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50 Most Innovative Companies to Watch 2021

Al Ain Farms — UAE’s leading Dairy, Juice and Poultry Companies

Al Ain Farms — UAE’s leading Dairy, Juice and Poultry Companies

Good nutrition is the key to good mental and physical health. Today, in this frenetic world, we don’t have easy access to fresh food products easily. But some brands deliver the highest quality of food products. One such company is the Al Ain Farms, based in the UAE, which is at the forefront of the growing the food industry and has established itself as the pre-eminent food brand. We interviewed Willem Van Walt Meijer, the company’s CEO, to know more about the company and its products and services. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Q. Please brief our audience about your company, its values, and its journey so far.

Founded in 1981 by the Father of the Nation, late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan, Al Ain Farms was the first dairy company in the UAE to start dairy operations and provide access to fresh milk to the nation. Continuing the heritage for close to 40 years now, Al Ain Farms has grown to be the largest integrated local dairy company in the UAE, running four farms under its brand – the dairy business, the juice business, the camel milk production, and the poultry section with fresh chicken and eggs. All products are produced in Al Ain, the heart of the UAE, and delivered to all regions daily, serving more than 13,000 outlets nationwide and delivering close to 20 million units of fresh, long-life dairy, juice and poultry products monthly to the United Arab Emirates. The company has always had and will continue to have a pivotal role in contributing to the country’s food security.

Q. List the full range of your company’s offerings and how you have ascertained your stronghold within the Middle East?

The core competencies of the company lie in the strong brand reputation achieved across decades of operations in the country, further enchased with the availability of the products across all regions. The reach and coverage in the UAE are sometimes difficult to achieve as the cold chain in dairy must not be interrupted at any time. The fleet of over 270 vehicles and thousand people almost never sleeps as fresh products are delivered 24/7 to more than 13,000 outlets daily. The proximity of the farms to the factory being in the same site compound enables us to ensure a straight promise of farms delivery within 24 hours from farm to customer, ensuring fresh, tasty, safe, wholesome, and healthy food.

Amongst many products, the core is fresh milk - naturally pure, nutrient-rich, fresh, and healthy, available in multiple fat levels options and several package sizes. The company also produces a significant volume of long-life milk packed in paper cartons, enabling fresh milk to be preserved longer without any preservatives. The company also offers milk products like yoghurt, sugarless fresh juice, and poultry items like chicken and eggs. Al Ain Farms takes special pride in offering Camel Milk, both locally and internationally, in fresh and powder variants.

Q. Being an experienced leader, share your opinion on why modern technologies are necessary for your industry and how you have leveraged technology within your company?

As the UAE climate is too hot and harsh for cows, which can result in reduced yield and not suitable for the animal well-being, the company created an “air-conditioning” system. However, the cooling

system uses substantial amounts of water and electricity. To reduce its ecological footprint, the firm recycles the water used in its production to irrigate the land. As part of the circular economy, the farms recycle close to half a billion gallons of water annually. With the new farm expansion, the company plans to drive this to more than a billion gallons of water recycled annually for irrigation.

Animal welfare is our utmost priority, and we have spared no effort to protect and nurture all of our animals by providing stress-free environmental conditions, nutritious and highest quality of foods, and never-stopping veterinary care at all times. We value our animals as an integral part of our being, as a man can exist only in synergy with nature.

Q. Considering the current pandemic and its impact on global economies, how are you helping your company to sustain its operations and ensuring your employees’ safety at the same time?

Al Ain Farms has continued to operate seamlessly during these challenging times, increasing its capacity to produce locally made, fresh products delivered daily across the UAE. The core functions of farming, production, and sales remained operational for 24 hours throughout the whole year to ensure continuity of supply, and we have tirelessly undertaken all necessary measures to prevent any health breaches at our farms. Daily checks are conducted, and all employees remain safe and healthy.

Our operational readiness and crisis protocol were vital in making sure the health of our employees and business continuity were safeguarded. It was a learning curve, but responsive and quick implementation, such as the opening of Al Ain Farms’ Care center in Sharjah for quarantine and medical security, and the rehousing of 600 employees, meant that we were able to continue business as usual. We implemented a hard zone site where no one could enter from outside to ensure full biosecurity. Admittance to the site is only granted after a negative test result was issued and a one-week quarantine is completed. Rigorous testing and a phased approach to working from home undoubtedly were key in preserving the welfare of our employees. Safeguarding our partners and suppliers was also a key priority for us, and we implemented a protocol with immediate effect, securing minimum impact along the supply chain.

Q. What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the market that your company is catering to?

Advice would be to go into something where demand exists, but supply is lacking, or a step-change can be improved. The current big market is nice to know, but it is not interesting if you bring the same. You can experiment swiftly at low risk by pricing the product and business system low, it always works. In the food industry, habits change relatively slow due to being engrained into the culture, so planning for a low pace scenario is needed, so we could be investing in growth.

Finally, we should be coming up with novel ideas of concepts and technology often found far from the place of core operations. The reason is that differentiation is everything, but the potential lies in adapting the local needs and operational requirements.

Q. How do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2021?

I believe the trend towards greater local production is clear, not just for self-sufficiency but also because of the economic boost it can provide. Al Ain Farms continues to stress the availability, affordability, and outstanding quality of locally made products. All with a relentless attitude of continuous improvement in all we do.

We are confident that the continued support we receive from the government on the farming part will further enhance the scale of the local output and ensure a fair level playing field for all local manufacturers within our sectors. We also aim to work closely with our retail partners to customize shelves and packaging to communicate the benefits of locally made and benefits of our products for consumers.

Meet the CEO

Willem Van Walt Meijer was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Al Ain Farms in early 2020. He is leading Al Ain Farms on its continued journey towards becoming a major player in the UAE food industry, guided by the UAE leadership’s strategic initiatives to ensure the country’s food security. Willem works hand-in-hand with the management team, which consists of the representatives from all business divisions of dairy and poultry, brand development & concept innovation, sales & logistics, and support functions.

Willem brings more than 30 years of global expertise to his new role. He spent more than 20 years at Unilever Ltd, working across all aspects of its global business in the Netherlands, Ireland, Indonesia, and Russia. Willem held a range of executive positions within the organization, including Senior Vice President of Unilever’s European division and CEO of its Russia and Ukraine arms.

“Today, Al Ain Farms employs over 2,200 people from across 38 nationalities, demonstrating workplace diversity and enabling cross-cultural integration in line with the UAE’s multi-ethnic demography.”

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