Al Ain Dairy is the largest dairy and juice producer in the UAE. Founded in 1981, with original stock imported from Australia, the farm now breeds its own over 3,000 head of milking steers. It also has a camel farm with more than 200 dairy animals.
The UAE has 26 dairy farms with 15,000 head of milking cattle, but the dairy industry is still in its early stages of development and consequently the majority of dairy products used in the country are imported.
However, Al Ain Dairy is a pioneer in the UAE dairy farm industry and has made significant investments in dairy production technology including high-speed packaging machines, bacteria testing equipment and well-equipped laboratories.
Arabian Gazette’s team caught up with Mr. Abdullah Saif Al Darmaki, CEO of Al Ain Dairy, to get an insight of the UAE’s most favourite dairy products company.
Arabian Gazette: Since 1981, it’s been 3 long decades of successful innings for Al Ain Dairy as a trusted dairy brand in the Emirates. How has your company evolved through the years to what it is today?
Mr. Abdullah Saif Al Darmaki: Al Ain Dairy has undergone a dramatic transformation since its inception, perhaps more so in the last 7 years as the strength of the brand got reinforced by popularity and loyalty from consumers and sales growth. Al Ain Dairy today has a significant value proposition and unshakeable brand value. As the company has evolved and diversified so too has its entire operations. Today, Al Ain Dairy is not only embarking on its most radical transformation yet with the further expansion of its plant, farm, additional livestock and boosting of production outputs by more than double, but we are poised to enter completely new markets that will propel the brand even further.
Who are your most loyal customers?
We believe we serve the whole of the UAE community which is a diverse populace with complex demographics but we believe in delivering quality products that our customers whomever they may be – can trust in. The company has the same values and traditions that it started out with all those years ago and gradually over the decades the Al Ain Dairy brand has become synonymous with the same trust and quality. We try to reach our customers through a variety of different touching points and with key messages that are genuinely conceived and with the mission to deliver a broad range of products that meet the changing tastes of our community at an affordable price. We certainly see that we have been rewarded with loyalty from our markets and consumers alike. Consumers buy into the story of Al Ain Dairy, and we try to add value for our customers by striving to make improvements to quality and to deliver products that really inspire.
What would you rate as your company’s biggest achievement so far?
Being the first company in the region to introduce innovative products and make such product offerings to the consumer. Benecol Milk, Morning Drinking Yoghurt, Slim O Lifestyle Laban drink, Green Cocktail with Stevia natural sweetener are all examples of such innovations.
What innovative machinery/technology does Al Ain Dairy use to keep up with the ever evolving food industry which sets it apart from the others?
Al Ain Dairy is continually investing in new technologies, systems and processes that enhance safety, increase production volumes as well as enhance quality control. The company made a significant investment last year which saw the introduction of state of the art facilities and massive upgrade in camel milking technology. With our technology partner Fulwood Limited, we were able to integrate state of the art technology customised to the physiology of the camel which was a first. This has not only facilitated the boosting of volumes but has also brought camel milk production to the modern age.
In our existing factory, all of our technologies have been customised to meet the company’s needs but we have simply out grown our current operation which is why we are now embarking on a huge expansion which will involve further upgrading of technologies for production, packaging and processing. It will also facilitate the vastly increased production levels we anticipate for the future.
In addition to that, we are adding a processing plant for ice cream production and have already upgraded our technology by installing a remote controlled cold chain management system. The company has made a strong commitment to support further growth in line with objectives and investment in technology is key to all of that. Furthermore, the company has made additional advancements in the realm of sustainability through the introduction of technologies at the farm that enhance our conservation of water and eliminate impact on the environment. And this is another area that the company will invest further in the future as they make efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and boost its green credentials.
How did the transition from dairy products to juice manufacturing occur?
The transition to juice production was an organic one born from our response to consumer demand. At the time our operations were only geared towards dairy production so we began a process to customise and integrate new production technologies and processes in the existing factor. This heralded the beginning of Al Ain Dairy’s diversification into juices – both fresh and eventually long life variants.
