UAE’s Al Ain Farms CEO exclusive 1: Product innovation priorities and sustainability focus revealed
Founded in 1981, Al Ain Farms was UAE’s first dairy company and has since expanded into the juice and poultry sectors. The firm services more than 12,000 outlets in UAE with cow milk, camel milk, yoghurt, juice, chicken, eggs and other products.
In this exclusive two-part series, Meijer told FoodNavigator-Asia: “Al Ain is seen over the years as a company which has not delivered a lot of new business.”
“We were always a bit shy previously, but we are starting to investigate this.”
The firm is now focusing on product innovation, from developing new products, improving existing recipes, and exploring new formats.
Now, about one-quarter of its products are either new products, in new formats or had their recipes significantly improved over the past 12 months.
Recipe changes include giving new health benefits to consumers, such as reducing sugar or fortification.
One example is the recent launch of its sugar-free juice range in November, comprising 13 flavours.
Meijer explained that sweeteners were not added into the juices, and the sweetness present came naturally from glucose and fructose of the fruits.
Some of the flavours include orange, pineapple, guava, berry, pomegranate, and mango, which Meijer said catered to the 200 nationalities in UAE with varying consumer preferences.
The average UAE consumer leads a fairly sedentary lifestyle, and the country suffers a high rate of obesity, which is a risk factor for many non-communicable diseases. Sugar intake has been shown in many studies for its association to excess body weight.
Meijer said its sugar-free juice range contributes to the health strategy of the country, which implemented a sugar tax on carbonated soft drinks, as well as juices.
“This has significantly impacted the industry, and manufacturers and brands are trying to innovate, and make their portfolio healthier for consumers.”
In another product innovation, the firm recently added LGG and BB12 probiotic strains to its yoghurt products.
According to Meijer: “These probiotic strains help aid digestion, take care of gut health, and also plays a role in boosting the immune system.”
Part of its product renewal also includes format changes. Al Ain Farms recently launched its fresh milk (low fat and full fat) in glass bottles (1L), to increase its recyclability and reusability.
It is the first company in the region to do so.
The company’s other milk products will continue to be bottled in plastic.
Meijer said the firm will continue to assess the sustainability aspect of the new packaging and may roll out this format in other products if deemed feasible.
Al Ain Farms is also working on reducing its ecological footprint, especially within its farms.
It operates one poultry farm, one camel farm, and three cow farms.
As the UAE climate is too hot and harsh for cows, which would result in reduced yield, the company created an “air-conditioning” system.
However, the cooling system uses plenty of water and electricity.
To reduce its ecological footprint, the firm recycles the water used in its production, to irrigate the land.
“It’s a circular economy. Now, we are close to half a billion gallons of water recycled annually. With the new farm expansion, we can drive this to more than a billion gallons of water recycled annually for irrigation,” Meijer said.
Al Ain Farm is currently expanding a cow farm located outside Al Ain region, in the Abu Dhabi Emirate.
It will be able to house 4,000 cows and expected to bring the total cow count to around 15,000 across all its farms.
The expanded farm will be able to produce between 20 to 60 million litres, contributing to its overall production capacity of more than 100 million litres across the business.
According to Meijer, the firm has invested about AED 80 to 90 million (US$21.8m to 24.5m) for this project.