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Al Islami eyes global markets

Al Islami is planning to expand into foreign markets, including Iran and the UK.

Al Islami, a UAE-based halal meat supplier, is planning to set up operations in Iran and Europe as part of a drive to expand its business and improve the image of halal meat.

Saleh Abdullah Lootah, CEO of Al Islami told Retail News Middle East that the company has been planning its move into the Iranian market since 2004 and expects to open its first production plant in Tehran in July.

The new Iranian plant will be an AED100 million (US $26.8 million) joint venture between Al Islami and a local Iranian company, Ona Kish, both of which will be contributing 50% to the venture. “It will have a production capacity of something like 200 metric tonnes [of meat] per month,” Lootah said.

“It will be similar in size to our existing plant in Jebel Ali. We are utilising some of the land and keeping some for expansion. First we will start with products that are fast moving there, like the chilled items, sausages, meat and burgers. In time we’ll be adding some more SKUs.”

The development follows extensive research into the Iranian market by Al Islami, which revealed that the country is now ready for its products. “We started preparing to enter Iran at Gulfood in 2004,” Lootah said. “Since that day we started doing all the investigations, looking for partners and looking at suitable strategies for entry. Iran is one of the biggest markets for halal meat and it’s been closed for a while. But now it looks like the Iranian market will have a great future,” he added

“The population there compared to the population we have in the GCC is maybe double. I think the purchasing power is there now. People are wealthier, they have good living standards. I think it will be one of the biggest markets we have.”

Al Islami’s entry into Iran is part of a five-year plan, which is also expected to see the company gain a presence in Europe, starting with a production plant in the UK. Lootah hopes to have this set up by 2007, although he said it will involve significant research.

“We’re working on our strategy for Europe at the moment. You have to make sure you do your homework and due diligence. You have to make sure you are with the right partner,” he said. “This is what really plays a major role in your success. Any time, if you make mistakes you are burning your brand. This is why we make every step a careful study.”

Despite this, Lootah is optimistic about the potential of the UK market, not least because of the poor reputation halal meat currently has among the country’s population.
To this end, part of Al Islami’s plan is to work towards changing any negative perceptions of halal meat.

“We have a big responsibility on our shoulders of presenting the halal method in the right way,” Lootah said. “We see a difficulty with how people perceive halal in many countries – it doesn’t have a reputation for modern butcheries. If a Muslim goes to Britain and looks for halal products, he has to go to a butchery that’s not representing halal in the right way.

“It’s our responsibility to change the reputation of halal food, and the demand for halal is increasing day by day across Europe.”

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