Road to Mecca

With its reputation as a beverage company carrying political clout, Mecca-Cola’s chairman reveals his ambitious strategy, focusing on widening its portfolio and tapping into emerging markets

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  December 1, 2006

|~|mecca.jpg|~|“Our tactic is to first increase our presence in Asia, followed by Europe. Then we will return to the Middle East with a different strategy,” comments Taouifik Mathlouthi, chairman, Mecca Cola. |~|Established in 2002, Mecca-Cola started out in France, however the company — which is now synonymous with the Middle East — is selling its line of beverages to 64 countries across the globe. Entering the beverage market with its flagship product, Mecca Cola, the company continued its growth by launching orange, lemon and apple flavoured varieties, as well as Mecca Light six months later. Mecca Power, the brand’s energy drink was launched last year, as well as green tea and coffee. Spanning its presence across the Middle East, Mecca-Cola’s products are supplied to several countries including Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, and Bahrain. But in a bid to increase its Gulf presence, the company now hopes to consolidate its position by branching into new sectors and moving beyond politically infused marketing. “Our tactic is to first increase our presence in Asia, followed by Europe. Then we will return to the Middle East with a different strategy,” comments Taouifik Mathlouthi, chairman, Mecca Cola. A huge part of this strategy is to incorporate the company’s 300,000ft² production facility at Dubai’s Industrial City, which is scheduled to open within the next six to eight months. Present in Dubai since April 2003, Mecca-Cola is keen to promote its forthcoming plant’s capability of filling 18,000 cans per hour for the UAE market, as well as featuring PET bottling, can-filling, packaging, and flavour manufacturing divisions. However, currently commanding a 5% market share in the UAE, Mathlouthi expects to double this figure in 2007. The company’s strongest Middle East market though is Yemen, where it has hit a market share of 22%, with Europe and Malaysia positioned as its top markets worldwide. To further promote itself in the Middle East market, it is also hoping to push its Halal beverages into the region’s airline catering sector. “We really want to promote our plant, which can produce 6000ltr per hour. At the moment, small restaurants and cafés are our priority channel in the UAE, because we can develop relationships more easily with mid-market business owners. However, our new plant means we should be able to secure contracts with bigger properties next year,” he says. Mathlouthi does concede however, that the Mecca Cola Light product has proved a poor selling item in the UAE, and although there is added pressure and competition from international brands, he believes there is enough room in the market for this product. “I have my own market, which is mostly people who take the decision not to consume American products. These companies don’t pose a threat to me as they have more than a century of business behind them, whereas we have been in existence for just four years. I believe our standards are the same, but they’re in a different league financially,” he says. ||**|||~|mecca2.jpg|~|A huge part of Mathlouthi'S strategy is to incorporate the company’s 300,000ft² production facility at Dubai’s Industrial City, scheduled to open within the next eight months. |~|Not wanting to limit its potential in the market, the company has also developed Mecca Online News Café, with its first outlet set to open this month at Dubai’s Healthcare City. Serving Ethiopian coffee in a French bistro-style setting, the company is gearing up to compete with leading high street brands by creating interest with an innovative core product. “Mecca Online News Café will serve as a challenge to brands like Starbucks. We are buying coffee from Ethiopia for the new chain, sourcing small, high-quality Mocha beans,” Mathlouthi explains. On a global scale, India, Africa and the Far East are also key target markets for the company, with another filling facility being constructed in Bangladesh, which Mathlouthi claims will be one of the biggest in the country. Production facilities elsewhere are currently dotted across the globe in countries including France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Algeria, Malaysia, and Pakistan. However, cans for each facility are imported from Malaysia, which helps lower costs. “We have achieved a lot of recent success in Malaysia and Thailand, particularly Bangkok. That’s why we are aiming our efforts greatly towards Southeast Asia,” he says. The company has also identified Europe as a growing market where its turnover to date has been predominantly generated by business from school catering contracts and Middle Eastern-owned cafés. Mathlouthi explains that the company has built relationships with food and beverage managers in Europe, particularly France, by offering incentives such as branded refrigerators and table accessories. “There are 4600 small shawarma restaurants in Paris and the suburbs, which are managed by individuals from the Middle East, so that offers huge potential for us,” he says. Mathlouthi believes however, that the company’s ability to adapt to new audiences will prove vital in its growth. Customising packaging depending on the target market, the Mecca-Cola range is predominantly available in 1ltr, 1.5ltr and 2ltr PET bottles and cans, with returnable glass bottles for Pakistan. Updating its offerings, entering new markets and launching its café chain internationally, Mecca-Cola’s determined strategy is expected to see busy times ahead. “We are enlarging our presence in a number of different sectors simultaneously, so the future looks very promising,” Mathlouthi adds. ||**||

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