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“We are looking into India in terms of manufacturing platform for various goods”
Monday, 29 November, 2021, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
With a vision to make tasty, highly nutritious, and responsibly sourced Middle Eastern culinary innovations available for the entire world; Eretz Quality Foods, a supplier of premium Israeli speciality foods and beverages brings the finest tastes of Israel, while unveiling its commitment to leveraging the rich Middle Eastern culinary tradition and food innovation capacities in making the region a global hub for sustainable food innovation. Idan Ben Ruby, CEO of Eretz Quality Foods, gives details about the competitive landscape of the industry, India collaboration and more in an email interview with Kimberley Fernandes. Excerpts:

How has the competitive landscape of the industry changed during Covid-19?
There are drastic changes affecting the entire value chain. When the pandemic took the world by storm, economies were almost paralysed, countries were locked down. As a result, raw materials and manufactured products became scarce, and logistic costs inflated overnight.

The pandemic changed how sellers approach consumers. Today, emphasis on service, accessibility, and creative communication with consumers are more crucial than ever. In addition, the need for self-sufficiency is pushing stakeholders and governments to look for local solutions and ways to empower local suppliers and manufacturers. In terms of offerings, immune system boosting and disease preventative foods are booming, allowing small innovative niche manufacturers to get bigger exposure, market share, and demand. People are looking for healthy, trustworthy and cost-effective solutions.

Do you anticipate brands reinventing themselves to gain back support and loyalty of patrons? Elaborate.
It is already happening. The organic market in the UAE grew in 60% over the past 2 years, brands are looking to diversify their target audiences by introducing cleaner innovative products, sustainable packaging, responsibly sourced ingredients and products, and creative cooperation with other brands in order to attract new audiences and / or to strengthen their base. If you don’t adjust you stay behind.

What are the different types of products offered by the company, and which are most popular among consumers?
We are bringing the best of what the dynamic food and beverage ecosystem in Israel has to offer. Traditionally, markets such as the GCC were not exposed to Israeli solutions. At this very moment we are laying the groundwork and establishing our relationships with local stakeholders who are interested in being the first to introduce new products to the GCC markets.

To be honest, all of the brands we showcased in the Specialty Food Festival received a lot of interest and attention from local and regional stakeholders and we expect them to be available in the UAE in anytime now. These include our specialty honey and date based products from Lin’s Farm, gourmet salts from the Dead Sea by 424 Salts, Jomo Chocolate which is a premium zero-sugar, vegan, and gluten-free chocolate, and Setti, that brings traditional smells and tastes from the Jewish communities of Kurdistan and Iraq into everyday kitchen.

What types of research and development go into each of your products?
Lin’s Farm are extensively investing in bee-keeping research and development, learning how to responsibly support bee communities and collect beehive affected by different factors such as climate, geographic location, variety of vegetations and many others.

424 Salts are continuously developing new fusions that bring out the best of the rich and rare Dead Sea Salt for culinary and aesthetic purposes, as well as health benefits.

Jomo Chocolate is the fruit of ongoing careful and precise research and development efforts while remaining attentive to the market needs and changes. As a premium chocolate manufacturer, for the founder of the brand and 30 year experienced manufacturer of premium chocolate compromising on taste is not an option. The combination of naturally derived and plant based sweeteners while maintaining the same premium quality and avoiding any unpleasant aftertastes is what positions Jomo in the frontline when it comes to premium sugar free products. The development of new exotic flavours and constantly improving the finalised product is an ongoing effort.

