#Cuisinewithoutborders: Global cuisines spice up the Middle East

July 4, 2024 | By Anurima Das

#Cuisinewithoutborders session at Food Service Forum 2024

The Middle East is home to a large section of expatriates who often miss food from their home countries. This craving creates a great opportunity for international food brands to step in and serve familiar dishes. How are these brands connecting with customers and making their mark in the market? This panel discussion at the recently concluded Food Service Forum 2024 focused on why more restaurants and food brands are moving into the Middle East and why it’s beneficial for them to do so.

Setting up a business that has a global appeal or bringing in a global cuisine and menu to the local shores of this region is a tough ask as one must make it appeal to the tastebuds of everyone and at the same time satisfy the global standards, observed session moderator Mark Thomson, Retail Industry Director EMEA, Zebra. “Moreover, Dubai is said to represent over 200 nationalities, but when it comes to food as a culture it gets more diverse and probably makes it more varied. So, in my view the opportunities for cultural exchange and for food experiences are endless and it only gets more interesting with every new culinary name getting added to the ever-changing landscape.”

Sharing how crucial it is to cater to customers’ tastebuds, Moin Jaffer Mansuri, Chef and Owner, Jaffer Bhai’s said, “We began from a strong customer insight and by riding on the need of the hour. Our retail exposure happened way back in the day, when our customers kept asking to be served the same menu they were savouring through our catering experiences. Today we still aim at slow growth and believe in serving the same taste, flavour and authenticity across our global branches. We painstakingly fly our ingredients, produce all from a central place to our 4+ stores across the world and there is absolutely no compromise there. We believe that truly makes us globally renowned, as the customer can savour the same flavour anytime, anywhere they step into our store.”

To create flavourful food, ingredients are key. “Ingredients make or break the experience of a restaurant,” stated Sukru Gokan Atul, Co-Founder, ALLEZZ. “You woo the customer with authentic flavours and they will bring 10 new people along, but if they are unhappy it will be impossible to please them and bring them for a second visit. While brands have their USPs and are trying varied techniques and recipes to keep their customer game strong, we try to be as precise and authentic with our ingredients too. We handpick the best produce from their original sources and avoid using artificial flavours and always depend on natural alternatives to bring out the right cooking experience.”

“Consumer wants quality and consistency. So, when you are running a global chain, it is obvious that the customer is coming to you across your branches, seeking that. When running your operations in say 30-40 countries it is important to get to the bottom of every detail methodically and understand how everything gets done. For instance, a perfect blend of espresso may need you to go through over 50 steps, then globally that has to be followed always. That’s why having a central system of operations is very important. You have to be strict in following this uniformity,” shared Nishant Bhatia, Head of Food and Beverage Retail and B2B-EMENA, Costa Coffee.

Sharing his experience of running a global brand in the region, Antoine Mansour, Regional Brand Manager, PAUL Arabia said, “We at AZADEA Group have been responsible for Paul Bakery across MENA and GCC for the last 20 years and now we are aiming to expand to two more regions soon. Bringing a global favourite brand to an entirely new region and then serving the same flavour for over two decades isn’t an easy feat and requires a lot of research and understanding. In fact, we want to reinvent more just to make it more locally suited and are ready to go beyond the casual dining experience to create some meaningful coffee experiences.”

“Whether today you are a global chain or are in the process of actually becoming one, your commitment and authentic approach needs to be preserved from the very beginning so that you can later adapt and grow with your franchisee partners and stakeholders,” stated Bart Misztal, Managing Director, Naughty Pizza. “We have been doing exactly the same since 2020, when we opened operations in the UK. Right now, we have two stores in the UAE and aiming for the third, but our commitment to the menu or ingredients and our services are uniquely global, which supports our reality of expansion whenever we are ready to take off. This enthusiasm and foundation are vital for any brand looking to tap local markets with a global perspective.”

Sharing a different perspective, Ekaterina Borodich, Chief Executive Officer, Drinkit Dubai said, “The digital-first attitude and the approach that we took from the very beginning has helped us to please our customers and retain them with ease. Today our menu and ordering system is available to them online on our website/application and even at the kiosk in our stores. All a customer needs to do is choose the parameters from over 35 available options and order their drink in just a click. It takes a few minutes for them to decide and order and the beauty of this is that they can create their own account, save their preferences and the next time they visit us it is all about putting a command to repeat the order.”

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