UAE’s Al Ain Farms CEO exclusive 2: Camel milk export plans to China revealed and COVID-19 impact assessed
In January 2021, the firm will launch camel milk powder in tin format (400g) into China.
According to Al Ain Farms’ CEO, Willem van Walt Meijer, China’s consumption of camel milk is higher than most parts of the world, contributed by more awareness.
“Chinese consumers see a direct link between food intake and its impact on the body, much more than people do in other parts of the world.”
He explained that camel milk is nutritious, has the ability to enhance the immune system, contains no lactose hence suitable for lactose intolerant consumers as well as for diabetics.
China is Al Ain Farms’ main export market for camel milk. Its camel milk powder are available in sachet and pouch formats (25g, 400g, 25kg). The 25kg product is typically used as an ingredient for the food industry.
The products are available on JD online, and in major cities. The firm works with partners for distribution.
“China’s online shopping concept is probably the most advanced globally. We are exploring digitalising ourselves to tap into this huge market, hopefully one day, consumers can order camel milk powder directly from UAE and have it shipped to China,” Meijer said.
He added that the firm was exploring different pack sizes and formats for the China market.
“We think there are opportunities for pre-packaged products in China.”
“China is a large market for us in terms of population and growth opportunities. We hope to find the right channels, find the local taste and build the recipes, and work with the right distributors to grow our business.”
According to him, camel milk was its USP. “When it comes to exports, you have to have an interesting and competitive advantage. For UAE, if you produce camel-based products and dates, you can compete with anybody in the world.”
While dairy forms the biggest portion of Al Ain Farms’ business, it does not have huge export potential, due to cost-competitiveness.
Meijer cited places like England, Germany, Netherlands, France and New Zealand had climates more advantageous to rear cows, compared to UAE, which requires cooling systems, is energy and water intensive.
Al Ain Farms is the only UAE dairy company producing camel milk.
Currently, most of its camel milk is sold fresh, but Al Ain Farms is working on tripling its drying capacity to increase camel milk powder production for export.
The new dryers are expected to arrive early 2021. According to Meijer, it would result in about 20 to 30% fresh camel milk, and the rest powdered for export.
Al Ain Farms also exports camel milk to US, as well as Austria, Russia and some European countries, although demand was small and consistent. Boskovic explained that the awareness of camel milk had only just started in Europe.
This was unlike China, where awareness of its health benefits was more widespread.
Al Ain Farms is currently exploring potential export markets such as Malaysia.
“We are working with partners like Tetra Pak to further explore markets to produce and export, without too much of logistical costs."
Meijer said Al Ain Farms was only beginning to grow its global business, and has a long learning journey ahead.
Against its export dreams, the world is still fighting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Al Ain Farms has more than 2,000 employees, producing and delivering milk, yoghurt, juice, chicken and eggs to 12,000 outlets across UAE.
“We have a key food security role in the basic provision of food in the country, so to prevent a production standstill, we identified our staff personal safety as a priority,” Meijer told us.
Around the March period, the company formed a crisis team to manage the pandemic. “We locked our factories, so the only way you could enter the factory was after one week of quarantine and a negative COVID-19 test.”
“We built accommodation for our staff and contractors, sort of like a mini city with barber shops and grocery stores. At one point, we had about 1,500 people effectively on-site.”
In terms of sales, the firm was considered an essential business, providing staple food for the population hence sales were stable and not negatively affected, according to Meijer.
“We were less affected than the hotels, tourism, airlines and food service sectors which were badly hit. Lucky that we were in an essential food and beverage business,” he said.
Earlier in May, Al Ain Farms was appointed by the UAE’s Minister of Food Security to draft proposals to better manage the country’s dairy and poultry sectors.
This is the second part of an exclusive interview with Al Ain Farms. Read Part I here.