Interview with Mohammad Nassar Al Refaee, CEO, Nassar Al Refaee Trading Company (NRTC)
The current covid-19 crisis and the lock-down has resulted in booming business for ecommerce companies. Dubai based Nassar Al Refaee Trading Company (NRTC) is among the pioneers in fresh fruits and vegetables in the region.
Mohammad Nassar Al Refaee is the CEO of the family group NRTC. He has been in this role since early 90’s with the main objective, spearheading his family business become a dominant player in the region’s fresh produce industry.
In an email interview with Arabian Gazette, Mohammed provides insights on the market for fresh fruits and vegetables, how his company is coping up with the surge in demand, supply chain challenges, plans to mitigate risks associated with covid-19, and his advice for businesses and entrepreneurs in overcoming the challenging times.
AG: What is the current state of the Middle East’s fresh fruits and vegetable segment, and particularly of the UAE?
Before the start of the pandemic, and according to Euromonitor data, we knew that the sale of fresh food items in the UAE was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% for vegetables and 4% for fruits in the 2018-2023 period. However, now with the current situation, we can only expect a further increase in these figures due to the health aspects that fresh fruits and vegetables can bring to fight the COVID-19. To support that, the analytics also showed that UAE resident’s online search for grocery home delivery option has jumped by 560%, amid social distancing and movement restrictions designed to minimize the impact of the virus.
AG: Give us some details and updates on UAE’s food security and how NRTC fresh is playing a vital role in contributing to it?
The Ministry of Economy in UAE has assured the public that it has enough food to meet the needs of its citizens for at least six months. It also has a relatively smooth supply chain and an absence of obstacles mainly when importing fruits and vegetables by air, land or sea from various markets. In addition, the UAE has been working on measures to increase food security in the country, including establishing a council to boost local food production.
In line with this, we, as NRTC, are doing our part by working with the government to make sure we contribute to the country’s food security. We are committed to supplying retailers and our direct customers with high quality fruits and vegetables at really affordable prices.
As fruits and vegetables fly off the shelves, we guarantee the import of fresh produce worth 78 million AED in the next 3 months to ensure continuous supply of fruits and vegetables to their customers and retail partners.
With weekly importation of 2,100 tons of fresh produce, we plan to stock up on large quantities of fruits and vegetables in anticipation of the Holy month, as well as to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
AG: What is NRTC Fresh’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
Founded in December 2018, NRTC Fresh supplies high-quality produce from local and international farms to UAE residents. Here are the various USPs of the platform:
– Fresh produce at all time – Being one of the biggest importers in the UAE, we ensure fast stock rotation and an offering of fresh produce at all time.
– Speed in delivery time – less than 24 hours across 7 Emirates
– Wide accessibility – through the website www.nrtcfresh.com or the NRTC Fresh App available on the App Store and Google Play
– Weekly Special Offers – where consumers can get unbeatable discounted prices on fresh produce
– Various payment methods – cash and card on delivery, online payment, and the E-wallet options
– Wide range in different sizes – more than 1,000 choices of fruits and vegetables in various sizes: whole, precut, prepacked, or the newly added “bulk buy” to provide an option for consumers e.g., large families, to purchase large quantities of fruits and vegetables efficiently.
– Free Delivery – when spending a minimum of AED 80 or above.
– Hotline customer service – consumers can reach us via 8 different lines at 800NRTCF, or talk to us on social media, or email us at [email protected] or send us whats app at 050 9751445
AG: What products are available online at NRTC Fresh? and what more will we see in the immediate future?
NRTC Fresh boasts a wide range of locally grown and top-quality imported fruit and vegetables that come in different sizes. Consumers now have the option of either buying their fresh produce whole, precut, prepacked, or the newly added “bulk buy” and avail free delivery when spending a minimum of AED 80 or above. The range of course varies weekly depending on the availability of products. We import from 150 different countries and we service all kinds of clientele be it B2B, retailers, wholesalers, Palaces and consumers of course.
AG: What are some of the innovations that you’ve pioneered to make fresh produce easily accessible to all?
