Egypt’s food industry finds new opportunities in Arab Gulf

Ossama Heikal said that to enter the UAE market his company relied on both quality and affordable prices.

Rajia Aboulkheir - Al Arabiya News
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The managing partner of Salé Sucré, a leading Egyptian patisserie, inaugurated Tuesday the first branch of the patisserie in Dubai, in an example of how Egypt’s food and beverage industry is seeking to make inroads in the Arab Gulf.

“Moving to Dubai and opening Salé Sucré here was a strategic business decision as the three pillars of our family business were dramatically affected after the Egyptian revolution,” Ossama Heikal told Al Arabiya News during the opening of the new branch.

Salé Sucré was first opened in Egypt in 1999 and has 17 branches across the capital, Cairo, and the northern coastal city of Alexandria.

“I come from a business family where real estate, construction and tourism are our main businesses,” he said, adding that “restaurants are another part of our family business,” Heikal, who is also the owner of United Beverage and Food (UBF), one of the leading companies in the food and beverage industry in Egypt, said.

“The impact of the revolution on our three main businesses pushed us to diversify [our activities] and get out of Egypt,” he said, adding that food and beverage was the only “safe industry outside Egypt.”

Heikal said that to enter the UAE market, which he described as “very competitive,” his company relied on both quality and affordable prices.

“We believe that our products are of top-notch quality and at the same time we are very much value-driven which gives us an edge in the market,” Heikal said.

“In Dubai, everything in the food and beverage industry is very expensive and most companies are extremely opportunistic,” he said.

“A large part of our competitors sell the same products for almost double the price,” he said, adding that “the price increase in the country is not justified.”

The Egyptian business man also said that the company needed to please local tastes as Dubai welcomes a large number of expatriates.

“If we don’t please the various local tastes than we cannot guarantee success,” he said, adding that the patisserie “is probably going to adjust its menu in order to satisfy the expatriates living in Dubai.”

Heikal, who has been in the food and beverage field for more than 15 years, stressed that his long experience in the industry in Egypt helped him to be confident with the expansion in the Gulf.

“After all these years, I acquired enough knowledge that gave me confidence to do the more and expand,” he said, adding that “if you can work in Egypt, you can work on the moon.”

Speaking about the challenges the Egyptian patisserie is facing in Dubai, Heikal said: “We faced difficulties when it came to permits, food and hygiene as the government is very strict and has very specific regulations.”

“We also faced problems to accommodate our workers who came from Egypt,” he said, adding that the challenges are “not really because of the country but more because I am new to the country.”

The Egyptian businessman is planning to expand in several other GCC countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

“We are not only developing Salé Sucré in the UAE but also in all other GCC countries with the exception of Kuwait,” he said, explaining that the franchise for the patisserie is already sold to another businessman in the Gulf country.

“This [GCC] market is massive and very attractive for us and we are sure that the brand is going to do very well in this area, especially in Saudi Arabia,” Heikal said.

According to research conducted by BMI in April 2015, Saudi Arabia's food and drink market will continue to benefit from rising disposable incomes, favorable demographics and increasing urbanization over a forecast period to 2019.

“We aim to open 15 different stores in the UAE in the next four years and at least 30 more in Saudi Arabia as it is a massive market,” he said.

The Egyptian businessman also explained that the decision to launch the first store in the UAE was due to the fact that “Dubai is the trendsetter of the GCC.”

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