13-17 FEBRUARY 2022


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Webisode 1 Summary

Webisode 1 Summary

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Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food and beverage expo launched its first ever online event under the Gulfood.Virtual platform. This initiative comes in line with the current pandemic situation which has caused live shows to be postponed across the globe to secure the safety and health of people.

On Wednesday, April 29th 2020, Gulfood.Virtual kicked-off its first initiative in the format of a thought-provoking webinar series, Taming The Black Swan: Food Strategies to Thrive During & Post Crisis. The first episode focused on answering the critical question nowadays, Can Our Food Supply Chain Cope?

The one-of-a-kind panel included four c-levels from the region’s top industry players in the retail and dairy industries, Hani Weiss, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Retail, UAE; Tolga Sezer, CEO, Al Safi Danone, KSA; Willem Van Walt Meijer, CEO, Al Aim Farms, UAE, and Bhushant Gandhi, COO, Truebell, UAE. The discussion was moderated by the charismatic Dr. Kantha Shelke, global voice on food science and senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, USA

Over a span of an hour the panel engaged in a discussion which kicked off with a welcome message by Mr. Mark Napier, Group Portfolio Director, Exhibitions department at Dubai World Trade Centre.

Identifying the new challenges in food & beverages manufacturing, distribution and retail

Given the current situation and the surge in demand for supply, the panel agreed that to ensure business as usual and to provide the public with necessities, efforts needed to be focused on the safety and health of customers, employees, livestock and the supply chain.

The challenges that keep me awake at night, are the safety of our people, safety of our manufacturing and our livestock and then our supply chain,” said Tolga Sezer, CEO Al Safi Danone. Concurring this point was Willem Van Welt Meijer, CEO Al Ain Farms, as he pointed out being a farm- based business, “Work from home was a big difference, we are completely not used to that. Our second challenge was business continuity, a major event was locking down our sites and our companies.” Mr. Willem also highlighted Al Ain Farms’ role in ensuring national food security and the fact that this started with people security as well.

On the other hand, Hani Weiss, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Retail, explained the surge in online and the physical stores, and the measures Carrefour had to take to secure the safety of employees and customers such as, daily temperature checks, social distancing in staff transportation and accommodation, arranging for special accommodation for quarantine, and that all accommodations are disinfected on a daily basis.

  • A moment of humanity

The panel expressed their cooperation across the supply chain between manufacturers, distributors and retailers for better planning and more accurate forecasting by sharing data with a view to reassure consumers with full shelves. “Without all these gentlemen on the panel, I cannot sell anything. I need to have products on shelves so our concerned customers see that we have enough for them today, tomorrow and in the future and this where we worked very closely with our partners,” said Hani Weiss.

Ensuring cost-effectiveness, productivity and profitability while social distancing in production lines and warehouses

This issue was discussed mostly by the global manufacturers on the panel, Al Safi Danone and Al Ain Farms who tapped into leveraging their experiences and best practices to deal with the situation.

Al Safi Danone formed a business continuity platform early on that conveys every other day to assess and implement measures where needed and makes sure that 55,000 thousand cattle heads and 3,500 employees are well taken care of. Meanwhile, Al Ain Farms, created a 6 people task force to make rapid decisions to be implemented right away. For example, moving 200 people within 24 hours to ensure social distancing. The challenge wasn’t so much to keep people away from each other at work, but to provide adequate accommodation.

Major changes F&B leaders are implementing to stay keep up and stay afloat today

Taking lemons and turning them into lemonade was the next topic the panel discussed and how they are adapting their business strategies to keep up with these challenging times. Willem Van Welt Meijer, stated that “with our 2,500 colleagues, the whole culture of teamwork has changed overnight, this is unbelievable. The other thing is work from home, we all were worried in the end its much more effective because we work much harder.”

As for Al Safi Danone, they have endured a “complete paradigm shift.” Tolga Sezer, explained that securing commodities is key to keeping up with the demand, and being able to produce at all. Some countries are closing their borders and it is becoming more and more evident that the way we look at safety stocks need to be reevaluated. Not only for ingredients, but also packaging materials.

On the importing and distribution front, Truebell revealed that they are facing challenges with country and port lock downs however their systems still is working and products are coming in even from countries like Italy. However, Bhushant Gandhi, COO, Truebell noted that, “it will only take one country to start banning export of food for the whole system to be at risk.” Hence, companies will need to start sourcing from local companies which on the other hand is a plus for the local economy.

The role of governments and regulators to help keep food supply chains robust and secure

When asked what the global leaders would hope governments and regulators would do to keep the ball rolling, they expressed their need to creating a level playing field vs. import to maintain a market to compete in in the local market, it will not work.

At the same time, the panel showed gratitude for the local governments they are based in and shared live examples on the initiatives that have been put in place since the start of the Black Swan Pandemic. The unity of nations in the Gulf, especially between Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been evident. With the guidance of the food security minister, Al Safi Danone has been able to provide the UAE with fresh milk products on a daily basis. This type of cooperation was significant and evident as Tolga and Hani share insights that it just took one week to secure the fresh milk on the UAE carrefour shelves.

Other examples include, an agreement signed between carrefour and Emirates Bio Farms, showing the private sector working hand in hand with the government to make sure they are planning for the future and not short terms action plans.

The important role of private label was also mentioned as a critical source of supply. Their manufacturing was increased to meet the demand of consumers who were now turning more and more to private label to secure their needs in certain stores and certain countries.

What is the outlook? What will the future look like?

The new normal will look considerably different after the coronavirus. Changing consumer habits and behaviors was the main topic expected to change post COVID-19. Shifting to online shopping, healthy eating and in-home dining as more convenient ways of living in the future and a way to stay close to home. Marketing, e-commerce and media will also change and companies need to adapt to the new reality.

Reliable controls on everything for food security is a major concern from consumers to manufacturers to retailors and every aspect of the food journey will need to be looked at and addressed immediately. 

“This is a major stress test of our time, we have never seen anything like this before, unfortunately it’s the survival of the fittest. If companies have been able to preserve cash and who have the abilities and resources to adapt to the change on come out on the other side – no matter what that other side will look like,” said Bhushant Gandhi.


Stay tuned for more information about our online events. We look forward to seeing you live, 3-5 November at our co-located shows - GulfHost, Gulfood Manufacturing, The Speciality Food Festival, yummex Middle East and Private Label Licensing Middle East.

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