A yearning for excellence and an unshakeable commitment towards delivering nothing but the best quality products is what makes Al Ain Farms one of the most prominent brands in the Middle East.
In our endeavor to bring into spotlight Saudi Arabia’s Most Admired Companies, crossing paths with a significant company such as Al Ain Farms was inevitable. Having been in operations for more than 40 years and sustaining its legacy and promise of delivering the finest food products is what makes the company a people’s favorite.
In the following interview, Willem van Walt Meijer, the CEO of Al Ain Farms, shares a few valuable insights into the company’s position as a leader in the food and beverages market and his future vision for the company.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Please brief our audience about your company, its values, and its journey so far.
Founded in 1981 by the Father of the Nation, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan, Al Ain Farms was the first dairy company in the UAE to start the dairy operations and provide access to fresh milk to the nation.
Continuing the heritage for close to 40 years now, Al Ain Farms has grown to be the largest integrated local dairy company in the UAE, running four farms under its brand – the dairy business, the juice business, the camel milk production, and the poultry section with fresh chicken and eggs.
All products are produced in Al Ain, the heart of the UAE, and delivered to all regions daily, serving more than 13,000 outlets nation – wide and delivering close to 20 million units millions of fresh, long life dairy and poultry products monthly to the United Arab Emirates. The company has always had and will continue to have a pivotal role for enabling the food security of the country.
Tell us about your company’s offerings, and how you have ascertained your stronghold within Middle East?
The core competencies of the company lie in the strong brand reputation achieved across decades of operations in the country, further enchased with availability of the products across all regions.
The reach and coverage in UAE are sometimes difficult to achieve as cold chain in dairy must not be interrupted at any time, and the fleet over 270 vehicles, and thousand people almost never sleeps as fresh products are delivered 24/7 to more than 13,000 outlets daily.
The proximity of the farms to factory being in the same site compound enables us to ensure a straight promise of farms delivery within 24 hours from farm to customer, ensuring the fresh, tasty, safe, wholesome, and healthy food.
Amongst many products, the core is the fresh milk – naturally pure, nutrient-rich, fresh, and healthy, available in multiple fat levels options and several package sizes. Company also produces a significant volume of long – life milk packed in paper cartons, enabling fresh milk to be preserved longer, without addition of any preservatives.
Quite a large consumption category of fermented products, consisting of Laban (drinkable yoghurt) and thick yoghurt, and it offers a support for both good digestion and immune system benefits, by having an addition of the probiotic strains, LGG and BB12 which work in parallel to support and boost the health of consumer.
The NO sugar fresh juice is available in thirteen different flavors for everyone’s taste. Living in a hot and humid climate, fresh juice is an ideal refreshment and energy recovery, especially during the summer season. The company is the first local UAE company to offer a fresh juice range without any sugar to the consumers in UAE,
The only food company to nurture both the cows and camels at its farms, Al Ain Farms takes a special pride in offering the Camel Milk, both locally and internationally in fresh and powder variant.
Camel Milk has a high amount of healthy unsaturated fatty acids, higher calcium, vitamins and minerals and it is a good contribution to the strong bones, and overall good health of the immune system. Known as the ‘natural pharmacy’, due to many health benefits it contains, can be consumed also by lactose intolerant people.
Over 8 million chickens and 120 million eggs are produced annually in Al Ain Farms and delivered to households across the country. Free from antibiotics, and any hormones, meat is produced in whole chicken and other varieties such as Lean Fillet, Drumsticks, and multiple pack options. Eggs come in different size of small, medium, and large, and are the most tasty and nutritional source of protein in daily diet.
Taking into consideration, the current pandemic, and its impact on global economies, how are you driving your company to sustain operations and ensuring safety of your employees at the same time?
Al Ain Farms has continued to operate seamlessly during the challenging times, increasing its capacity to produce locally made, fresh products delivered daily across the UAE. The core functions of farming, production and sales remained operational 24 hours throughout the whole year to ensure continuity of supply, and we have tirelessly undertaken all necessary measures to prevent any health breaches at our farms. Daily checks are conducted, and all employees remain safe and healthy.
Our operational readiness and crisis protocol were key in making sure the health of our employees and business continuity were safeguarded. It was a learning, but responsive and quick implementations, such as the opening of Al Ain Farms’ Care center 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. Admittance to site is only granted after a negative test result was issued and one-week quarantine completed.
Rigorous testing and a phased approach to working from home undoubtedly were key in preserving the welfare of our employees. Safeguarding our partners and suppliers were also a key priority for us and we implemented a protocol with immediate effect, securing minimum impact along the supply chain.
In first quarter of 2021, we have vaccinated all our staff on voluntary basis with a newly developed vaccine for Covid response, as company utmost priority is the health, safety and well – being of all its employees, biosecurity of the animal livestock, and quality of products and operations.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the market that your company is catering to?
Advice would be to go into something where demand exists, but supply is lacking, or a step change can be improved. Big current market is nice to know, but it is not interesting if you bring the same. Fast experimentation to scrutinize at low risk and low cost your product and business system should always work. In food industry, habits change relatively slow due to being engrained into culture, so planning for low pace scenario is needed, so we could be investing into growth.
Finally, for all is that we should be coming with novel ideas of concepts and technology often found far from the place of core operations. Reason is that differentiation is everything, but potential lies in adapting the local needs and operational requirements.
How do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2021?
I believe the trend towards greater local production is clear, not just for reasons of self-sufficiency, but also because of the economic boost it can provide.
Al Ain Farms continues to stress the availability, affordability, and outstanding quality of locally made products. All with a relentless attitude of continuous improvement in all we do.
We are confident that the continued support we receive from the government on the farming part will further enhance the scale of the local output and ensure a fair level playing field for all local manufacturers within our sectors.
We also 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.
About the Leader
Willem Van Walt Meijer, Chief Executive Officer, Al Ain Farms is a Dutch national. Following several positions in Marketing and Sales at Unilever in the Netherlands, Willem and his family lived in Indonesia, Ireland, and Russia where he held a series of director positions in Unilever operating companies.
After 21 years working in the world of Unilever, Willem headed to new challenges. He was CEO of the Greenery, a co-operative of fresh produce growers, and then headed the Classic Dairy & Cheese division of Friesland Foods, a co-operative of dairy farmers.
He served as the CEO of MidOceanBrands and was a member of the board at Polyconcept Ltd (US), from which he became Hong Kong-based Managing Director of the company’s international division.
Mr. Willem was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Al Ain Farms in early 2020. He is leading Al Ain Farms on its continued journey towards becoming a major player in the UAE food industry, guided by the UAE leadership’s strategic initiatives to ensure the food security of the country.
Mr. Willem works hand in hand with the management team, which consists of the representatives from all business divisions of dairy and poultry, brand development & concept innovation, sales & logistics, and support functions.
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