Lebanon 2017 | INDUSTRY | B2B

Coffee connoisseur Café Najjar and milk maven Liban Lait are investing in the latest technologies to supply Lebanon with the finest quality food and beverage products, limiting the country's dependence on imports and even trying to grow exports.

Marc Waked
General Manager
Liban Lait
Georges Najjar
Café Najjar

How important is technology investment for your company?

MARC WAKED Technology and know-how are extremely important for us in expanding our product lines within the milk market. We are the only company that produces labneh using a separator; other companies hang it in bags, empty the bags, and get labneh, but we process it by separating the whey from the milk. This requires automation and advanced technology and our entire plant is automated. We invested around USD1 million just to automate the process. We have four sterilized ultra-pasteurization lines and each requires a separate module of automation. We produce plain milk, flavored milk, and juices and between each change the whole line has to be cleaned thoroughly. All of this is automated and done by the control room panel with advanced service.

GEORGES NAJJAR We were the first to open coffee shops in Lebanon after the war, and we reinvented the concept. We have always invested in the highest technology all the way from in 1967 until now. The first roaster we bought was an airflow roaster where we roast the beans with hot air; it was an air roasting technology, which was innovative at the time. We had a new coffee brewer that prepares espresso using freeze-dried coffee, 10 years before Nestlé developed its own freeze-dry. At that time, I was at university and working on the project. We were the first to make vacuum packing and industrial-scale production and now everything is computerized. This year, we are using technology to bring the Lebanese coffee experience worldwide. We have developed the Najjar RAQWA coffee brewing machine, a unique method based on a single serving for the traditional Lebanese cup. It is ready and launched, as well as its capsules. Now, a single serving can be made for Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Serbia, and so on without needing the special know-how of the preparation. All one needs to do is push a button, and they will have their coffee served in the most traditional way.

How do you plan to expand?

MW My main goal is to grow the product line and add more diversified products. We have a cheese factory within our factory and I would like to improve our cheeses as Lebanon imports a large amount of it from overseas, especially yellow cheese, from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Spain. When European factories are over producing they look to export and in Lebanon we have not reached our maximum production capacity yet because the plan for the production plant is to increase capacity based on the market. Our production is around 200,000 liters of milk per day. In 2006, our plant was completely destroyed and we had to rebuild. We also expanded our product range with yogurt, desserts, and cheese, and when we rebuilt the plant we had some limitation with these products, especially yogurt and desserts. We are now expanding into cheeses again, and we are considering yogurt and desserts as we have the know-how.

GN The “roast and ground" sector will increase by an average of 3% yearly. The instant market is progressing at about 10-11%. We plan to use this sector growth as a catalyst for company growth, as the core of our business is still coffee. But we have also diversified into nuts and we do a big range of industrial sweets and foods. We are reinvesting into a series of coffee shops.

Do you plan to export to any markets?

MW We previously exported to Syria and Iraq; however, we no longer do so as distributors would have to pick the products, pay cash, and route them to both countries and this is too risky currently. We used to export fermented sour milk to Iran. In Lebanon, the local market has a total production of 12 million liters and we are the leaders with around 70% market share. Right now, our main goal is to diversify our product line.

GN Despite the high competition in the market with 19 brands, today we have 45% of the entire market and 80% of the packed market in Lebanon. We not only focus on Lebanon; we also export to 36 countries, and 20% of our sales volumes are exports.