One of GCC’s foremost foodservice providers, Alyasra Foods is embodying excellent customer experience and optimised operations, owed to extensive digital transformation efforts
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Matthew Selby
Seafood has long been a staple of Kuwaiti diets.
A small Middle Eastern landmass hugging the upper reaches of the Arabian Gulf, the country’s arid climate and desert-based terra firma has long dictated that fresh water, arable land and, resultantly, traditional land-based agricultural has been hard to cultivate.
As such, many of Kuwait’s long-standing household favourite foods and dishes, from Muttabaq Samak to Murabyan, are strictly fish based.
However, culinary diversification has began to sweep across the country in the past three decades.
“Up until the 1990s, fish was the primary source of protein in the GCC region. Back then, a family in Kuwait identified this relatively linear national diet as a major opportunity – they began importing frozen chicken from Brazil,” reveals Niels Miles Frandsen, introducing Alyasra Foods.
“They sold this in supermarkets across Kuwait, capitalising on a shift in consumer tastes as chicken gradually came to the fore of people’s diets. Indeed, Alyasra Foods established itself as one of the pioneers of this shift.”
The statistics speak true of Frandsen’s depiction. In the 20-year period between 1991 and 2011, annual domestic poultry consumption rose from 23 million tonnes to 143 million tonnes, while the country now imports over 96 percent of its food.
“Leveraging this base the family quickly diversified the company’s portfolio, incorporating frozen meat, frozen vegetables, frozen fish and an array of other products into its distribution channels that served many major supermarkets, allowing it to become the largest supplier of frozen foodstuffs in the country,” he adds, eluding to the 70 percent market share that the company once had in the frozen category.
Fast forward to the present day and with Frandsen as the current CEO, Alyasra Foods has changed drastically since this time having explored both new regions and subsectors.
It now houses operations spanning Iraq, Saudi Arabia and more recently the UAE, has launched its own in-house brands range and is heavily focused on the ongoing development of a particularly successful foodservice business serving hotels, restaurants and caterers (HORECA).
It is the latter that now accounts for the majority of Alyasra’s business, the firm having sold its retail distribution division in 2014.
“Alyasra Foods made this sale as I arrived as the Chief Executive Officer,” Frandsen explains. “It was in fact a major reason why I felt the role would be a good fit for myself.
“I had no prior knowledge of the food and drink sector, but it was evident that the company was at a crossroads. It was clear that some bold decisions were going to be made, and it was set up to be a fantastic opportunity where I could help take the business to the next step together with the owners.”
Alyasra Foods has achieved much in these past five years, largely owed to the ongoing transformation that has swept through the enterprise during this period.
“Selling the retail business marked a monumental change, but equally outlined the perfect opportunity for such a transition to happen,” admits Frandsen.
Indeed, the past half-decade has witnessed substantial consolidation practices from Alyasra Foods while its major revenue streams have shifted. However, more recent times have seen the business turning its attentions towards the pursuit of growth – ambitions that have been accelerated by operational digitisation.
For the Chief Exec, the resultant benefits have been twofold. “It’s enabled us to differentiate ourselves through great customer experience, providing our customers with a really easy way to transact through multiple channels,” he states.
“Our sales staff, for example, will soon be able can sit down with a tablet and chat with any client, tapping into the company cloud database in order to leverage information and provide greater insight in a seamless manner.
“Secondly, we’ve been really looking at how to accelerate our customers’ profitability. We’re no longer purely interested in providing them with a product and service; we’re also hoping to cut their costs, help them become more profitable and raise their profiles in the eyes of consumers.”
And while customer experience has been a core benefactor of these technological efforts, providing Alyasra with numerous competitive advantages, they have simultaneously provided a multitude of other enhancements.
Frandsen continues: “We’re also bettering our own operational excellence. We’ve been able to cut costs by bolstering as many operational processes as possible using technology, be it efficiencies in our warehouses or the productivity of our workers.”
The latter is a point that Frandsen is quick to emphasise, highlighting that the aforementioned overhauls and optimisations have allowed the firm’s employees to take greater pride in their work.
“Our staff have definitely seen the benefit,” he adds. “Initially our plans caused a level of uncertainty, but the workers have come to recognise that these changes are serving to help them rather than causing them to fear for their jobs.”
Offering the opportunity to work with industry-leading technologies, Alyasra Foods has equally been benefitting from bolstered talent retention as a result, crucial in enhancing client relationships and providing a host of other circular benefits to the business.
“Aside from our customer experience efforts, we’re working hard to build a pool of talent at the moment,” Frandsen explains. “It’s something the GCC has traditionally struggled with, particularly when compared with the likes of the UK or US.”
The firm’s management have largely been tasked with this, those most familiar with the company’s cultures and inner-workings responsible for upholding the businesses training practices. However, the enterprise readily uses external resources in necessary cases.
“We have to be very specific when doing this, but in areas where we’ve lacked competency that have occurred during this digital transformation phase, we’ve leveraged external resources on occasion to provide our staff with the best insights possible.”
Embedding this revitalised, transformation-driven culture throughout the four markets that it currently operates in will be Alyasra’s primary emphasis moving forward.
In turn, Frandsen is confident that this short-term goal will provide grounded foundations for achieving the company’s long-term ambition of becoming the largest foodservice distribution company in the GCC.
“In summary, I’d say we’ve undertaken a radical 360-degree change in how we conduct business,” he states. “But this is just the beginning, and it’s our inspiration to become the go-to company for foodservice in the region.
“We’re not uniquely progressive from a global perspective, but I’d consider us a foodservice innovator in the GCC, definitely.”
Positioned ahead of the regional curve, Alyasra’s future looks bright.
The CEO concludes, drawing further optimism from the current economic climate: “The GCC is experiencing dramatic change; mindsets are shifting and it’s having huge impacts on many sectors including our own – the HORECA industry is going through a boom again, for example.
“Our eyes will remain firmly focused on Saudi Arabia, and with positive prospects on the horizon, I’m confident about the region and our direction.”