There are not many opportunities to meet face-to-face with Buyers from key overseas retail chains; and even less so without leaving the country. Expos are convenient, considerably less costly, and highly effective ways to forge those relationships. Ahead of the Naturally Good Expo this April, we speak with Kirti Meghanini, Group Procurement Manager at Choithrams UAE. Kirti will be presenting at the Food & Beverage Exporters Forum at the Expo. Details to come.
What is your career background and what does your current role entail?
I manage the procurement for one of the largest retail groups within the region – Choithrams Group. I have spent over three decades across various divisions within the group, steering its journey of success from one milestone to another. Commencing with IT and then moving onto Logistics and Distribution in 1995, followed by a five-year stint in Inventory Management, I was named the Head of Merchandising in 2008 and Assistant Retail Manager in 2010. In 2012, I was named the Group Procurement Manager and have remained at the helm of sourcing for the renowned organization.
Can you give us an overview of Choithrams, from your perspective?
We are a retailer that is 75 years old and we have been in the Middle East (ME) for 40+ years. With almost 60 stores in the ME, we generally cater to upper and upper-middle class consumers. We thus have a sizeable special and niche SKU from UK, US and Australia. Choithrams operates in basically 2 sectors – Retail & Distribution.
Retail – Choithrams caters mainly to neighborhoods and communities. We are trying to strengthen that aspect of our business by opening 2-3 stores per year until 2020. This expansion plan also applies to our businesses in Doha and Bahrain. As most retailers do, we churn our assortment twice a year and see which trends are followed, which categories are becoming popular. Based on that, we introduce many new items to our consumers.
Distribution – From a distribution perspective, we have a division for all new brands which basically acts as an ‘incubator’ for such brands. We monitor the success of these new SKU and once we are ready to take it to the next level, we start distributing it to other stores. Depending on the profile of the product, it goes into the Gourmet channel or the mass market.
What are the trends that you are seeing in health, natural & organic products in your stores and in the UAE market more broadly?
Some of the categories that are growing (other than Snacking,) are Healthy and Organic. The same is true for the UAE. Within the health food category, there are a few trends.
- Protein – This has become a buzzword. All commodities are trying to enhance their offerings with added proteins. Breakfast cereals, cereal bars, milk shakes, RTE cakes, etc. are all being produced with enhanced proteins.
- Gluten Free – As gluten intolerance is increasing, this category is gaining more traction. Also, there is a trend with some nutritionists who are recommending limited foods that have gluten in them.
- Vegan – This too is a trend that has caught on. We can now see vegan meats, cheeses, etc. across the shelves that have a niche audience. Again, here too, nutritionists play a big role in influencing people’s eating habits.
- Organic – Organic has now become a very big category on its own. There is hardly any category that does not have ‘organic’ range within it, including non-foods.
- Snacking – People are looking for healthy snacking options, but with fullness. The freeze-dried and air-dried fruits have not caught on here in the Middle East. However, small SKU like pop seeds, rice crackers, rice chips, sunflower seeds, other unsalted nuts, etc. are the leaders of change. Having said that, the old fashioned snacks like potato chips are not in decline!
What categories and/or types of products are you keen to discover while you are in Australia?
As Australia is known for its quality products, I would look for the same, i.e. free-from, organic, and new trends. Based on the above, we would like to explore more protein-added SKU, Gluten Free, Organic, Lactose Free, Vegan, Halal, etc. However that does not stop us from looking at traditional ranges that still have a mass appeal.
If your product fits into any of these categories, you stand to gain a lot from attending the Naturally Good Expo – if only to continue the conversation with Kirti and the other International Buyers who will be speaking at the Exporters’ forum we are running. There are not many chances to get a live Q&A with a panel of such high calibre! Be sure to book your ticket to the forum – details to come.