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Mohamed Alabbar exhorts industry leaders

The maiden IMAGES RetailME Food Business Forum (FBF), MENA’s knowledge-sharing platform for food service (HoReCa) and food & grocery retail, brought together industry leaders from across MENA under one roof in its inaugural edition.

In the wake of the thriving food industry landscape in the MENA region, industry titans converged at the UAERG (UAE Restaurant Group) Food Service Forum and IMAGES RetailME Food Business Forum held at the JW Marriott Hotel Marina in Dubai on Thursday, June 6, 2024.

The events witnessed an impressive gathering of over 400 attendees, 100+ speakers, and 20+ sessions, embodying a collective endeavour to explore novel prospects and foster innovation within the Hotel, Restaurant and Catering (HoReCa) and Food and Grocery Retail sectors.

Expressing the power of the ecosystem Mohamed Alabbar, Founder of Noon, acknowledged the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food business landscape. ” SMEs account for approximately 70 percent of the 30,000 food outlets in Dubai, forming the bedrock of our economy. We must encourage the growth of local, home-grown brands,” noted Alabbar.

Collective action

Amitabh Taneja, Editor in Chief, IMAGES Retail ME, emphasized the significance of collective action in propelling the industry forward. “The UAE’s food service market is expected to grow at a remarkable CAGR of 17.09 percent, potentially reaching US$ 43.98bn by 2029. We believe that the food business at large is a critical part of the overall retail ecosystem,” he observed.

The morning hours of the conference delved deeper into understanding the nuances of the food business through the lens of industry leaders such as Panchali Mahendra, CEO, Atelier House, a global hospitality chain, who highlighted the importance of enhancing customer experience by balancing technology implementation with human touch.

Implementing technology

George Kunnappally, Managing Director, Nandos-UAE, spoke about the choice of implementing technology, only if necessary. While the industry leaders from the food service industry shared their culinary secrets to success, the food and grocery industry leaders touched upon the trends dominating the MENA region and how the CEOs and their teams are navigating the ever-changing grocery landscape with the right strategies and actions.

Muhammad Adeel Anjum, CEO, Circle K Arabia, highlighted the rapid growth and future potential of the grocery industry. “The MENA grocery retail sector is undergoing a significant transformation. The integration of advanced supply chain solutions and real-time analytics is enabling us to meet the dynamic needs of our customers more efficiently,” he remarked.

“Our aim is to lead the way in providing high-quality, locally sourced products to our customers,” commented Mohamed Al Hashemi, Chief Executive Officer, Union Coop.

Spotlight

Further during the day through the conversations at IMAGES RetailME Food Business Forum, the varied aspects of the MENA grocery landscape were brought under the spotlight. While key leaders discussed role of technology and Artificial Intelligence in proliferating business growth, a special session on the growth of online grocery in the region brought an illustrious panel featuring John Noja, General Manager, Talabat Mart UAE; Mahmoud Bahaa, General Manager, Rabbit; Chase Lario, VP, Groceries, Careem; Halima Jumani, Founder and CEO, Kibsons International and Raed Hafez, CEO, El Grocer By Smiles.

The sector is projected to grow to US$ 10bn by 2029. As a community-founded, nonprofit organization, UAERG is committed to closely working with governmental bodies to sustain and enhance business opportunities. This forum represents a pivotal moment for collaboration and innovation within our industry in the UAE,” explained Amit Nayak, Vice Chairman, UAE Restaurants Group & Vice President, HAMA MEA.

The power of homegrown brands and how the fusion of local and global is redefining palates became a highpoint of discussion at the forum and the panel had local businesses talking about the art of mastering customer expectations by offering personalized experiences, all while catering to diverse tastes. Osamah Alawwam, Co-founder, Roasting House, touched on the concept of ‘Made in Saudi’.

“Local brands have a unique opportunity to showcase our rich cultural heritage and flavors. By emphasizing quality and authenticity, we can create a strong identity that resonates globally,” he said.

Global concepts

On the other hand, talking about interesting global concepts and how tweaking the same to local tastebuds can create a difference. “Understanding local preferences and integrating them into global culinary trends is key to our success. By doing so, we can offer a unique dining experience that appeals to both local and international customers,” stated Louay Moursel, Regional Director of Operations, Gastronomica.

Food Business Forum’s dedication to nurturing growth via community involvement and collaborations with governmental bodies aligns seamlessly with the core principles of AGI,” said Dr. Sadeddine Mneimne, Chairman, Access Group International (AGI) Holding.

Sharing expertise

“The Food Business Forum has been an impressive gathering of industry leaders, all in one place, showcasing and sharing their expertise and success stories. It’s inspiring to see such a convergence of ideas and experiences, which greatly benefits everyone involved,” asserted Sadique Ahmed, CEO, Pathfinder and Founder, RetailGPT,

Moving on, the platform celebrated excellence and innovation within the industry through the IMAGES awards. The IMAGES RetailME Food Service Awards 2024 and Golden Spoon Awards powered by Allezz celebrated best practices in the food service and food and grocery retail across MENA. From culinary innovation to operational excellence, the awardees represented some of the finest retail practices, inspiring others to strive for excellence in their own endeavours.

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