Knowing the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables to boost immunity during these times, we made sure that consumers have an all-time access to our platform (website and app) and enjoy pocket-friendly fresh fruits and vegetables in the convenience of their homes. We are boosting the awareness of the platform via a 360 degree marketing plan that entails:
– Engaging presence on social media
– Radio competitions
– Digital advertisement on 3rd party platforms
– PR campaigns
– Partnering with private companies, Government, banks to offer them a special discount codes.
– List our fruits and vegetable range on online platforms like Careem-now, lunch-on, Instashop and others.
AG: What is the impact of Covid-19 on your business in terms of sourcing and supply chain challenges?
The main challenges we are currently facing in the supply chain are sourcing of products from Europe (Italy, Spain…etc) and South Africa. While the fruits and vegetables are available and accessible at the farms, unfortunately only 20% of the labors are working due to the lockdown which is causing the low supply and export. Even at the packing houses, only 20% to 30% of labors are currently working. The rest of the neighboring countries are relatively better in terms of export capacity.
As for the transportation and clearance at the ports, we are not facing any major challenges. Furthermore, it has been easy and smooth process to import by air because most of the commercial airlines are now functioning as cargo planes to ship products rather than transport passengers. This has facilitated the import of fruits and vegetables to the country.
AG: What plans and risk management strategies have you followed to mitigate Covid-19 impact on your business?
Given the current situation concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19), at NRTC we are taking all the necessary measures in line with the World Health Organization guidelines to contain the spread of the virus and keeping the community as safe as possible.
We have enhanced our hygiene practices and briefed all our staff about this situation and asked them to follow these steps:
· All staff are required to wash their hands as frequently as possible during the day and try to avoid handshakes.
· All operations staff are checked for body temperature at the beginning of the shift.
· All operations staff are required to wear safety gloves and mask while at work.
· All suppliers have been notified to follow the above hygiene precautions while delivering at our premises.
· All frequently touched surfaces are regularly sanitized and wiped throughout the day.
· We are ensuring that the delivery boxes are 100% clean and food-grade certified.
· All delivery vehicles are thoroughly washed and cleaned more frequently than before.
We remain committed towards this and we will keep you updated on all developments related to COVID-19 and any changes to our protocols and procedures. In addition, we have tripled the size of the team, added double shifts, and increased the delivery fleet from 4 to 50 to meet increased consumer demand. We have also added ten additional customer care lines to handle enquires, feedback, and complaints.
AG: What are your short, medium and long term goals for NRTC Fresh?
We prioritize innovation in line with the modern lifestyle, always trying to find new ways for consumers to enjoy fresh and of highest quality fruits and vegetables.
In the past four decades, we’ve dedicated all our e¬fforts to delivering not just quality produce, but also trust, which is reflected in the many awards we’ve won over the years.
Each and every day, our dedicated food specialists work tirelessly to achieve and deliver our brand promise. We’ll continue to pursue greater goals for the satisfaction of our clients, and aim to achieve a niche in the GCC market, upholding industry values as the best suppliers of fruits and vegetables in the region.
Our long term goal is to target Saudi with a copy-and-paste module. Fortunately, big hotel chains also operate in the Kingdom, so we have the advantage of being known in that market. We’ll start with B2B and then gradually expand our offering.
After the Riyadh launch, we’ll move on to Jeddah. We’re also planning further GCC expansion to Oman, where we currently operate through a broker.
AG: What advice and tips would you give to SMEs reeling under Covid-19 threat severely affecting their businesses?
There’s no doubt that small businesses will have the hardest hit from the current COVID-19 pandemic as compared to large corporations, but this is just a phase that will eventually pass. My advice would be to:
– First and foremost take care of themselves and stay safe.
– Seek for support or resources from the Government.
– Limit their expenses, try to postpone any dues (if possible).
– Freeze hiring for the time being but also try to keep their employees as they reply on them. Try to invest in their training and development via e-learning courses.
– Find new opportunities to expand and diversify the business.
– Last, digitize your offering by moving to online.