THE COMEBACK KING

Iran 2011 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Behrouz Foroutan, Chairman of Behrouz Food Industries.

Behrouz Foroutan
BIOGRAPHY
Behrouz Foroutan is currently Chairman of Behrouz Food Industries.

What was the opportunity you managed to identify in 1977 that led you down the path of heading up one of Iran's largest processed food manufacturers?

I wanted to get away from the contractual work that I used to do and play a very different game. We started our business from our own 12 square meter kitchen with the help of my wife and family. I was distributing these products with one small car and my own two hands to nearby grocery stores. If you flash forward 35 years, I now have over 1,500 workers involved in preparing Behrouz food products. And if you include the other people who are related to our business it might amount to 10,000 in total, including all the distributors, contractors, and farmers. There are six plants that either belong to me or work under license with Behrouz Foods in Mashhad, Mino near Bandar Abbas, Shiraz, and Karaj. There are six plants strategically placed in different parts of the country, central, south, north, and I am currently in negotiations to acquire two more manufacturing facilities.

Just think, in 1977 we started out with 11 people at the time from my kitchen who were helping us to produce these homemade food products and the Olivieh salad. Now I have 40,000 customers affiliated with Behrouz Food Industries and the distribution of its products. We have 20,000 stores, supermarkets and wholesalers in Tehran and another 20,000 in different provinces around Iran.

Did you ever expect to get this large in the food business?

Seriously, when I started out in the food industry I wanted to be the number one food and condiments manufacturer and distributor in Iran. That was my first goal. The growth of Behrouz in terms of its physical development is a product of my mind's development. I first develop an idea in my mind and then I put it into practice. At the moment our production capacity is 30,000 tons per year for canned foods. I am in negotiations with local producers and I am currently attracting cooperation to obtain the raw materials, investors, and technology needed so I can double this output to 60,000 tons.

“People definitely like variety... the product should first visually please the consumer."

At the moment, we are working at just 60 to 70% of our production capacity. There are numerous reasons for this, including financial ones, though the raw material supply issue is the main concern that we have to deal with in Iran. We need to better manage issues such as planting, cultivating, cropping, and harvesting, as well as the transportation of fresh produce to our facilities for processing. We cannot actually train the farmers, it is out of our hands. However, the overall management of plantations, harvesting, planning for transportation and the like all need to be improved by state organizations.

I have two research centers that assist in developing the food industry in Iran: one for food production and another for the improvement of agricultural production. They are the top research centers of their type in the country and I share my research with farmers about how to improve their farming and cultivation methods.

How much of a role does packaging play in consumer decision-making?

People definitely like variety. From my point of view, the product should first visually please the consumer. So the role of attractive packaging in regards to the sales of the product is very vital, like water for living. As a producer you should never think that the last touch you gave to your packaging was the last modification. You have to always modify and adapt to try and please the eyes of the consumers.

What changes do you expect to see in the agro-industry business as a whole?

Iran started off with 300 factories prior to the Revolution, and now it has 10,000 because there was a need for development. Let me tell you about the future. In terms of figures we might see a reduction in the number of facilities in the future, but the new generation of factories will utilize larger machinery and more technology and this will increase productivity.

A merging of small factories, as happened in Europe where companies merged together, is likely to occur. After all, the future's slogan is “Technology and Mass Production with Quality". The existence of many of these small factories was a policy of the past. The new policy requires the merging of these factories, higher quality, and improved mass production techniques.

What is your market share, and in what sector do you want to move into next?

In the mayonnaise sector I am one of two largest producers, while in canned foods I am one of the top three producers. Overall, I am one of the top-five processed food producers in Iran. I am always looking for new opportunities, and my colleagues at other companies might be a little afraid of this development if we manage to secure the right investors. We have done a lot of research on the market and into consumer behavior that we are going to utilize to improve the company's market share in the near future.

The thing for me is that the culture of cultivation should be institutionalized in Iran. It hasn't been as yet, and this is primarily due to the inexperienced management of the agricultural sector in Iran. For a start, we should not be cultivating crops in urban areas. We have to designate special regions to certain food products with the optimal conditions for those products, as was practiced in the past. Unfortunately, in Iran important factors such as climate, water, crop type, and method of cultivation are usually not considered.

So you believe Iran needs better planning and management in its agriculture sector?

That's right. Other countries are enjoying the benefits of such practices. We have to think globally and act locally, the way other countries are doing, actually.

What led you into entering the processed foods industry?

Before establishing Behrouz Food Industries, I lived two different periods in my life. At first I was a teacher at high school. I taught mathematics, literature, and Farsi literature, and then I became the headmaster of the school. After a while I gave up my teaching career and joined the steel industry in Esfahan. It was interesting at that time because I was teaching in the morning and studying at university in the evenings. I attended courses in management and public relations, and eventually obtained my business management degree. For a while I was a building contractor and I helped to establish 19 sugar production factories.

I am one of those who have had experienced many ups and downs in my life. I started making an Iranian salad called Olivieh and then I started the real business as it is known today, Behrouz Food Industries, by making this type of salad and other homemade food products and distributing them to small grocery stores in and around Tehran.

You have also been made an ambassador for UNICEF?

Yes, Behrouz Food Industries has had a long-standing relationship with UNICEF and was actually the first private company in Iran to partner with the organization.

UNICEF approached me as they wanted to choose an ambassador from the private sector and I was fortunate to be selected for the position. Our cooperation with UNICEF includes helping displaced Afghan children and development work in the southern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, as well as in West Azerbaijan and Hormozgan.

Before establishing Behrouz Food Industries, I lived two different periods in my life. At first I was a teacher at high school. I taught mathematics, literature, and Farsi literature, and then I became the headmaster of the school. After a while I gave up my teaching career and joined the steel industry in Esfahan. It was interesting at that time because I was teaching in the morning and studying at university in the evenings. I attended courses in management and public relations, and eventually obtained my business management degree. For a while I was a building contractor and I helped to establish 19 sugar production factories.

I am one of those who have had experienced many ups and downs in my life. I started making an Iranian salad called Olivieh and then I started the real business as it is known today, Behrouz Food Industries, by making this type of salad and other homemade food products and distributing them to small grocery stores in and around Tehran.

You have also been made an ambassador for UNICEF?

Yes, Behrouz Food Industries has had a long-standing relationship with UNICEF and was actually the first private company in Iran to partner with the organization.

UNICEF approached me as they wanted to choose an ambassador from the private sector and I was fortunate to be selected for the position. Our cooperation with UNICEF includes helping displaced Afghan children and development work in the southern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, as well as in West Azerbaijan and Hormozgan.