24 Sep 2017 – 8:51
By Sanaullah Ataullah | The Peninsula
Amid increasing frequency of shipments by sea between Qatar and exporting countries, food prices in the local markets are expected go back to pre-blockade positions by October and November, said Mohamed Althaf, Director of Lulu Group International.
In an exclusive interview with The Peninsula Althaf said: “We have been working to bring back the prices at pre-siege level. This is our commitment to the customers and we are very close to our target.”
The Director said that the new sources of import were very competitive and traders were not willing to go back to the old markets even if the blockade is lifted.
“We have already increased the frequency of our shipments and its effects will soon start hitting the markets. It is going to be very regular affair now onwards,” said Althaf.
He said: “The products are flowing in and we will be in a position to offer better prices very soon. I think by October and November we will meet our targets to bring down the prices at the level where it were last year.”
“What we are thinking that even if the crisis is solved and problem of blockade gets resolved, we need not going back to same old sources. We will not start using Jabl Ali. We will depend on direct import because we think this is more sustainable and practical.”
“Now we are in a position to import in bulk and even we can bring a complete ship with partnership of other local players.”
“During the beginning few days of the blockade, everybody was in state of panic as there occurred sudden disruption of supply chain. But now I think the things are more or less are very stable,” Althaf noted.
He said that most of the retailers like Lulu had successfully indentified alternative sources. “Now the importers are working to develop uninterrupted access to them and issues related to the ports are also being resolved swiftly.”
“For example in case of Lulu, we had very small operation in Spain and Turkey before the blockade. But now we increased our capacity everywhere.”
He said the Lulu had added new logistic capacity and hired more employees to meet needs of enhanced operations. “In Turkey we have a dedicated team of 20 people working only for Qatar.”
In Spain, he said, with the help of Spanish embassy in Qatar we have identified supply sources for long-life milk, fruits, vegetables, olive oil. “We have also established logistic setups there. In Europe, we always had operation in UK where after this blockade we increased our capacity and now working in three shifts.”
He said that Lulu had started importing goods from Pakistan. “There is a largest chicken company in Pakistan “Big Bird”. First time Lulu is bringing the products of Big Bird to region. Currently, we just started chilled chicken and soon going to import frozen chicken as well,” he said, adding that a number of Pakistani food products were set to hit shelves in Qatar.
“Azerbaijan is another country we are looking at now for dairy and meat products. We have started bring dairy and meat products from Azerbaijan.”
He said that prior to blockade, importers from Qatar were not keen to go to Azerbaijan and its neighbouring countries because of transport challenges. “But now they all have agreement with Iran and road and rail connectivity with Iran. Therefore, all these countries like Azerbaijan and Armenia have access to Bandar Abbas Port from where they load in refrigerated trucks – containers on wheel. And it does not take more than 24 hours from Bandar Abbas Port to reach Qatar.” He said that from Georgia to Bandar Abbas was matter of eight hours and from there to Qatar about 14 hours so within a day “we get goods from Georgia.”
“Perishable goods, dairy products like milk, yogurt are coming now from there.”
He said that importers in Qatar were depending on Bandar Abbas for other countries but there are three to four ports in Iran that were closer to Qatar. “It takes six days to import goods from Pakistan by sea. Regarding India we have very efficient operation from Mundara Port, Gujrat taking about seven days. Izmit Port in Turkey is being used to export goods from Turkey to Qatar.”
“And many people in the world are looking towards Qatar as a market now because they know there is a vacuum in absence of Saudi and the UAE products.” Bangladesh for example, he said, wanted to export food items now. “Kazakhstan traders have already approached us and we are working with them. Bangladesh delegation is coming this week.”
“We have already started import of meat, fruits and vegetables from Georgia with the help of Georgian embassy in Qatar we have identified the suppliers.”
He said that Turkey and Iran together were big fruits baskets of the world. “The local markets are flooded with so many products from all over the world, I think over a period of time some products will make their space in the market while others will be wiped out of the race.”
He said that dependence on certain countries was a phenomenon of past now. “Turkey has always been a biggest food exporting country. In Lulu, our imports from Turkey have gone up by 250percent.
Practically, Turkey is replacing Saudi Arabia in term of exporting goods to Qatar. Turkey is number one source of import for Lulu, followed by Oman.”
“Kuwait ranked number three for Lulu. This is sudden increase for Lulu from these countries.” Regarding Iranian products, he said, Lulu is buying from local suppliers and Hasad food and not importing directly from Iran.
“Every 15 days we receive shipments from Turkey; charted cargo flights carrying 75 tonnes of goods from Istanbul and shipments from Izmir port.” He said that Lulu is importing eggs and chicken from Turkey and buying Turkish milk from local suppliers and there is plenty of Turkish milk available in local markets.
“Tunisia is going to become another source. Tunisia will start exporting many items that Egypt was exporting to Qatar. The shortage of Egyptian products will be replaced by those coming from Tunisia. A lot of products are coming from Morocco.”
He said that to bring efficiency in the transportation, containers on wheels are being used to transport goods from Iran to Qatar. “Retailers like us are exploring options of producing something in Qatar and food-processing in Qatar. We are thinking for repackaging, cleaning which used to be in Dubai.”