Indian exporters should increase healthy options within their range
Choithrams is an age-old group, which deals in different areas of food and beverages like manufacturing, indenting, distribution, and retailing. It occupies the Middle East market with 65 stores in countries like UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain and enjoys equal competence in the distribution business and retailing.
Kirti Meghnani, Head-Retail Procurement, Choithrams, UAE, talks to Indusfood and gives insightful advice to all Indian brands on how to build effective marketing strategies for the International Modern Trade. He cautions that brands, which are investing in the global market, should be patient enough to wait for results for a couple of years.
Further, he also talks about his new procurement plans from India and suggests that exporters should increase healthy options and ingredients within their product range.
Kirti Meghnani joined Choithrams in 1984 and has worked in different departments like Warehouse & Supply Chain, Retail Operations and Procurement. Currently, he is the Head of Procurement for Retail in UAE.
Indusfood: When did Choithrams start its journey in the F&B industry? What has been your story?
Kirti Meghnani: It was over three decades ago that the first Choithrams Supermarket and Department Store was established in the UAE. Since then, many Choithrams have come up in convenient locations across the seven Emirates. With its unbeatably high standards of quality and service, Choithrams has become a name synonymous with excellence in the region today.
Choithrams is a 75-year old company, which is spread across more than 25 countries. We are into different verticals of F&B like manufacturing, indenting, distribution, retailing, etc. We first came to the Middle East in the early 70’s and since then, we have expanded our presence to four countries – UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain with 65 stores. Our distribution business is as big as retailing in terms of value and we employ over 3,000 people in the ME.
Indusfood: Can you tell us more about your distribution network? Which major cities do you cater to?
KM: We distribute all over UAE in all cities and small towns. We have a base of +13,000 outlets and are serviced by a +150 fleet of trucks other than +75 vans. We are distributors of major power brands like Rainbow, Perfetti Van Melle, Weetabix, Kimball, Quaker and many more brands. From India, we distribute Gits, Mother’s Recipe, Golden Harvest and Fortune among other brands. We are looking at a couple of more brands that we are test marketing in our stores before we start distribution.
Furthermore, our distribution covers the entire spectrum of store types in the UAE. We distribute to Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Groceries, Specialized Stores, Cafeterias, Restaurants and Hotels. We also now take care of emerging channels like Electronic shops, Pharmacies, etc.
We do both established brands and private labels. Brand building is our forte and thus it applies to both power brands and also the private label brands that we have in-house.
Indusfood: What is your message to Indian brands attempting to carve a space for themselves in global modern trade? What marketing strategies should they adopt?
KM: Many of the Indian brands, whether distributed by us or others, have been successful in UAE because of adapting to the local business culture, where retailers seek more co-operation, investments, consumer promotions, marketing support, social media presence, etc. The growth of a brand is not an easy job and brands should be ready to invest in the market and wait for results for a couple of years.
Indusfood: How do you see the global placement and growth in demand of the Indian food products in the near future?
KM: This is bound to grow as long as the diaspora from the sub-continent grows. Today, South East Asians make the biggest block of people in the entire Middle East and hence the growth will not stop. We might have a small dip due to the COVID situation but that will recover in some time.
Indusfood: What has been the impact of the COVID crisis on your business?
KM: Our retail business has been doing well. Having said that, it differs from category to category. Our distribution has had a few struggles due to the absence of visitors, tourists, etc, but have been able to recover very remarkably from other opportunities.
Indusfood: How can the retail sector and your business enhance customer experience while improving operational efficiency, amidst the pandemic?
KM: We can and we have enhanced customer experience not only during the pandemic but much before that. All our stores are HACCP certified and we have internal QHSE checks every month. Of course many rules have been imposed by the authorities and we have complied with each and every one of those. We can proudly say that the consumer feels as safe at our stores as he does at his/her home.
Indusfood: What can the Indian brands do to deal with new normal post-Covid?
KM: All brands should focus on the health and hygiene part. This can be done in two ways. First is to increase the healthy options within the range and the ingredients in the existing range. The second is to talk about hygiene in terms of manufacturing, packaging, transportation, etc.
Indusfood: What are your recent and upcoming procurement plans from India in particular?
KM: We are constantly trying to enhance the consumer experience in our stores and the same shall be followed while making procurements from India. This could be in terms of the raw materials, Healthy and Organic, new packaging types, etc.
Indusfood: How do you see Indusfood as a growth platform?
KM: It is one of the best things to happen to the F&B industry in India. It not only gives a chance to the brands, but also brings buyers to explore the new products and trends from India. We have started bringing in a lot of items that we selected during the last Indusfood. In this pandemic too, it has not stopped. Kudos to team Indusfood for arranging virtual meetings and maintaining the momentum.