Growing authentically

May 31, 2024 | By Anurima Das

Ilenia Alba

Vapiano is a globally recognised Italian restaurant chain known for its fresh, made-to-order dishes, contemporary ambiance and a casual dining experience. AL AHLIA GROUP runs the and leads the growth of Vapiano restaurants in the UAE and the wider Middle East. Vapiano was established in 1979 with a vision to cross bridges and strengthen relationships in various business ventures with the introduction of technology and business innovation, beneficial for all stakeholders.

In conversation with IMAGES RetailME, Ilenia Alba, Operation Manager, Vapiano UAE, shared the brand’s expansion plans and its robust outlook for markets in this region.

Vapiano entered the Middle Eastern market with a vision to bring its unique dining concept to the region. Since the launch, the brand’s goal has been to create a dining experience focused on customisable Italian dishes with a welcoming, family-focused environment that transports diners to the heart of Italy.

“The Middle East is known for a culinary landscape that embraces diversity in cuisine as people are always looking for options. Since the launch of Vapiano, the brand has been embraced by customers in the region with open arms. In addition to a loyal fanbase that knows the brand for its global presence, there has been a remarkable reception from those who appreciate fresh, customisable Italian classics,” Alba explained.

Vapiano at a Glance

  • Number of outlets by country: 8 outlets in the UAE. Al Ahlia also has the following outlets in the Middle East for Vapiano: Bahrain (1), Qatar (1), KSA (1), Kuwait (2), Egypt to open in Q4 this year.
  • Footfalls per outlet: Over 700k customers per year (for 6 outlets)
  • What’s new: Vapiano has recently implemented a loyalty programme in Europe, with plans to soon introduce this strategy in the Middle East. Through this programme, customers can earn points with every visit and redeem discounts, avail exclusive offers and attend special events.

Growth focused

Keeping the preferences of UAE customers in mind over the past 12-24 months, Vapiano has achieved several noteworthy milestones. These include strategic partnerships with local suppliers to ensure fresh and authentic ingredients are provided in every meal. For example, Vapiano recently partnered with Casinetto, the Italian gourmet food supplier, to introduce new sourdough pizzas across the country. Building partnerships and collaborations not only diversifies the dining options for customers but also showcases the brand’s dedication and intention to provide a unique culinary experience for every customer.

In addition, Vapiano has also implemented innovative marketing campaigns to engage with the target audience while diversifying it. In this context, Alba mentioned, “We continue to prioritise strengthening the brand’s digital presence. Transitioning to a cashless system is an initiative that has been introduced across our branches in the Middle East to streamline transactions and improve the overall customer experience by reducing wait time.”

Moving ahead

When stepping into this region, initially managing operational logistics in the Middle East with the Vapiano headquarters based in Europe was challenging. Factors such as supply chain management and communications across different time zones play a role in this when the headquarters are in Europe. Responding to this Alba said, “As a brand, we’ve overcome the challenges and learned valuable lessons about flexibility, cultural sensitivities and the importance of localisation. These lessons have been crucial for our growth as a brand in the region. Some key learnings include the necessity of agility in response to market dynamics and the importance of continuous innovation to stay ahead of the competitive landscape in the region.”

Tailoring products, marketing strategies and operational approaches to align with the preferences and expectations of Middle Eastern consumers has been essential in enhancing Vapiano’s presence and driving growth in the region.

Staying ready

In terms of digital transformation, the brand has introduced mobile ordering apps, streamlined payment processes and implemented data analytics to better understand customer preferences. In human resources, they’ve focused on employee training and development programmes to ensure a high standard of service delivery.

Looking ahead to 2025, the outlook for Vapiano in the UAE is optimistic.

“We envision continued expansion into new markets and F&B landscapes, a comprehensive plan has already been signed that outlines Vapiano’s growth trajectory over the next five years. Our goal is to solidify our position as a leading Italian casual dining destination in the region. By consistently delivering exceptional and unique dining experiences and maintaining an unwavering dedication to authenticity and innovation, we are confident in our ability to sustain growth and deliver value to both customers and stakeholders,” Alba shared.

Lastly, she added, “We aspire to be more than just a restaurant chain; we aim to be a culinary hub where people come together to savour delicious food, create lasting memories and celebrate the joy of being together surrounded by classic Italian food. Through innovation, sustainability and a relentless commitment to excellence, we will continue to exceed expectations and set new standards in the hospitality industry in the region.”

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