When Nils El Accad opened the first Organic Foods & Café outlet in Dubai in 2004, his mission was to broaden the reach of organic foods to the UAE. More than a decade later, the mission hasn’t changed, but his ambition has, with the launch of Organic Larder, a standalone distribution firm, not linked to the retail operation, dedicated to selling high-quality organic foods to mainstream supermarkets.
But El Accad, founder of Organic Larder and CEO of the distributor’s parent company Arab Beverages, is no longer content with organic being a niche: “The whole point of Organic Larder is we don’t want it to be small quantities any more. That’s why we’ve gone to operators in other countries, where organic is much bigger, and they’re substantially-sized operators. So we’re getting it from people who already have economies of scale.”
An end to inflated margins?
He railed against the idea of supermarkets making fat profit margins on organic products: “We don’t want the supermarkets to take a bigger margin. It’s supposed to go mainstream – this is an attempt to make organic mainstream. Now, it won’t be mainstream in quantity, no – but let it go mainstream, on the same shelf as its conventional brother, priced close to it, and let’s get to the volumes to sustain it.
“It’s definitely not your historic definition of organic – that’s not what this brand is about. This is just the launch – with time, we’ll see if we’re going to achieve that,” added El Accad.
Organic Larder has been in the market for about a year with a limited range, but saw its full launch at Gulfood earlier this year. El Accad says the firm worked hard to offer a complete range of organic products at the show, mostly grocery and dry goods along with beverages for the moment, all sourced from family businesses around the world.
“We have nearly 300 SKUs already, so I think that’s a lot to start with. For us to keep that in stock, current-dated and everything, that was a big statement,” he said. “It’s been positive – a lot of people have seen the range, and a lot of people are taking it on. So the next thing to see is how it sells.
“Are we going to expand? For sure, we’ll have to. The response has been good, so we’re going to get in with the listings. It’ll start, and it’s moving – how fast, how much, is going to determine how quickly we expand,” added El Accad, saying Organic Larder was set up to supply anybody in the GCC, with current customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.
No big trends
In terms of trends, El Accad has only seen particular products take off, rather than wider market movements: “We went from no coconut water to tonnes of coconut water in the last few years – that’s picked up a lot. We went from one quinoa supplier, which was us, to loads of quinoa suppliers. That’s the type of trends, product trends – there’s not really any other clear trends that I can see.”
He is also clear on the scale of the challenge, particularly in regards to lines such as sugar-free: “This is still niche and still small. Sugar-free – people are tempted, but it doesn’t sell. Even though there’s a lot of buzz around it, it’s got to sell too.
“Consumers need to change. People want the wonder-drug – take the pill and it goes away. People expect wonder-solutions – it’s not going to happen by you eating the same food and taking a pill. Unless people change, then nothing’s going to change – and that takes time. It’s slow,” added El Accad.