Over time, the company has maintained market share in this category and is concentrating now on delivering completely new juice varieties and combinations that have reduced sugar content. We believe that there are health concerns in the UAE and the company is now fully focused in conceptualising new juice variants that are nutritious as well as healthy. For example, we are the first company in the UAE to use a natural sweetener called Stevia which effectively means we are reducing sugar content in juices by 30%. This is fantastic news for the consumer who wants to make healthy choices. All of our research shows that there is a growing trend for dietary related products in the UAE and in response to this trend, the company is currently embarking on a new future of juice production that will see Stevia incorporated across its portfolio.
What are the challenges that you face in terms of market penetration and rival competition?
We have a high penetration in the market and have perfected distribution which has also been key to our success. Following table will help you understand the dynamics of the UAE market:
Could you tell us a bit about your livestock farm and the conditions there?
We currently have an approximate of 7,000 Holstein cows which are the best milking cows in the world of milk production quality. In order to fulfil the future demand for dairy in the local market as well as meet our objectives to enter into new markets, Al Ain Dairy will effectively double its livestock in phases in the coming years and will see the introduction of an additional farm. Animal welfare plays an integral role in our cow farm management programs; the company exceeds both national and international standards of cow farm management and was voted as the best UAE Farm in 2012 by Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. Our cows are kept comfortable, cool and calm at all times, well fed with all the nutrition that they need and are free to roam in and outside of their air conditioned corrals.
What is the size of the UAE dairy market? How much roughly is Al Ain Dairy’s share?
The UAE liquid milk market is valued at approximately $297 million and is categorised into chilled (short life) and ambient (long life) milk products. In the chilled milk category, Al Ain Dairy has been maintaining the number one position for some years, closely followed by Al Rawabi and Al Marai. Al Ain Dairy occupies a close second position in the fresh juices category in the UAE and eagerly hopes that its endeavour to add new products this year will enhance its position further.
What is your plan for GCC expansion? How would you compete with dairy companies from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries?
Al Ain Dairy is firmly committed to its expansion plan and entry to the export market, not to compete with other established companies but to bring new products that truly inspire. We have recognised the potential for new markets for a long time but the company wanted to first perfect its operations and supply chain and meet the growing and changing demand of our consumers in the local market before taking on those new markets. Everything the company has done until this point has been in preparation and positioning to be ready and it is now poised to do just that. There are key product lines that are in demand and plenty of market share for a recognised brand like Al Ain Dairy.
Which Al Ain Dairy product would you say is the most popular among your consumers?
Al Ain Dairy Milk was voted as being the favourite milk brand by consumers and readers of BBC Good Food Middle East and we are very proud of that fact. Our market share of the milk category remains constant and we are experiencing high quarter on quarter growth for sales of milk across all variants. Our fresh juice range is ever popular, particularly now that we are introducing completely new to market flavours like Lemon Mint and Green Cocktail which have been a real hit with consumers of all ages. We are also seeing a growth in yoghurts now that we have added LGG probiotic and have incorporated again new flavours in our stirred yoghurt range too.
Back in March, the company announced the introduction of camel milk ice cream. How has the progress been so far?
The announcement of the company’s plan to launch camel milk ice cream was quite a bold move on our part and whilst we are yet to go into full production, we have initiated our expansion plan and have made a significant investment that has not only boosted our camel milk production volumes but also facilitated full diversification into a range of camel milk products through our camel milk processing plant. This is part of a wider and perhaps more ambitious plan to promote camel milk in all of its forms and to raise awareness of astonishing health benefits derived from camel milk.
How much of the total budget does Al Ain Dairy spends on research and development?
Research & development is now playing a much more vital role in everything we do as we shift from delivering popular family favourites to leading the market by delivering completely new variants. Our cardamom milk was an award winner across the globe last year and we realised that we have a core strength in research and development. Most of this is undertaken at our lab in Al Ain and is driven by our market research. We are fairly well engaged with our customers, and as a result, are quick to respond to changing tastes and trends.