“We wanted to bring hospitality thinking in terms of areas like taste, style, feel and look into the food industry,” Hunter Foods Managing Director Ananya Narayan told FoodNavigator-Asia at the Gulfood 2019 show in Dubai.
“[This will apply to all aspects, especially] things like brochure, branding, and packaging, which are all extremely important to us.”
Narayan and his wife, Hunter Foods Marketing Director Yan Narayan were previously both with the Hyatt chain of hotels, and left to run the company.
He added that the company’s better-for-you concept and messaging was a very literal one: Its products are designed to be better, healthier, cleaner and more natural.
“I wouldn’t say all of our products are healthy, but [we focus on questions like] are they better, are they less artificial, are they more natural, and are we continuously trying to keep moving the needle. And [my answer is], yes we are,” said Narayan.
Hunter Foods is extensively involved within the better-for-you space, occupying roles along the supply chain as a manufacturer, packager (e.g. Peruvian chia seeds) and distributor (e.g. for Welsh brand Lizi’s Granola).
Premium snacking going mainstream
One of the signature brands manufactured by the company is Hunter’s Gourmet, which Narayan described as comprising ‘more premium snacks’. Items in this range would include quinoa chips, fruit chips, lentil chips, vegetable chips and more.
“It is at a higher price point, but of higher quality and somewhat more niche. [That said], we are seeing the trend moving towards this direction of healthier, more premium snacks, and so this is becoming more mainstream,” he said.
“Within this, in the past there were only four snack brands that were truly international: Lays (potato chips), Doritos (tortilla chips), Cheetos (extruded corn) and Pringles. Those were what defined snacking categories previously, [but things have changed now] and we see more alternative snacks on shelves [in California where trends are set].
According to Narayan, most trends in the food and beverage industry start in California, move to New York, Europe, then the Middle East and then Asia.
“Alternative snacks include vegetable chips, popcorn, chickpea chips, lentil chips and so on – and that is exactly where we have been expanding.
“Even in the flavours, [it is no longer enough] to just have things like salt and vinegar, [so we have] gone into options like black truffle, Thai green curry, wasabi and turmeric and so on.
“There are a lot of options [for consumers], so basically we can be a one-stop shop [and can] fill almost any category of snacks. You want it, we have it,” said Narayan.
Going beyond the Middle East
Within the Middle Eastern region, Hunter Foods’ presence is nearly ubiquitous.
“We are everywhere within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), except for Qatar due to current trade and political relations. Our key focus for this year is to penetrate the Saudi Arabian market and strengthen our presence there,” said Narayan.
“Other focus markets (for the year) are China and Russia, as well as to scale up presence into Korea and Japan.
“[These other markets] have high potential for scaleability due to population size, we have a [suitable] product to sell there, and interestingly, it is actually more cost-effective to ship our products over than it is to send to Saudi Arabia.”
He added that this was because it would cost some US$1200 to ship a container of Hunter Foods product over to Saudi Arabia - but just US$40 to send the same over to Japan, and US$5 to Hong Kong or Singapore.
“It’s about demand and supply,” he explained. “Dubai imports many items from these countries, but does not export many back and the containers are empty, hence the cost is much lower.”
In terms of global reach, Hunter Foods is in over 25 countries worldwide, and has sent products as far as Brazil.
“Within the APAC region, Hunter Foods is already in Thailand, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said.
He added that the company had also entered the Singapore market as the manufacturer of private label chips for large supermarket chains such as Cold Storage and Giant, but has plans to bring its own products into Singapore soon.
Narayan also mentioned plans for the company to use sunflower oil in all of its products moving forward, a move that will include all product ranges, whether premium or traditional.
“We’re also looking at plastic levels, sodium levels and sugar levels for all of our brands, because we do want to make products that are affordable and better for every income bracket and market,” he added.
In addition, the company is looking at a ‘Version 2.0’ for all of its products.
“For example, we were the first people to make handcooked chips in Asia, [but now a lot of other companies are also doing this, so] we’ve had to build the 2.0 for handcooked chips, which is our Gold Edition. We’re also going to be doing 2.0 versions of quinoa chips, veggie chips and so on,” he added.
Rebranding is also in progress for one of Hunter Foods’ traditional, more economical brands: Safari, which is still Hunter Foods’ number one brand in terms of sales volume.