WIDE RANGE

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2015 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Colin Smith, Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Vegetable Oil Company (ADVOC), on innovation and automation, expanding into African markets, and the state of the regulatory environment.

Colin Smith
BIOGRAPHY
Colin Smith has been with the ADVOC group for more than 15 years, first as General Manager then as Managing Director since 2011. He began his career in the FMCG sector in the UK, where he held Senior Management roles with Gillette and British American Tobacco before relocating to Dubai in 1983. During his time in the Middle East he has held General Manager roles with several of the leading FMCG companies in the GCC including Spinneys, Binzagr, and Savola, where he was instrumental in establishing their leading brands in several countries in the Middle East and Iran. He originates from Scotland in the UK, where he studied Economics and Business in his hometown of Dundee.

What have been the milestones for the company over the years?

First of all, ADVOC is in a strategically located port. In the early days, the company was set up with the primary aim to supply Iraq. While this plan had some success, the demand was not consistent and thus the company revised the business model with a view to ensuring the factory was fully engaged on a regular basis. ADVOC began producing Coroli brand products in Abu Dhabi in 2000 and 2004, and bought Cebag Middle East Limited, the owner of the Coroli brand, amongst other brands. ADVOC thus acquired the Coroli brand ownership rights for the MENA region, plus the Cebag trading business. This proved to be a significant milestone because it got the company away from relying on government tenders, which came on an irregular basis. Between 2004 and 2009, we built up a significant distribution network in all of the countries in the region, from East Africa to Pakistan and we now deal with all of the GCC for Coroli and other ADVOC brands. We also make private label brands for selected major clients. In 2010 we began a major program of upgrades and installed several automated sections to our plant including high-speed filling lines plus robotic packing and palletizing. In 2012 we expanded our factory capacity by about 25% increasing both efficiency and output. In 2013, we added a custom built modern PET bottle making plant. We are now capable of making most of our own bottles and we plan to add further capacity as demand increases. In 2014, we also acquired a plot adjacent to our refinery that will double our current factory area.

What is your company's strategy for being as customer orientated as possible?

We check our audit data to see how the product is perceived. We always get feedback through our people and solicit feedback from the trade. The Coroli brand has been around for 35-40 years and it has built a good client base throughout the region as well innovating a lot with the packaging. You need to provide a quality, competitive product and you need to provide support for advertising and promotion in order to keep the trade and the consumers happy.

What countries are you present in at the moment?

Most of the business goes to the GCC and up to the Levant with Saudi Arabia being probably an even larger market than the UAE. Despite the various conflicts in the region we are still able to continue to supply parts of Syria plus Lebanon, and Jordan, and down to Tanzania and some of the top-end African countries. We have had a long business relationship with Pakistan, Nepal, and the Seychelles. It is quite a spread over all of these places, although the bulk of the business is done nearby.

What is your plan for the future?

We intend to expand into the African markets, and in time we will also further expand and upgrade into other nearby countries such as Iraq and Iran when matters improve. We have traditionally dealt with Iraq; however, when trouble starts, business goes down; it is a difficult place to do business. However, these are quite attractive and sizable markets. In the future, ADVOC will increase the output capability of the refinery further, including adding specialty fats like shortening, margarine, and fats for the bakery, hotels, restaurants, and catering segment. This will not just be here in Abu Dhabi, but throughout. This will give us a wider range of products. We have a substantial network of distributors, so it is easy for us to tack that on. We are also going to improve some of the product types that we make and widen the range of our existing products.