BUILT FROM SCRATCH

Qatar 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

The market leader in the fresh milk sector in Qatar in only a year, Baladna is committed to contributing to Qatar's self-sufficiency without compromising on quality.

Peter Weltevreden
BIOGRAPHY
Peter Weltevreden was appointed CEO in 2017. He is a Dutch national with a bachelor’s degree from the Nyenrode Business School of Management in the Netherlands. He began his career in 1983 with Riedel Drankenindustrie. In 1986, he embarked on a 12-year long journey with Unilever, working in many different marketing and sales jobs. Subsequently, he was with Coca-Cola, where he was responsible for consumer and operational marketing for all the brands in the Netherlands. In the last 17 years, Weltevreden led different businesses for Friesland Campina.

What was the role of the company in covering Qatar's needs during the blockade?

The blockade in 2017 was a disruption that turned into an opportunity for Baladna Food Industries. As entrepreneurs, our owners really took it as an opportunity to make our contribution to Qatar's self-sufficiency and food security. Previously, 85% of all dairy products in the country were imported. After the blockade, the government allowed Turkey, Iran, and other countries to fill the gap. This was also the moment the government had to accelerate its existing 2030 strategic plan. One year on, Baladna Food Industries is a market leader in the fresh milk industry. In my many years in the dairy industry, I have never seen this happen before. Our infrastructure was nonexistent, and a year later we were market leaders, basically from scratch, with completely new infrastructure of cows, barns, factories, water plants, and feed that was not in the country before.

How has Baladna set new regional and international standards in producing dairy products in terms of processes and technology?

Our owners were absolutely committed to becoming the best. We wanted high-performing cows, and, therefore, ordered high-quality cows from the US based on the Genetic Total Performance Index (TPI). We also hired the best consultants and design firms to advise us how to build our barns from scratch. We have now built 40, plus water plants and lagoons. All our factories have state-of-the-art technology that is the best one could buy in any part of the world. This is the nice part about the operation being greenfield, because we can make these kinds of decisions without compromising on quality. We want the best of the best. And this has all happened in a short period of time.

What is Baladna Food Industries' contribution to the government's drive to promote the 'Made in Qatar' brand?

After the blockade, a united spirit developed alongside a can-do spirit and commitment, and people are genuinely proud of what we have established here, not just for the sake of the dairy industry or Baladna Food Industries, but for the whole country. We use place of origin as a marketing tool and to express to the government that we want other countries' products to do the same so consumers can make this choice. Having a “Made in Qatar" marketing approach is highly relevant now. In the case of Baladna, what "Made in Qatar" means is that consumers get freshly pasteurized and locally produced milk. With our cows, we contribute to the country's self-sufficiency for the future. In fresh milk, which is the biggest dairy category, the whole industry reached 100% self-sufficiency one year after the blockade. We delivered what we promised.

What are Baladna's plans to export its products?

We definitely have export plans, though first and foremost our priority is to make Qatar self-sufficient. We are going into a wide range of products and have a great deal to do before the full set of products becomes available in the market. Once we have achieved this, or parallel to this, we will explore the potential of export markets further. Then, we have to look at the products and countries we will target for export. We bring in the best cows from all over the world, and that is expensive. Likewise, we do not have green pastures, so we buy expensive feed internationally. Added to this, we did not have infrastructure but built it all in one year, which meant high financing and set up costs. Our cost is thus expensive, and if we want to compete in the global market, we need to find the right type of products to sell; otherwise, we will sell at a loss. We are looking at exporting to Oman, Kuwait, and perhaps Syria and Iraq.