SWEET SUCCESS

Oman 2020 | AGRICULTURE & FISHERIES | INTERVIEW

To grow its business in an increasingly competitive environment, Oman Refreshment is initiating several initiatives, including new launches.

Youssef Ezzikhe
BIOGRAPHY

Youssef Ezzikhe holds a BA in marketing and an Executive MBA. He is a business professional with senior experience in leading FMCG and industrial sectors in North Africa and GCC markets in companies, including Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo. He joined the company as CEO in 2010.

Given the intense competition in Oman's highly price sensitive market, what is your strategy to further grow your market share in the medium term?
Today, we face a new demographic reality, as in the past few years a number of expats have left the country. This subsequently had a negative impact on consumption levels in Oman. Moreover, the economy is witnessing a cashflow issue, which led to a rise in bounced checks and the closing down of a number of retail shops. Despite these challenges, our business has seen significant changes mostly because of the introduction of the excise tax on carbonated soft drinks in June 2019 and further expansion of other sweetened beverages projected in 2020. Potentially, the VAT represents another challenge that can affect our margins, so we have to adjust accordingly. So far, we have sought to respond swiftly by offering a variety of sizes providing different price points that cater to all socio-economic categories of consumers in the Sultanate. In order to grow our brand preference in the country, we have initiated several marketing initiatives including new launches that offer superior brands in terms of taste, positioning, and packaging.

How do you expect demand across your lines to evolve in the medium term, and what market factors will be responsible for this evolution in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) business?
Today, we maintain a large presence across the Sultanate, especially in the carbonated soft drinks segment, of which we have an 86% market share. Growth in health awareness and consciousness trends is an inevitable trend, which is why have to monitor market trends and respond in an appropriate manner. We have introduced different products that provide less sugar, fewer calories, natural ingredients, and no sugar added formulas. These products have gained momentum and helped us gain more consumers in Oman.

How is technology impacting your business model the most, and where do you expect technological advancements to have the deepest impact on the nature of the Omani F&B industry?
Technology and innovation are impacting the entire manufacturing industry in different ways. For example, it has become a necessity to move to real-time data, connectivity, and traceability. Although we are not into predictive analytics, we are trying to control the entire process, from procurement to consumer. In this regard, we partnered with Salesforce. For consumers, access to continuous information that some time is not reliable can cause serious harm to the equity of global brands. Our company is partnering with the relevant authorities to provide accurate data to consumers when and as needed. The VAT introduction will force all SMEs, which are the majority of our customers, to implement IT systems. It is crucial for us to partner with banks to ensure our customers are using credit cards.

What are other the major risks the Omani F&B sector faces in the medium term, and what strategies are you planning to adopt to hedge them?
The future of the F&B sector depends on several factors. For the CPG industry, the biggest factors are fluctuations in the prices of raw materials and changes in consumer trends. Through our ongoing monitoring and forward purchasing, we have been able to mitigate these risks while continuously listening to our consumers and getting feedback. In 2019, our company led several initiatives in partnership with organizations and government institutions such as such Topfruit, the Ministry of Tourism, Aquafina, Spartan Sport Race, Cheetos, and Muscat Eat Food Festival, to name a few.

How do you expect the growth of food delivery & e-commerce in Oman to impact the local F&B sector, and what are the key requirements to remain ahead of the innovation curve?
We are witnessing a rapid growth in e-commerce and food delivery in Oman. We have partnered with major platforms in Oman through which we aim to provide F&B offers to our loyal consumers at the best prices and conditions possible.