HEALTHY CHOICE

Oman 2016 | MINING & INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prem Maker, Managing Director of Areej Vegetable Oils & Derivatives (AVOD), on expansion of facilities, expanding to Africa, and improving training.

Prem Maker
BIOGRAPHY
Prem Maker studied 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 leading Areej Vegetable Oils and Derivatives.

Can you provide some details regarding the physical expansion of AVOD over the past year?

We invested in logistics as this is one of the key advantages of Oman's location on the Arabian Sea. We constructed an automated warehouse for room temperature and refrigerated goods, alongside Muscat Expressway, with cutting-edge technology. No other warehouse like it exists in Oman today. The target was to get the most cost-effective warehousing and logistics system working and the system is already operating. Commissioning automated systems takes time, due to the training required.

How will the new facilities be cutting edge and cost effective?

The customer sees the benefit of our logistics system if a fast response and on-time delivery is made. The customer is also concerned about costs, and we need to operate at a cost lower than that of our competitors. We use the well known ERP system SAP, and there are warehouse modules that the SAP system has to interact with. These are very sophisticated standalone modules that need to be operated expertly in order for us to work seamlessly. To integrate these new automatic standalone systems with SAP, highly sophisticated IT technology is required, which we have installed.

To what extent do you think a strong logistics system can increase and strengthen your export profile?

The bulk of our exports go to GCC countries, with the Middle East market increasing as a whole. We can now load 10 trucks at a time, simultaneously, meaning we can dispatch 50 trucks during a shift with the system because five trucks can be loaded at each bay. We can also take advantage of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf. Marine transport to India, Pakistan and West Africa is very cheap and we can use any port, whether that is Muscat and Sohar in Oman, or Jebel Ali and Sharjah in the UAE.

AVOD visited Ethiopia to look at the possibilities of entering that market earlier in 2015. What was your overall opinion of the country as a potential market?

We are currently exploring and developing the Ethiopian market. There is a segment in Ethiopia, the larger supermarkets in particular, that is suitable for our brands. AVOD also works closely with multinational brands, such as Unilever, Heinz, and Kraft so as to take care of their needs in markets like Ethiopia.

What do AVOD's new products bring to the market, and how well have they been received?

In the developed world competition is fought by implementing innovation in product, packaging and marketing. For product and packaging technology, we have invested in the facilities necessary to make cheap and clear oils. Their launch has been promising and has achieved good results in the biggest market in the region, Saudi Arabia. In Oman and UAE, the process has been a little slower. We are committed to giving the customer a good deal on price, health, and quality. We stopped hydrogenation 10 years ago, and have replaced it with a heart-friendly process called interesterification. We were ahead of the market, as it is only now that bans on “transfats" have officially come into effect in the US and Europe. Our cutting-edge technology is to deliver cheap products to the bulk of consumers without these harmful hydrogenated fats. It is a healthier and cheaper option.

How does AVOD implement the necessary training procedures?

We are a specialized industry and the only way to achieve our goals is to train our staff ourselves. We have opened up a professional training center here at which we train people. Professional trainers come to help our team, train people in the classroom, and then put them on the job as assistants for up to two years to gain hands-on experience. We are concentrating on developing Omanis and local talent, and we look to hire from the local market. We train them both in the classroom and in the factory. Food safety regulations are developing fast and hygiene standards are constantly improving. So we need to continually train our employees. It is recognized that an organization that is training for industrial safety in the oil and gas industry will not be able to help with the safety of hygiene in food plants; we have to do it ourselves.