Artisan appeal: Jones the Grocer CEO highlights opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt with latest expansion push
Originally established in Australia in 1996, Jones the Grocer is known for its casual dining style, cheese room and gourmet retail.
It mostly sells dried and ambient products such as jams, chutneys, mustards, sauces, cereals, as well as chilled products like smoked salmon.
It is now owned by UAE-based JTG Holdings, the original franchise owner for Jones the Grocer in the Middle East. The first Middle East store was opened in Abu Dhabi in 2009.
This year, the company is expanding its presence in Saudi Arabia and Egypt citing population and economy as reasons for expansion there.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt
CEO Siddiqui told FoodNavigator-Asia it opened in UAE first, as “consumers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are well traveled in the region. We also see a lot of people coming from Egypt and Saudi Arabia into the UAE, and our brand is well regarded in the region as a benchmark for food and beverage retail.
“So, it was a natural progression (for us) to move into these markets.”
It is scheduled to open its first Saudi Arabia store in April 2021. The 1,000 square meters store includes a café, bakery, and retail section.
Siddiqui said Saudi Arabia is the largest market in this region, in terms of population and GDP, allowing potential to scale up the business. The plan in Saudi Arabia is to open about 10 to 15 stores.
Egypt is one of the larger economies in the North Africa region, with more 100 million people. Siddiqui said the plan is to open five to seven stores in Egypt eventually.
Two Cairo stores are scheduled to open by early March this year.
“The opportunities in both markets are significant. For other markets such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, we are exploring these markets, but the growth potential in these markets will not be as big as Saudi Arabia or Egypt.”
Jones the Grocer currently has 22 stores worldwide and hopes to open 200 stores globally in five years, including in the Europe and North America markets.
As with many businesses worldwide, revenue dropped year-on-year for Jones the Grocer last year.
Siddiqui told us in February 2020, the company was in fact ahead in revenue performance compared to 2019, but the pandemic hit, and its revenue declined 50% in March, followed by 40% in April.
However, by the end of May, it recovered slightly to a 15 to 20% decline.
Siddiqui pointed out, however, that its retail business more than doubled and helped offset some of the losses from its dining business.
“We pivoted by selling our retail products on our website, and third-party portals, to encourage people to shop and cook at home.”
The firm also developed home cooking recipe boxes such as pasta sauce and pasta packaged together for convenience cooking.
In addition, it also provided home delivery of cooked food from its café, which managed to offset some of the decline from dine-in sales.
By November 2020 onwards, revenue mostly recovered, and performance was ahead of 2019.
In the wake of the pandemic, the company is currently redeveloping its website, and focusing on e-commerce to drive growth.
“We are trying to understand e-commerce marketing, to improve the channels that we already operate in such as the website, third party portals, all to improve customer experience,” Siddiqui said.
“We are trying to understand our customers better through data metrics, seeing the type of customer that's coming into our stores and how we can target that customer more specifically to their wants and needs.”
Small and exclusive
Last year, the company saw growing interest in cheese, wine, and cold cut products amid the pandemic.
Siddiqui added: “People were cooking more at home, so our self-curated recipe boxes also saw great interest.”
Jones the Grocer markets handmade and small batch goods in the mid-to-high end range, rather than mainstream brands.
Watch the video to find more from Siddiqui.
While international and local retailers like Carrefour and Spinneys carry a small number of small batch goods in their stores, about 90% of Jones the Grocer’s SKUs are produced by artisans.
Siddiqui said: “These are produced by artisans, with recipes that have been perfected through generations as well as chefs who ventured into making their own products.”
“Many of our products are exclusive to us so we fall outside the mainstream supermarket segment.”
About 20% of its product portfolio is sourced within Australia, from small producers in Victoria as well as Sydney. The rest are sourced from UK, France, Italy, and increasingly in UAE.
“There is a resurgent movement of artisan producers here, so we try to source locally where we can,” Siddiqui observed.
JTG Holdings is headquartered in Dubai and is the sole owner of Jones the Grocer worldwide, after acquiring a significant minority stake held by L Catterton Asia (a subsidiary of LVMH).