Catering News gathered a panel of chefs and procurement experts to debate the major supply chain challenges facing the food and beverage industry in the Middle East, and solutions for a more efficient future
Clive Pereira, head chef, West 14th Steakhouse: Chef Clive Gilroy Pereira has worked closely with Michelin starred Chef, Gary Rhodes in Dubai and was previously head chef at Rhodes Twenty 10 at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa. He joined the team at West 14th in February.
Saji Idiculla, procurement manager, Dukes Dubai: Idiculla joined upcoming Palm Jumeirah hotel, Dukes Dubai in 2015 and is responsible for setting up all FF&E and OS&E for the pre-opening of the property. He previously worked for Millennium Hotels & Resorts for eight years.
Andrew Fletcher, executive chef, Mövenpick JLT: Fletcher has been in the UAE since 2011 and prior to his current role served as chef de cuisine at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. He leads a team of more than 40 chefs and stewards and oversees all aspects of budgeting, profit and loss data analysis, menu planning and costing.
Francois Roldan, executive chef, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht club: French national, Chef Francois has worked at several restaurants in Dubai, Paris and London and was executive sous chef at JA Ocean View hotel where he managed 80 chefs. He has also held tenures as chef de cuisine at Bateaux Dubai, and at One & Only Royal Mirage Hotel.
Stephane Cedelle, chef de cuisine, Bistro Des Arts, Dubai Marina: Cedelle moved to Dubai just one year ago having spent 25 years in London. He was trained by maitre cuisinier de France 1972-73, Georges Aubrier before gaining experience at some of the best restaurants in London including those by Gordon Ramsey, Helene Darroze, Marcus Wareing, and the Roux brothers.
Roopali Khurana, MCIPS, M. Com, ICSA, lead procurement management consultant, trainer, assessor, coach, ArcBlue: Khurana joined procurement consultancy ArcBlue in 2013, following a number of roles spanning procurement and supply chain transformation management. She has a Master’s degree in Business Management Studies and a Major in procurement and supply chain management.
Muhammad Ihsanullah Qamar, cluster director of environment, health and safety, Rotana Hotel Management Corporation: Qamar is an experienced EHS and sustainability professional. His previous experience includes working for Abu Dhabi International Airport Flight Catering prior to joining Rotana in 2006, where he has served in positions including area director of hygiene for Dubai and Northern Emirates.
Catering News: How has the procurement landscape evolved in the Middle East since you arrived here?
Roopali Khurana: Procurement is not there yet in this region. Procurement people are involved right at the end and if a product is already streamlined for a buyer it doesn’t give them much choice to make commercial decisions. However, now I can see the change coming whereby buyers talk to the end stakeholder to find out the business need. There has been a huge change here – I started off 4 years ago when procurement was not in the picture.
Andrew Fletcher: Four years ago we had a limited number of suppliers and now we have more speciality products, more unique products and the market is getting bigger.
Saji Idiculla: I think we have to empower the procurement managers because they have the right knowledge in the local market that the chef might not have.
Muhammad Ihsanullah Qamar: I think it’s a shared responsibility, you cannot depend on one person. If someone is going to take a decision as a whole, the full responsibility and liability is on them. There has been massive growth in terms of commodities, both food and non-food and 98% of the food being consumed in Dubai is imported and now whatever is being imported, more than half of it is being re-exported so the market has grown massively. If I compare my properties in Sudan, in Doha, Bahrain, Iraq, Afgahnistan and Iran, we don’t have options available. In the UAE we do procurement for other parts of the world where we operate and also there is a huge improvement in terms of strategies, protocols and procedures.
Clive Pereira: Now we have loads of suppliers however the purchasing manager and the chef have got to work hand in hand because [purchasing managers] check the finances but the chef has got to check the quality. We have hundreds of suppliers selling the same products at different prices, so the thing we have to watch out for is how people store their products because all the products are the same.
“Procurement people are involved right at the end and if a product is already streamlined for a buyer it doesn’t give them much choice to make commercial decisions” – Roopali Khurana
Catering News: How do more mature markets like Paris and London compare to Dubai in terms of procurement?
Stephane Cedelle: Obviously it’s very different but I haven’t had any problems since I got here. I’ve got a purchasing officer but I’m very involved. As a French restaurant I’m trying to get most of the French products, which is not easy. Most come frozen apart from the salad leaves, which usually run short because obviously the supplier can’t store them.
Andrew: I think they only difference is that you can’t source produce the next day, it takes two or three days.
Francois Roldan: You know the schedule of the suppliers, we know the schedule of our business – when the restaurant is going to be very busy, when it will be quiet. We know which shipment is coming from which area, so it’s just a matter of organisation – you just have to think three days in advance.
Catering News: Are suppliers unreliable even if you do plan?
Saji: We need to always balance our supply and demand curve especially in the high peak demand periods. We rely on external suppliers and most of these come once or twice a week and sometimes if the demand is more we face a shortage, but somehow the chefs manage, they play with different options.
