Catering to trade

Horeca Trade had plenty to celebrate last month. The food service supplier entered into its third year of operations and signed an exclusive agreement with UK foodservice distributor, Bidvest Group. Managing director, Hisham Al Jamil, talks to Hotelier Middle East about service levels and his plans for regional expansion

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  February 20, 2006

|~|Horeca-L.jpg|~|Service standards need to improve, Al Jamil urges.|~|The name says it all: Horeca Trade, made up from HOtels, REstaurants and CAtering, the company represents more than 95 brands and 3000 food and service products dedicated to the catering industry. However, in January 2003, the company was but an acorn, waiting to grow into a big tree. Founded by Hisham Al Jamil, a food and beverage stalwart that wanted to offer a different approach to foodservice from the 100 companies already operating in the sector, Horeca Trade opened its doors with a workforce of only three people. Three years on, and Horeca Trade now offers an extensive portfolio, covering dry, chilled, cleaning and hygiene products. The range of products caters for both front of house operations, such as San Pellegrino sparkling table water, and back of house needs, such as Knorr demi glace solution products. In addition to the solution products, Horeca Trade is also the exclusive distributor for Unilever FoodSolution, including brands such as Knorr, Hellmann’s and Flora; the exclusive distributor for San Pellegrino waters, and is also the exclusive distributor for Kerry Group, as well as many other international brands. Today, there are more than 35 professionals running the show. Al Jamil’s team now includes management, sales, customer service and logistics, all moving forward to create a leading food and beverage distribution company for Dubai and the UAE. However, Horeca Trade is not staying there. The company recently entered into a partnership with UK foodservice wholesale distributor, Bidvest Group, and Al Jamil is already eyeing region expansion, with an aim to become the number one foodservice distribution company in the region. “By becoming part of Bidvest Group, we gain access to the very latest innovation in food distribution, supply chain management, e-commerce, product development, and, last but not least, sales and marketing expertise. The venture will bring with it vast experience from a much developed market such as the UK, and it will assist Horeca Trade to bring such learning to the UAE foodservice market,” claims Al Jamil. “At present, the new partnership will allow us to establish a solid base in the region, and our aim is to build a strong business for the UAE market before considering a full subsidiary in other markets. Nevertheless, entering new, and, more specifically, neighbouring markets, is on our short term agenda. We are keen to look at Saudi Arabia and Lebanon as they represent considerable business in the foodservice channel,” he adds. The Horeca Trade customer base currently exceeds 700 accounts, and according to Al Jamil, it currently supplies more than 85% of the UAE’s five-star hotels. “Our market share in the foodservice channel of the UAE differs from one category to the other. In general, the share of the foodservice distributors in the UAE is measured by the category and agency that they represent and distribute. For example, in the natural sparkling table water segment, with a brand like San Pellegrino, we have more than 40% market share. On the whole, recent studies indicate the value of the foodservice market to be close to US $1.4 billion, yet, to date, not enough importance has been given for a more accurate audit on the supplier's share,” Al Jamil explains. San Pellegrino, along with Aqua Panna mineral water, is the most popular brand Horeca Trade supplies to the hotel industry. “They are a perfect companion to the five-star standards, and they go hand-in-hand with fine dining,” Al Jamil says. “Another star brand in our portfolio is the Unilever FoodSolution range, with brands such as Knorr and Hellmann’s, which have proved to be a perfect solution ingredient for chefs, providing quality, consistency and cost efficiency,” he adds. In addition to offering supply chain solutions to the food and beverage industry, Horeca Trade conducts regular product demonstrations, trainings and up-selling seminars on new products. In 2005, Horeca Trade conducted more than 200 demonstrations and close to 150 training sessions. Furthermore, Horeca Trade regularly sponsors major hospitality events, such as the Gourmet Summit. All of this is part of Al Jamil’s endeavours to raise standards and service in the food distribution arena. “From a supplier’s perspective, there is a definite drive to improve on the service level that is being offered today by the suppliers to the foodservice channel,” he says. “The admirable growth and development in the foodservice and hospitality channel of the UAE has not been supported by an equal improvement from the supplier’s side. Basically, foodservice was lacking the service. In this context, the foodservice suppliers will find themselves driven to improve across all the value chains of their operation; starting from human resources, to logistics, supply chains, and, of course, communications,” he predicts. Wake up call From the foodservice operators, such as hotels or restaurants, Al Jamil has seen a drive to rationalise products and suppliers. “It is evident that the current unsatisfactory service from the suppliers was a wake-up call to the foodservice operators to take the initiative and start looking at internal improvement starting with the rationalisation of products and suppliers, and implementing state-of-the-art procurement processes to improve their purchasing methods and address the redundancy that is inflicted upon them by the weak supplier structure,” he maintains. “The foodservice industry is witnessing a major boom in market newcomers in terms of F&B concepts. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more challenging for stand-alone or single operators who are not supported by local or international chains or franchise agreements to establish a share in the market. The major success criteria of such operators will be for them to have a presence in high traffic locations, such as shopping malls.” As a tool to improving services across the foodservice channel, Horeca Trade launched its FoodService Product Guide, a quarterly guide distributed in the Middle East which covers 75 categories and more than 2500 products. In addition, the company has launched an interactive website, offering a online ordering facility. “Every year, we also accompany a group of food and beverage directors to attend two international events: Wine Italy and the San Pellegrino Cooking Cup, which takes place in Venice every year,” Al Jamil explains. Al Jamil is confident in his business model. And now that Horeca Trade has entered into partnership with Bidvest Group, he is looking forward to spreading his expertise across the Middle East. “Currently, our setup is geared towards servicing the UAE. However, the short term plan of the Bidvest Group is to explore neighbouring GCC markets and apply the same business model,” he concludes.||**||

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