not stopped introducing new lines and expanding ever since. Our consumer packaging line has been a work in progress for some time and we will soon be launching it. In fact, 60% of brands in the market buy from us, and we were keen not to disturb that arrangement and compete with our clients. However, we realized consumer packaging is the future. Our current business model does not generate the kind of returns that are present in consumer and retail packaging.
What steps are you taking to be more environmentally friendly?
DB Almost all our waste materials can be recycled for different applications. It is a misconception that plastic affects the environment; what is important is to know how to use and recycle it. We have our in-house recycling facility, and our products do not have adverse environmental effects since no dangerous materials are used. Notably, our products can be recycled to make plastic bags. The government has put in place compulsory biodegradable bags, so all shopping bags will have a D2W mark, which means they are biodegradable within six months to one year. Monolayer is now compulsory in the UAE, so one cannot sell regular plastic films for commercial use. They have to be biodegradable.
Is the company considering a more digitalized future? What are your goals for 2020?
HT The processing of lentils is extremely traditional, which makes it hard to implement digitalization. The processing line requires six days to produce the final product. Nonetheless, we are improving efficiency by increasing the number of sorting machines and at present, we have 20 sorting machines for 18 lines. Our vision is to be a one-stop shop for our clients. We aim to achieve the highest standard of manufacturing.