Andrew: One of the biggest challenges is for example if you import a certain type of fish from the UK, because there are so many steps to bring it here. it has to go through customs, it could get stopped on the way – if that fish doesn’t arrive, there’s no other option to get that specific fish.
Clive: As much as chefs don’t like freezing things, this is the only option sometimes to save them from having to make an item unavailable for the next week or three days until the shipment comes in.
Catering News: What about local suppliers – are they reliable?
Andrew: We try to use as much local fish as possible. There’s some really nice local fish so we try not to rely so much on imported fish.
Clive: Three or four years back the Middle East didn’t have any local vegetables but now there is a lot produced in Dubai and the UAE. We don’t use so much the fish and meat but vegetables we do. I believe the local farmers have got a lot of support so they can produce a lot of good stuff.
Andrew: HACCP is a large part of it. A lot of the local suppliers aren’t up to the required level and it’s not a risk you want to take.
Stephane: I don’t really use any local suppliers to be honest apart from for my dairies, everything else is from abroad. I try to get as much of the French produce as possible, so I use Classic Fine Foods and Fresh Express. The fish is from not too far away – from Egypt, Turkey and Mauritius. If you find me a good local supplier then I’ll go for it but up until now I haven’t been approached by any good local suppliers- I don’t think there are that many.
Saji: Being in the UAE we have to show some responsibility to the local community as well, however the main challenge with the local suppliers is the quality. I think a balance between local and imported suppliers is the way we can achieve our goals.
Clive: If you want to have 100% good tomatoes throughout the year from a local supplier, that’s going to be possible so I think if you’re a chef that works with a lot of change, local produce is good.
Francois: When you’re a standalone restaurant it’s good because you can get things from almost everywhere. When you look after a lot of restaurants for a group, most of your things are in a contract from the suppliers.
Muhammed: The main challenge is the grower is not able to find a marketplace where they are going to sell it. They don’t have access directly to the hotels, to the palaces, to the catering industry. The growers are banking on the network of distributors and traders. The chef wants to have local produce as per their own strategy or for the guests but whatever comes to Dubai is going to be sold out – this market is so competitive. A lot of emphasis should be put on transparency and on traceability otherwise things will go wrong further along the way.
Andrew: I think we should encourage the growth of local products because over the next 50 years you’re going to see some huge changes in the food chain.
Catering News: are processes and contracts becoming simpler?
Francois: The processes are very complicated especially for big companies – the bigger the company, the more processes and audits. We do a lot of projection, tabulation, a lot of comparison. Another problem in Dubai is that they always want to meet – you have 100 people selling the same product to you. Without an appointment I don’t meet anyone, and otherwise I tell them to go to procurement.
Andrew: You have so many middle men importing the products in to the hotels and they’re all selling the same thing, which is why you get so many requests to meet so they can get your business.
Roopali: We know in the UK what we need and we know who the best suppliers are and that’s it. But in Dubai we’re all new, we’re building up the space and trying to make a supplier approved list. In the UK and France you don’t have to think about it. We need strict processes for food because you can’t take any risks. If we could get everyone at a table to take a decision on a supplier that would be much easier.
Catering News: Would you use local produce to create menu items from a specific country – e.g. French?
Stephane: The bistro is very French, very authentic food. If you close your eyes, you’ll think you’re in Paris and that’s what we want. Eighty per cent of our customers are French and I’m buying a French duck because I know that it will make the difference. I don’t compromise in terms of meat and poultry. With vegetables yes, I’m happy to get vegetables from Lebanon. The beef I buy Australian – I’m going to be honest with you, so I do compromise once in a while but there are some products that I need to stick with French.
Roopali: We cannot make a change in what the chef requires on a specific item. But where can we bring in cost efficiency for the company?
Andrew: I think in all businesses you have areas where you spend money and you have your top quality products and then you have areas where you don’t receive as much money and you have to balance your costs and choose a medium quality product.
Muhammed: If you are selling an Australian fillet I cannot switch that with an Indian tenderloin or any other steak; it is there on the menu and that’s what is attracting the guest, and you have to be transparent with the guest because that’s what they are paying for.
Clive: From a chef’s point of view, as long as he gets his main products from where he wants, the rest of the components could be handled by someone else.
Francois: I have one restaurant which has six origins of steak; it gives the customer variety.
Catering News: How do you select the right suppliers?
Clive: We check the warehouses, see if they’re certified. Another problem is that having so many suppliers, even if you want a packet of soil you cannot get one, you’ve got to buy 20 because that one supplier is not going to come for one packet of soil. If you have one supplier for everything, it makes everything so much easier.
Roopali: For low risk, low value items you would have a vendor management inventory, so you do a framework agreement with the vendor and then whenever you require such an item, for example a packet of salt, that supplier brings it for you. You only pay at the end of the month based on what your consumption was.
Catering News: There have been a number of high profile corruption cases in the industry over the past few years – is this something you have had to deal with?
Francois: In big companies it’s not possible because of all the processes.
Stephane: He will be found out at the end of the year. Here it’s never happened to me but in London yes. I’ve never done it but it’s been offered to me many times and I know some big executives internationally will do it.
