MAKE THE TASTE

Oman 2015 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prem Maker, Executive Director of Areej Vegetable Oils & Derivatives Company, on the edible oils market in Oman and the potential for further exports.

Prem Maker
BIOGRAPHY
Prem Maker graduated in Chemical Engineering and joined Unilever India as a Management Trainee. During his 18-year stint with Unilever, he worked at Port Sunlight in R&D and production in Mumbai, and managed factories in Bengal, Kashmir, and Mumbai. Since relocating to Muscat in 1984, he has been heading Areej Vegetable Oils and Derivatives Company.

What is your latest innovation in the edible oils market?

In this business of oils and fats, which are basic foods, it is difficult to innovate when you consider that recipes have been handed down over the centuries, whether they are for corn oil or olive oil. However, we have made small innovations that have allowed us to increase the consumer value of palm oil; by far the largest traded oil, and at the base of the oils business. And we have invented a process by which people in the Gulf and the wider Middle East can get the benefit of that palm oil in a clear bottle without it clouding, like any other oil. Our innovation has been to bring in technology that is used for industrial frying, making it available to the consumer. We are also in the process of launching a new, completely transparent bottle of frying oil. This has been a major innovation and we are marketing this, not only though our own means, but hopefully with the help of other multinationals. We are already dealing with three of the world's largest multinationals, namely Kraft and Unilever, for fats and oils, and we work with Heinz for its mayonnaise and salad dressing.

Are local demands evolving?

Just like all over the world, the food market is exploding because, as prosperity rises, so too, does consumption. Oman is following the same trend and, as income levels rise, people demand higher-quality foods. Our business is to supply them with more food of healthier variety. In this tweaking process, we actually remove some of the saturated fats in palm oil so as to provide a clear liquid to the consumer. In that sense, during the innovative process, we have tried to be more socially responsible with respect to the consumer.

What other challenges are you facing?

The sector is open and competition is growing in global terms. And, as you know, there is a trend toward convenience foods. Our challenge is to move with this trend. The only way that I can keep up, business-wise, is to be innovative. We use cutting-edge technology in all of our systems, and work with SAP.

How are Omani products perceived abroad?

Getting the right perception is a challenge for an Omani brand. It becomes really difficult as you cannot swim against the tide. What we are engaged in is promotion, but only in the immediate environs of the GCC. I have no ambitions to promote further afield myself, but rather, approach multinationals better placed to do so. I am content at that point to be a link in their network chain.

Do you have any plans for 2015 to expand your network?

I am hoping to add one or two major multinational companies in Saudi Arabia. The brand Mazola, originally a US corn products brand which was sold to a Saudi party, is a multinational brand. I am promoting not only to the large multinationals but also to other multinational companies in the local region. And I hope to add maybe one or two in the coming years.

How do you position your company in the long-term?

Oman is investing in infrastructure, especially related to road and shipping. What I am doing is building my business and opening up new warehouses. We have one large one that will be on the main express road. One end of the chain is in Dubai and the other end is on the Arabian Sea, at Duqm and Muscat. We are building a huge logistics warehouse and will use the springboard that Oman provides in infrastructure to make it attractive for multinationals that we want to be in business with so they can manufacture and distribute to the Middle Eastern and African markets, or even to India, Pakistan, and the Gulf market.