Willem van Walt Meijer | CEO | Al Ain Farms

Al Ain Farms: Enabling Delivery of Fresh Food in UAE through Innovation

Sometimes legacy is not what you leave for your family or your business, sometimes it’s big enough to impact the whole nation and the generations to come. The verity of this phrase is evident in how Father of the Nation, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan built a legacy of providing daily access to fresh food, primarily milk by founding Al Ain Farms in 1981.

As the first dairy company in the UAE, Al Ain Farms was responsible for providing fresh milk to the whole country. And four decades later, the company is following the same legacy with the same passion and modern innovation, building a sustainable framework of dairy and poultry operations.

Currently, Al Ain Farms has grown to be the largest integrated local dairy company in the UAE, running four farms under its brand. Going with the current time, the company has also added a basket of food products on the menu which includes several flavors of fresh juices, yoghurt, and poultry products.

Al Ain Farms has already established a name through its farm-fresh dairy products, serving more than 13,000 outlets every day. And now under the leadership of its CEO, Willem van Walt Meijer, Al Ain Farms is set to pioneer the new food security norms in the country.

Farm fresh dairy products

Al Ain Farms’ core competencies lie in the strong brand reputation achieved over decades of operations and wide accessibility of products in the country. Over the years, the company has achieved a leading edge by ensuring the continued operations of cold chains in dairy and poultry to provide fresh products to the outlets across the country 24/7.

By ensuring the farms and factories are in the same area, Al Ain Farms has been living its promise of delivering farm-fresh products to the customers within 24 hours, guaranteeing fresh, tasty, safe, wholesome, and healthy food. Moreover, these food products are available in different fat levels and package sizes to suit customers’ tastes and needs.

Product diversity for better customer health

UAE is known for its hot and humid climate. And people living or visiting the country often like to relish fresh juices to keep them cool and active during hot sunny days. Supplying this huge demand, Al Ain Farms has ventured into beverages space by providing no added sugar fresh juice, first local manufacturer to offer the whole range of juice without any sugar being added.

By nurturing cows and camels at the farms, Al Ain Farms has become the first food company to offer Camel Milk, both locally and internationally in fresh and powder variants.

Speaking about the company’s poultry division, over 8 million chickens and 120 million eggs are produced annually in Al Ain Farms and delivered to households across the country. By producing meat, free from antibiotics, and any hormones, the company is already setting food safety norms for others to follow.

Leading with expertise and excellence.

Speaking of food safety norms, the company’s CEO Willem Van Walt Meijer is leading Al Ain Farms to become a major player in the UAE food industry by ensuring the strategic initiatives guided by the UAE’s leadership. The credit surely goes to Willem’s vision for the company and his decades-long experience in the industry.

A Dutch national, Willem held several positions in Sales and Marketing at Unilever in the Netherlands. He then went on to hold series of director positions in Unilever operating companies in Indonesia, Ireland, and Russia.

Eager to take on new challenges, Willem stepped in as CEO of the Greenery, a co-operative of fresh produce growers, with 21 years of rich industry experience. He further headed the Classic Dairy and Cheese division of Friesland Foods, a co-operative of dairy farmers.

In 2016, Willem returned to the food industry as Managing Director of Nedspice Vietnam. In 2020, Willem with his extensive experience and expertise in the food industry stepped in as CEO of Al Ain Farms. Since then, Willem has been working hand in hand with the management team, which consists of the representatives from all business divisions of dairy and poultry, brand development and concept innovation, sales and logistics, and support functions.

Innovation yielding fresh products.

The hot and humid climate of UAE not only affects humans but animals as well, which can reduce yield as well as affect animals’ well-being. To tackle this issue the company brought innovative ways to the table. The air-conditioning system was created to maintain the temperature.

However, the cooling system uses substantial amounts of water and electricity. To reduce its ecological footprint, the firm recycles the water used in its production, to irrigate the land. As part of the circular economy, the farms recycle close to half a billion gallons of water annually. With the new farm expansion, the company plans to drive this to more than a billion gallons of water recycled annually for irrigation.

“Animal welfare is our utmost priority,” Willem explains, “And we have spared no efforts to protect and nurture all of our animals, by providing stress-free environmental conditions, nutritious and high-quality foods, and veterinary care at all times. We value our animals as an integral part of our being, as a man can exist only in synergy with nature.”

Strived with diligence during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely affected the global economy. However, as a part of daily essentials, Al Ain Farms has continued to operate seamlessly during these challenging times. To make this possible, the farms have increased the capacity to produce fresh local products delivered daily across the UAE. The company made sure the core functions of farming, production, and sales remained operational 24 hours throughout the pandemic to ensure continuity of supply.

Talking about the farms’ operations during the pandemic Willem said, “We have tirelessly undertaken all necessary measures to prevent any health and safety breaches at our farms. Daily checks are conducted, and all employees remain safe and healthy.”

Willem further talked about the company’s operational readiness and crisis protocol which was the key in safeguarding the health of employees as well as business continuity. “It was a learning and testing phase, but responsive and quick implementations, such as the opening of Al Ain Farms’ Care Centre in Sharjah for quarantine and medical security, and the rehousing of 600 employees, meant that we were able to continue business as usual. We implemented hard zone site where no one could enter from outside to ensure full biosecurity,” Willem explained.

Safeguarding partners and suppliers of Al Ain Farms were also a priority, which the company responded to with immediate effect by implementing protocol securing minimum impact along the supply chain.

To further ensure employee health and safety the company has recently vaccinated the staff voluntarily with a newly developed vaccine for Covid response. “The company’s utmost priority is the health, safety, and well-being of all of its employees, biosecurity of the animal livestock, quality of products, and zero interruption of our business continuity and operations,” says Willem.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought local businesses into light, the individuals and large organizations have responded well to the change by adopting to local for local trend. However, Willem believes the trend not only is helping the country to become self-sufficient but also to provide a much-needed economic boost during tough times.

No doubt the government’s continued support has also played a huge part in the farming sector to further enhance the scale of the local output and ensure a fair level playing field for all local manufacturers within the sector. Going forward with the trend Willem explains his goal for the company. “We aim to work more closely with our retail partners to customize shelves and packaging to communicate the benefits of locally made and benefits of our products for consumers,” he says.

Wise words

As a visionary leader holding expertise in the food industry, Willem had fair advice to share with the entrepreneurs who want to venture into this field. “Choose something where demand exists, but supply is lacking, or the existing system can be improved,” Willem says, “In the food industry, habits change relatively slow due to being engrained into a culture, so planning for low pace scenario is needed, so we could be investing into growth.”

Willem’s final piece of advice was apt and enlightening for the entrepreneurs and business owners in every sector. “We should be coming with novel ideas of concepts and technology often found far from the place of core operations. The reason is that differentiation is everything, but potential lies in adapting the local needs and operational requirements.”

Quote“We value our animals as an integral part of our being, as a man can exist only in synergy with nature.”