Andrew: It’s nothing I’ve experienced in the UAE.
Muhammed: This is a challenge and it happens here. We need to first dissect the word corruption – what does it mean? There are different means of corruption so corporate governance is something that has to play a role. Centralising suppliers is one of the solutions, but even then it’s not always offering money, it could be done in a smarter way. The selection of suppliers should not be an individual decision; it should be the responsibility of a team.
Catering News: How are your relationships with the suppliers you work with?
Francois: For me and my team, suppliers are more like partners, we don’t call them suppliers. We ask them for support, they are our customer, they do the promotion of our place, they come and have dinner, they give us the best price, whenever we have an issue we can discuss it with them, they support us for events and staff parties. So it’s very important to keep a good relationship with them.
Muhammed: Absolutely, they are our stakeholders. We have a questionnaire to ask if they’ve been paid on time or if they’ve had any issues – we give them the opportunity to comment on our corporate governance, our sustainability, our procedures and our practices.
Andrew: It’s really important to build that level of relationship with suppliers because they will perform better for you, they’ll deliver on time, they’ll bend over backwards to get the products to you on time.
Catering News: what is the most common feedback you receive from suppliers?
Muhammed: Common feedback is that we shouldn’t squeeze them in terms of price because if we do, they’ll find some other way of lowering the price. Also they say not to challenge their transparency.
Roopali: Any contract has to be win-win. It’s a competitive market but it should be a collaborative approach where you don’t squeeze the supplier, but you ask them to help you bring better value for the company.
Catering News: Is it more difficult for independent restaurants or hotel restaurants to form relationships with suppliers?
Clive: We’ve got to be much closer to a supplier so they can give us the same support they give a hotel. It happens during the festive season when the suppliers have x amount of items but the best go to the biggest customer, so that’s where you relations are useful.
Andrew: that’s one of the biggest challenges, you’ve got some really big restaurants in Dubai and they’ll always get the best stuff because they spend the most money, so getting the consistency and the right products is quite challenging sometimes.
Stephane: I’ve got a very strong relationship with my suppliers. I’ll spend the time just to build that relationship and most of the time they are regular customers – I get that money back that way! I work with Classic Fine Foods, Fresh Express, Promart – I will take as many as I can because the logistics are so difficult in Dubai so I’ll get many suppliers for the same items but I have a back-up plan. I also play a lot of competition and I’m very open with my suppliers about that.
Catering News: How do you expect the procurement landscape to evolve in the next 12 months?
Francois: It’s already changing. You have more and more wholesale suppliers that offer a total solution for your restaurant. This way, standalone restaurants can have the same prices as a huge hotel with 20 or 30 restaurants. It will also become go more online – our internal system generates it automatically and LPOs will go automatically to the supplier.
Stephane: They do everything here – they do meat, veg, cheese, chemical products – I’ve never seen that before. I prefer individual specialists in vegetables, fish etc. You might tell me I’m old school and maybe I’ll change my direction in the future.
Roopali: That helps to bring you better value.
Saji: When I was with Millennium, my previous job there was procurement auditing and they my property as the pilot. People from the London office audited the property and found I had 120+ food suppliers, and said they didn’t understand how because they have a handful of suppliers in London for bigger properties. But they are not aware of the Middle East market.
Roopali: I ask procurement managers if they’d like to do category buying. For example, so many restaurants are in a hotel and they all need potatoes. The category buyer will be responsible for a niche category, you can call it category management and that gives you a holistic view of things that are niche and knowledge about a commodity, and it gives you value for the company.
Muhammed: Here the trend is different, we just go for the special products. We have signature ingredients on every menu and there are a few we cannot compromise. However there are certain suppliers who give us the opportunity and tell us about this.
Roopali: The benefit is the buyer gets visibility over what’s being bought – so one chef won’t just be buying things from their perspective – the whole hotel with many different restaurants will be buying together. There are chains in the region where they bulk buy.
Andrew: we have something similar – we have an online system called FutureLog which has been developed for Movenpick and this is how we do our ordering. Whatever products get added on to future log all the hotels can see it so it’s in a supplier’s best interest to give a competitive price because he’s opening up to 6 properties instead of one. If another Movenpick gets a great deal on a product, they add it into the Futurelog system, I see that and I can also order it.
Clive: it swings both ways. From a supplier’s point of view, he can go low on the price but if he looks at it through different hotels, for example FutureLog, he’ll see that if he loses in one restaurant it’s ok but if he is on FutureLog he will lose in 10 restaurants.
Andrew: a lot of hotel companies have their own individual systems which is also a challenge for suppliers because they have many different systems to use.
Muhammed: We have an online system for F&B procurement. We enter some information about the suppliers and it’s visible for all our hotels worldwide – it’s controlled by the corporate office. We also have the intranet system and continuously update our supplier list.
Andrew: I think what’s important for chefs in large companies is not to be solely tied to these systems so you can go outside and find other products at the same time. With certain chains you’d have this system and that’s all you can use.