Ensuring Express delivery
F&B supplier Fresh Express gets ready for another year of growth
As food and beverage ingredients supplier Fresh Express gets set for another year of growth, Ben Watts finds out how the firm continues to meet the demands of the region’s chefs
With a workforce of 130 and a network that stretches across the Arabian Gulf, food and beverage supplier Fresh Express has seen off a tough 2009 and is looking forward to positive growth in 2010.
The UAE-based firm supplies kitchens and hotels with a range of fresh ingredients from more than 54 destinations worldwide. According to business development director John Vouyoukas, Fresh Express is now looking to expand its sales and logistic departments over the coming year, as it continues to bring the region’s chefs some of the best produce from across the globe.
“We represent massive companies from Europe, and big names from the US and Australia — all firms we have represented for a long time,” says Vouyoukas. “Many new companies come to the UAE and copy us on a daily basis; we are much older then these firms and it seems whatever Fresh Express does, in a week it is copied elsewhere.”
Vouyoukas claims that when other suppliers mimic the firm’s business practices, it actually serves as a compliment to the company — a sentiment echoed by Fresh Express food department sales manager Ali Serhal.
“We are proud to be the pioneers in developing the fresh food industry by always being creative in terms of new products and customer satisfaction,” declares Serhal. “Our main objective is to always bring added value to what we are delivering and keep the standards of quality and freshness in the UAE market as high as possible.”
The company is divided into three sectors — the hotel division, the retail division, and the restaurant and coffee shop division — and today the family-run business, led by Vouyoukas’s father and managing director Costas Bouyoukas, is looking at a bright future.
The firm’s biggest segment, the hotel division, represents 54% of its total sales and despite a slight drop in demand from individual hotels in 2009, Fresh Express actually experienced a 2% increase overall on its 2008 sales.
“We lost a bit of the growth, but not a drop in sales,” confirms Vouyoukas. “But with more tourists coming to the UAE we will definitely benefit.”
According to Vouyoukas, the rapidly-increasing number of hotels in the UAE can only mean one thing — further opportunities for growth.
“We noticed a slight drop in 2009, but we hear from the major airlines that they will be launching a lot of new routes this year and as a result we’re expecting a lot of tourism to come into the UAE,” he comments.
On the basis of such positive reports, Fresh Express is gearing up for a busy year.
“Major people in the industry, including F&B managers, chefs and hotel managers, are predicting this year will be a busy one,” Vouyoukas continues.
“We speak to these decision-makers to get a forecast on the year ahead, an idea of what’s going on and what their occupancies are, so we know exactly how we should be planning and proceeding over the next few months.”
Two sectors within the food industry that are performing well, according to the firm, are dairy and organic.
“The organic sector has received a lot of demand lately, as a lot of people nowadays are starting to consider the benefits of healthy products,” Vouyoukas points out.
“We directly purchase organic products from producers in Europe; we are importing these products from France, Holland, the UK and Italy, including a lot of vegetables and some seafood as well.”
The firm has also recently expanded its dairy offering, in response to the growing demand from UAE-based European chefs requesting cheeses from their homelands.
“It’s a key sector that is really looking good and we’re going to have a lot of new products in our dairy range, because of the different nationalities in the UAE,” explains Vouyoukas.
“If a chef turns up from Spain, or from France, they might want a cheese from their own country. To make sure all our customers are happy we ensure we have a range covering the major cheese producers from across the world.”
Seafood also represents a large portion of Fresh Express’s business. “We are very well known as a major seafood supplier in the UAE,” states Vouyoukas.
“We were the first established seafood company in the Emirates — that was where we began.
“From there we started to expand, because of our relationship with chefs who began asking for vegetables, herbs, dairy, poultry and some dry products. Today we also have a beverage department, which covers a wide range of items.
“It’s a very complicated operation we now have,” says food sales manager Serhal. “But until midnight we are busy; if a chef calls at 10pm in the evening, we will open the warehouse and deliver the order immediately.”
As Vouyoukas points out, the very name Fresh Express “really sums up what we are all about”.
“When we take an order from a client we have absolutely no time to waste,” he asserts. “From receiving an order to making a delivery, it sometimes takes less than 36 hours, even if the product is being shipped from another part of the world.
“Everyone in the company has their responsibilities and we help each other in ensuring the client receives what they want,” he concludes.