One year minus a day since my last visit to Dubai and it is unbelievable what can change in 364 days. After two weeks of bouncing between Sweden, Italy and Switzerland I am back at the Gulf Food Show in Dubai, no longer as a visitor dreaming about opportunities in the Gulf but as an exhibitor building on market opportunities for our Heritage Angus Beef program and also marketing opportunities for products from the other members of Prairie Halal Foods.
While writing this article I reread the article I wrote last year, “T-bones for Allah” so that I could bring perspective to this year’s marketing mission. Needless to say many things have changed over the past year.
First the Dubai economy; the cranes and the construction have drastically slowed in pace. Building projects that were in the middle of construction are being completed and ones still on the books for construction have been shelved for the time being. In the hotels, room rates have somewhat deflated and hoteliers have become more price conscious of the food costs for their menus. Although, it seems as soon as the Gulf Food Show comes to town, everyone is quick to jack up their prices. These are some of the financial realities, however, there is also good news and the region is more than just Dubai.
Last week Saudi Arabia was opened for Canadian beef exports, a month before that Jordan was opened and soon we are assured Kuwait will open its doors. All these countries offer additional opportunities for Canadian beef, provided that there are companies willing to market into these regions. And here is the key. Marketing to the customers and being on the ground here rather than behind the telephone back home is what needs to happen if you want to get the job done.
Last fall, with the support from
the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund and investment from some forward-thinking ranchers, we opened the Dubai office for Prairie Halal Foods. Wahid Kandil is our general manager here and in four months it is amazing what he has accomplished and who he has connected with. Wahid has an incredible passion for building a marketing house for Canadian agrifood products and of course being able to combine this with fluency in Arabic is also not bad for marketing products in the region.
The Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is heavy with beef
products from South America, the United States and Australia. Until now beef from Canada simply has not been on the region’s radar screen; however, in less than a month we will have Heritage Angus Beef on the shelf of the region’s fastest-growing upscale supermarket chain, Lulu Hypermarkets. Even more exciting though is that joining our product will be milk-fed Veal from Ecolait in Quebec and bakery products from Sunrise Bakery in Edmonton. I am very proud of what Wahid has achieved in such a short time. It is an amazing achievement considering last year we were just walking the floors of Gulf Food and now we have an office here.
I have learned a lot about this experience as well. The most important lesson it reinforced was that if you want something done you have to reach out and grab it because no one will hand it on a platter to you. It takes dedication, perseverance and tenacity. I know that I have been very critical of the Canadian Beef Export Federation (CBEF) in the past and many must think that since we now have joined its membership ranks I must be backpedalling, but what I did learn is that CBEF will only go where its members point it to go. Marketing priorities for Canadian beef are determined by those that have the boxes to sell. It’s as simple as that and it will never change unless the marketers of beef decide to move beef into new regions, like Europe and the Gulf.
So how was CBEF’s booth at the Gulf Food Show this year? It was 500 per cent better!!! Weighing the size of the booth against the amount of beef that we export into the region it suited just perfect. It was front and centre in the Canadian pavilion and it brought attention to buyers walking the floor that Canada was more than pulse crops and maple syrup.
There will be no end of hurdles and challenges that Wahid and our members of Prairie Halal Foods will have to face as we go forward growing marketing opportunities. The biggest lesson to remember though is that if you want to see change you have to be part of it to make it happen. Bitching and whining from the sidelines will never get you anywhere.
Dr. Christoph E. Weder is a purebred Angus breeder in the Peace region of Alberta and also runs SVR Ranch Consulting. For additional info check out www.spiritviewranch.com