Celebrating 15 years of operation in the UAE, HORECA Trade started from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful foodservice distributors in the market today. Mahak Mannan caught up with the general manager, Wael Al Jamil on its achievements and learning curves over the years.
HORECA Trade, a part of Bidfood, the global distribution company, has been constantly adapting to change in an ever-growing market which demands regular innovations. According to Wael Al Jamil, general manager, HORECA Trade this is one of its key elements of success.
“The journey of Bidfood in the UAE has been one of constant change, as is with the market condition. Like any other company we started with nothing and today have almost 200 employees,” he says.
“So far we have completed over 1.5 million deliveries within the country. We started with less than 50 customers and today we deliver to 5000 customers. Initially, we had no brands and today the portfolio has more than 20 international brands which we continue to grow. The idea is not about numbers but our ability to change and the agility of the business,” he says.
“I believe it is a simple equation – if we don’t change we fail. Consumers have become very knowledgeable about their food now, the word foodie did not exist when we started but today every other person is a foodie. With that knowledge comes the need to adapt to growing consumer needs. The trend for more experiential dining over your typical casual dining is rapidly becoming popular.”
“This view has opened up so much and as suppliers we have to offer a different experience and products too,” he adds.
The need for change has also led to the growth of HORECA Trade’s portfolio over the years. In 2003, it was limited to a handful of beverage products and condiments, fast forward 15 years later and it is on board with food and beverage products and innovative equipment.
“Chefs have numerous requirements and vendors to deal with but they all want to work with lesser suppliers. HORECA Trade is now present in the beverage, appetiser, main course and dessert categories. Additionally, we have managed to expand into the non-food business with packaging and innovative equipment like Vito. This has helped customers become more reliant on HORECA Trade rather than having more suppliers,” Al Jamil says.
“Change is the only constant and that is what we will keep doing. Tomorrow, we will be in a completely new sector.”
The need to expand its portfolio came from customer needs, according to the general manager.
“Our purpose is to provide foodservice operators with products that would help them create an amazing meal. With that being said, the journey of our portfolio expansion has never stopped. For example, since we represent Lamb Weston, the leading potato brand, we have been challenged by our customers on offering something that ensures their frying oil continues to deliver a superior product after days of frying. Hence, we started our partnership with Vito, the equipment solution which allows customers to filter their oil in a couple of minutes, resulting in much better-quality oil and in turn better fried products. This is how we started the equipment business,” he explains.
A growing market results in the need for an increase in supply and competition, however this does not mean that demand grows with it. Last year was a particularly challenging year with demand slowing down as compare to the previous years. However, that is all part of the economic pattern, in fact, it is the tough days which make companies more efficient and creative, according to Al Jamil.
“The UAE is one of the most competitive markets in the world. While many may think this is not a good thing, it is actually very healthy,” he says.
“The UAE foodservice market is significantly big considering the population of the nation in relation to neighbouring countries. This is because the UAE is highly driven by tourism, we get more tourists visiting than we have people residing here. All those tourists come here to experience different entertainment and food. With a population that is amongst the youngest in the world, driven by an on-the-go lifestyle, people tend to eat out much more than they eat at home.
“Moreover, the cosmopolitan nature of this country has made our job challenging and exciting at the same time. People want to try different types of cheeses, meats and other dishes from all over the world. We as suppliers have to respond to that demand and give chefs what they need in order to satisfy their diverse consumers,” he adds.
“Rent on the other hand is not cheap either, so operators utilise as much space as they can to service consumers, minimising storage space and instead rely on companies like us to deliver often.”
HORECA Trade prides itself on their service, crossing more than 500 deliveries a day leaves no margin for error, which is also why it is rolling out its e-commerce platform across the region.
“The one main characteristic that our employees have is ownership. Every employee works like they own the organisation, they treat the business like their own,” Al Jamil says.
“Hence our service is our strong area. Needless to say the brands that we work with are global leaders but the service levels and our compatibilities with those brands is what makes us stand out.”
“We were the first in the region to launch our online ordering platform where our customers can place their orders online via any device including a computer, smart phone or tablet. They can place their orders from any country on the go, making it very convenient. There is so much change in the market where people expect you to work with them 24/7 and the only way you can match that is through technology,” he adds.
“It also reduces the chance of human error significantly. We are continuously investing on our e-commerce platform to make it more compatible for our customers. While more than 30% of our business in the UAE is generated online, we are soon rolling out the platform across other countries in the region and expect more of our business to be done online.
“As we celebrate 15 years of establishment, we are in process of planning the next 15 which will be as exciting and challenging as the former. We have had great days and stormy ones. The best lessons are learned during stormy weathers, not in the good days,” Al Jamil explains.
“2017 was a challenging year but so was 2008 and 2004. We learned valuable lessons that have made the foundation of this business very strong and that is the same foundation we are going to follow for years to come.”