How do you foresee the development of the halal food industry in Malaysia?
Malaysia has always wanted to be a leader in the halal industry in terms of production, certification, and so on. We have been talking about it for the past 15 years. I wouldn't say that we have been successful yet, because we remain a net importer of raw materials and might not be price competitive for some products. We import 85% of our meat and our milk imports are almost at the same amount. Thailand is not even a Muslim country, but it is exporting considerable halal products to the Middle East because materials there are plentiful and cheap, as is the cost of labor. Since we cannot be a major manufacturer of halal food, we should look at the halal management and control system and halal certifications. These can be applicable to other countries. We are trying to do this in China. There are many Muslims in certain regions and provinces of China, and we have joint ventures with local provincial government companies to develop the halal industry. Meanwhile, we are promoting halal produce to the Chinese in the context of food security issues. Even non-Muslim Chinese will want to consume these products as “halal" has been translated into Mandarin as “good and clean." We are trying to use these regions as a gateway into the rest of China. This is the halal management control system that we call Fidelity Assurance in Halal Integrity Management (FAHIM). This is a system that we worked on together with IBM Australia. We are now looking at places to host it.
To what extent are you catering to the airline industry?
We cater for the airline industry and food services such as restaurants at the airport and the food franchise business. Across the board, the global airline industry is growing. We signed a new contract with Lufthansa recently, and Air France is also a new customer and had never flown into Kuala Lumpur before. Lufthansa formerly did, and is now effecting a return to the market, while British Airways is in talks with us and could become our client by 1Q2015. Turkish Airlines is also our customer. In fact, more than 90% of airlines that land in Kuala Lumpur are serviced by us. The other notable catering company is relatively small, and its predominant focus is on ground handling. The number of meals provided can approach 100,000 a day and we currently produce about 55,000 of those. More than 230 aircraft a day land in the country around the clock, 365 days a year. Meanwhile, we have been busy sourcing fresh business opportunities, having recently acquired Burger King Singapore and Malaysia, which includes 54 restaurants in Malaysia and 41 in Singapore. I was in Australia recently, too, and we are setting up a halal abattoir in Western Australia in a joint venture with a local company. We are the only Malaysian company with an abattoir in Australia. It makes sense because we import a lot of meat for our businesses. We have to control the meat source. All beef coming into Malaysia must be halal-certified by law. So if we provide for our own needs, we can export as well. We also have to control the supply sources. There are a number of things we are looking at including some M&As.
Where do you see the company positioning itself in the future?
I am trying to develop the business into becoming one of the largest, if not the largest, halal food companies. We are already recognized as being a substantial halal operator. A flight kitchen we have in Kuala Lumpur was once the world's largest, before Dubai surpassed it. Our facilities are substantial, featuring a 50,000 sqm building on 28 acres of land, with sizable capacity remaining for growth.
© The Business Year - January 2015