TBY talks to Matheus Leao, Commercial Country Manager of BRF, on meeting consumer demands, PPPs for growth, and developing local talent.

Matheus Leao
Matheus Leao started at Sadia in 2004 where he managed logistics operations in the Brazil northeast region. In 2009, following the merger of Sadia and Perdigao, he moved to Saudi Arabia as a logistics manager before heading the Middle East and Africa logistics operations from the UAE. Starting 2014 he was appointed to manage the distribution in Oman. Following the acquisition of Al Khan Foods in 2016, Leao became the general manager for the Oman operations. He holds an engineering degree from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco as well as an MBA from Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Brazil.

What was the impetus behind BRF's decision to invest in Oman?

We at BRF have been present in the Middle East for the last 45 years, and we have been following a long-term strategy based on three main pillars to sustain our success. Pillar number one: leveraging the equity of our brand, Sadia. Sadia is the leading brand in the frozen chicken category in the GCC, with an extensive range of whole chicken, chicken parts, and ready to prepare products, and holds a strong preference with the consumers in this region. Pillar number two: strengthening our production capabilities in the region. We opened our first factory in the region in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2014, investing USD160 million. Our UAE facility is the largest food processing plant in the Middle East, focusing on value added products. Pillar number three: controlling distribution, to achieve what we call “from farm to fork."

BRF recently moved to acquire 100% of Al Khan Foodstuff. What is the strategic value in this acquisition, and how will this move bring new benefits to BRF in Oman?

In Oman, we invested USD64 million into the full acquisition of Al Khan Foodstuff in June 2016. In 2014, we acquired initially 40% of the operations with an option to acquire the remaining 60% within three years. We strongly believe in the opportunities this market will bring to BRF this year. Our objective is to use local distributions as our entry point to strengthen our ties with the local retailers and consumers. It is our duty to understand our consumers to develop products that will answer their needs and tastes. With this in mind, we have created an R&D and innovation center within our Abu Dhabi set-up to work on such propositions for us. For example, we listen to several consumers in the Middle East, including Omani ladies, who told us that they did not like the current chicken breasts in the market. The products were all stuck together and they had no choice but defrosting the whole pack, even if they needed only 1 or 2 pieces. As such, we launched this year our new “Frozen 1 by 1" chicken breasts where each breast is frozen separately. Consumers now can defrost each piece separately and keep the rest fresh for later thanks to a convenient zip-lock bag.

How would you assess the ease for foreign firms to enter into business in the foodstuffs sector in Oman?

We are only a few months into our direct operations here; therefore, it is too soon to provide a comprehensive overview. However, one thing that we can say is that Oman has great infrastructure in terms of roads, utilities, electricity, and water, even though the country is large geographically and has a low population density. This helps us to distribute our frozen food products to the farthest regions of Oman, while ensuring proper food safety. Another point to highlight is that we have been active working together with the Omani authorities to build our future and long-term plans, as we are already doing regionally with the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO) for example. We are actively collaborating with authorities by participating in group discussions to develop a future stance for the industry in Oman. Our vision in Oman is to become a truly local company, managed and operated by locals who will coordinate our actions within the region.

What are your targets and expectations for the next 12 months?

We are currently engaged in our strategic planning cycle for the medium to long term with a broader vision to build a base of future sustainable growth in Oman. This base is focused on the people. We want to have the right people with the right talent to leverage our brand and distribution channels to grow the country. Our main objective now is to hire, promote, and train the local Omanis who will be the future leaders to drive this business.