Setti is extensively focussed on bringing advanced technological manufacturing solutions into the operations without compromising or losing the traditional touch that is so typical to Setti product line. The operation started decades ago with team of energetic hardworking women doing handmade manufacturing in a small facility in Israel. Over the years, Setti have been introducing innovative solutions and improving manufacturing efficiency and capabilities in light of growing demand for the products while preserving and perfecting the traditional touch, nature of the products, and the high Kosher quality.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, more people are drawn towards cultivating a healthy lifestyle. How does this trend affect the industry?
As I mentioned, consumers’ interest in healthier products has increased during and due to the pandemic. As healthier products are more affordable and available today, and information is travelling freely, the food and beverage industry is naturally drawn into transparency and adaptation to the new generation of consumers that flip over the product and read the label looking for unfamiliar concerning ingredients. In addition, the demand for immunity boosting products, free-from and superfoods is growing. The race for the next super ingredient is on and with it, we are witnessing the re-diversification of products and product categories adapted for specialty diets and various medical conditions.

The hospitality sector is also changing as we witness the opening of niche dining establishments and the introduction of niche dishes into menus. We can find a wider cross category products that are positioned between wellness and food and brands that are trying to attract consumers with products that have combine attributes of nutrition, wellness, and taste.

Overall, we can say that the pandemic is making the industry work harder to find more responsible, more sustainable, and more cost-effective solutions and making them accessible to the world.

Describe the company’s vision for sustainable living.
In a world of pandemics, climate chance, and scarcity of resources, our company was created with a vision to improve livelihoods of the world’s populations with tasty, highly nutritious, and responsibly sourced foods and beverages. We believe that the human mind, when faced with challenging situations such as the ones we are living, is capable of creating alternative solutions, and this is the purpose of everything we do at our company. We want to make innovative, sustainable, safe solutions available to the entire world, starting from our region, the Middle East. Sustainable living is a way of life, and requires continuous cooperation between the food and beverage industry, governments, and end-users to make it happen. We have faith in humanity, we value our planet, and will constantly work towards balancing between making the basic needs of human beings available and protecting the environment we flourish in.

What are the key driving factors and challenges in the industry?
We are witnessing a very interesting time in history where the food and beverage industry is becoming identified with ideological and ethical global issues. As one of the most polluting industries in modern times, the industry is affected by the growing calls to get rid of plastic, revolutionise manufacturing and consumption trends and ways of doing things and the transformation to a green, responsible and sustainable industry enforced by strict regulatory framework. Agendas such as veganism are also challenging traditional industries like meat, dairy and others and are forcing the manufacturers and HoReCa sector to adapt and diversify. In addition, e-commerce and online options manifested innovative concepts such as the booming ghost kitchen industry and delivery giants that provide accessibility suitable for fast paced lifestyle without having to compromise on health and nutritional values.

Main trends that we identify are the demand for transparency and sustainability solutions, which are pushing manufacturers and suppliers to adapt and are also creating opportunities for new emerging stakeholders. Another trend is plant-based products that is a by-product of the rise in food related diseases and growing evidence of the negative effects of low quality, processed products on our health and due to the growing vegan and cruelty – free movement that is creating both challenges and commercial opportunities in the market.

What was the last fiscal like and what are you looking for in the next fiscal, given the current pandemic situation?
We are a new company so we didn’t have any activity last year. We have high expectations for the upcoming year.

Are you planning on introducing any new products in view of the changing trends in the market?
Of course, the Israeli food and beverage ecosystem is tuned and alert to changing market trends. It is a small country with an unrivalled drive for innovation and it keeps producing amazing products. Food-Tech and innovation start-up projects are constantly emerging in Israel and our company is the natural Go-To strategic partner when it comes to expanding into the GCC markets, as we bring close contact and vast familiarity with the ins and outs of these markets.

Any plans on new collaborations with Indian markets?
We are currently educating ourselves about the Indian markets, which seem to have a great potential in terms of premium food and beverage and FMCG. As a company that is headquartered in the UAE, it is only natural to explore the Indian markets and we are constantly on the lookout for potential opportunities and collaborations. In fact, we are receiving great interest in agro-tech collaborations and Israeli agricultural produce and technologies and knowhow.

Additionally we are also looking into India in terms of manufacturing platform for various goods destined for the GCC markets as well. The high quality human resource combined the abundance of raw materials available create a unique opportunity definitely worth exploring.
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