HEALTHY BITE

Oman 2014 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Saleh Mohammed Al Shanfari, Chairman of A'Saffa Foods, on expanding local production and shifting consumer food trends.

Saleh Mohammed Al Shanfari
BIOGRAPHY
Saleh Mohammed Al Shanfari was born in 1962 and graduated from Iowa State University in Agronomy. He is currently Chairman of A’Saffa Foods, as well as holding many other posts across the agriculture sector in Oman.

How has A'Saffa Foods grown and developed since it was established in 2001?

Originally, we focused on developing agribusiness through poultry farming. A'Saffa Foods was a pioneer in developing an integrated farm in the south of Oman to produce high-quality chicken to compete with imported products. A'Saffa Foods focuses on working together with other businesses, private as well as public, to develop food security-related projects within an investment framework that makes good returns. We have the support of an excellent pool of investors who come from various backgrounds in the region. The Gulf Investment Corporation (GIC) is one of the major entities in developing and helping A'Saffa Foods grow. The Arab Authority for Agriculture Investment and Development (AAAID) is also one of the key founders of A'Saffa Foods. Those kinds of corporates have insight that can help and promote A'Saffa Foods to grow and diversify. A'Saffa Foods, with its promoters' willingness to invest in Oman's agribusiness and support from the Omani government, is making its way to become a leader of food production in the country.

How self-sufficient is the A'Saffa Foods farm in southern Oman?

Our farm is fully integrated, which means it has the facilities to cover everything from feed processing and production, a parent farm and hatchery facility, to a slaughterhouse, frozen stores, and a managed fleet for transporting the finished goods to markets and distribution centers. A'Saffa Foods has whatever is needed to raise the 20 million chickens per year that are produced locally on the farm. This means that the company imports raw material for feed, manufactures it, and processes it there. The raw material comes from across the globe. Some of it is from Oman, such as fish feed. The safest source of protein feed for chickens is fish and soybean, as both are from different sources and are rich in nutrients. The farm management is very careful about what they feed these chickens. This is what we call naturally grown because we source it from the best source of proteins and using the best international practices.

What does A'Saffa Foods produce besides poultry products?

A'Saffa Foods has revisited its commercial identity to become a fully fledged food production company. Today, we have re-branded the company and the corporate image, meaning A'Saffa is now A'Saffa Foods. Very soon, A'Saffa will launch a food processing and production facility in the north of Oman, in Rusail, to focus on value-added products instead of A'Saffa Poultry, which will cater to regional as well as local markets. Poultry is still a major output of the company. A'Saffa has more than 35 products on the market from different types of poultry-based products, to beef, fish, vegetables, and fruits, and the list is growing.

How are evolving consumer tastes driving change in the food production and retail sectors in Oman?

Today, we are looking at the global consumer base, which is becoming increasingly homogeneous. The youth in North America, China, and the GCC region are becoming a global consumer of technology as well as food. You will see them with the same gadgets, the same sandwiches, and the same consumer behavior. This consumer behavior is changing very fast in Oman, and it seems that more convenient food is needed in the market. Precooked meals are the way forward; convenience is the way forward. Once you understand the complexity of consumer trends and the changes and evolution of this behavior, I think those who focus more on understanding and analyzing consumer behavior will lead the market.

What does A'Saffa Foods do to promote healthy living, given the high occurrence of diabetes and lifestyle diseases in Oman?

This is one of our main concerns, and A'Saffa Foods focuses on awareness. We work closely with NGOs as well as awareness groups to focus on quality foods and provide more data and information at the ingredient level to make sure that there is awareness for people who have allergies. A'Saffa Foods should focus more on naturally grown food as well as quality, halal, and health issues. This is a must for those who produce food in Oman.