Established in Lebanon, Smart Gourmet is a specialist caterer of events, both big and small. They aim to provide quality food that creates lasting memories. The company not only provides catering services but also operates a well-known restaurant in the country. Smart Gourmet has a ready-to-eat arm where they distribute their own homegrown brand to retailers.
Their brand, Smart Gourmet® provides Ready-to-Eat, and Easy-to-Cook natural products with a Lebanese cuisine flavor. They are on shelves across Lebanon and UAE, and are soon expanding to other territories.
We had a chat with Viviane Choueiri, UAE founder.
What natural/organic products do you import into the Middle East? Do you also re-export? If so, where do you re-export to?
All our nutritious home-cooked products are made with the special touch of Smart Gourmet® chef’s following their exceptional and signature recipes, which can now be enjoyed at home and on the go. We have a factory based in Lebanon where we create the products, and source the finest ingredients from around the world.
Our natural product selection includes Hummus (chickpeas dip), Baba ganouj (eggplant dip), vine leaves, fawareigh (chilled beef meal with rice and vegetables), garlic dip and more.
Can you tell me about the demand for organic products in the region? What is the latest trend that you see in organic products?
The Ready-to-Eat market in the GCC is growing rapidly, mainly because of the rapid rhythm of modern life and the lack of time for cooking and groceries shopping. Similarly speaking, the demand for healthy food is also booming as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the positive effects of such healthy food as well as the adverse effects of unhealthy fast food. NB. In 2017 it was reported that 11 million people died from bad diets worldwide.
As a consequence of this, there is a rising demand for healthy and quality international foods from a growing base of expats & millennial consumers. This diverse and urban landscape is driving the demand for convenient, ready-to-eat, chilled, processed, preserved, and frozen foods in the region. This is great news for food innovation and Arab Health, KSA and the UAE are now the largest packaged food markets in the Gulf, with billions of dollars in retail sales and a robust annualized growth of 10%.
Factors such as increasing population of working women, growing millennial population, busy work schedules, and on-the-go consumption habits and consumer preferences for healthy and convenient food along with an increasing shift towards a healthier lifestyle are expected to continue to fuel revenue growth of the global Natural and organic ready-to-eat food products market.
Why should people go organic according to you?
Research and studies show that having a diet rich in natural and organic foods is healthier. By eating organic and natural foods, you are minimizing your risk for exposure to environmental toxins and serious health issues found in non-organic produce.
GCC: Changing Consumer Patterns:
Many consumers believe that natural and organic foods have a finer quality than non-organic foods. In the GCC, most people lead a sedentary lifestyle, this coupled with unhealthy eating has been disastrous for their health and life expectancy. Due to government led campaigns, the internet, and social media, consumers are becoming more health-conscious and are willing to spend more for higher-quality, natural and fresh products. Their consumption mix is shifting away from staple products and toward value-added, convenient, and healthier alternatives.
Where do you import your products from, and how much of a role does certification play in your decision? What are your main challenges in sourcing?
We have our own factory based in Lebanon with our dedicated Chefs and gourmet catering team. We source the freshest ingredients from the best suppliers all over the world which allows us to create nutritious and natural products for home and export markets. We have a serious plan to open a new factory in the United Arab Emirates to cater the GCC and the export to international markets.
Having solid experience in the food industry including export requirements meant that we did not face any major issue in the certification and licensing of our products to export.
Do you have private label products?
Not yet but we are studying the possibility of launching private label products in specific territories.
From where and/or what products would you like to source more?
We are for the time being focusing on our range of Lebanese Mediterranean cuisine, whilst respecting our lifestyle of natural food, preservatives free & GMO free, cooked in a unique smart technique that conserve all vitamins with gourmet taste, with long shelf life while stored chilled in the fridge.
Nevertheless, our cooking techniques can cater many cuisines and our research & development department is continuously testing new SKU’s with no limitation to neither the source of the dishes nor the target market.
Have you visited the Middle East Organic Natural Products Expo before?
I have visited the last Middle East Organic Natural Products Expo held in Dubai and I was really impressed about the numerous brands and variety of Natural products participating from all over the world.
How do you use Middle East Organic Expo as a sourcing platform? How useful is the O2O Connect platform?
I had a trial on the O2O connect platform and found it useful and facilitate the liaison between producers and suppliers of Natural and Organic products and the potential buyers all over the region.
Interviewed by Menaka Ramakrishnan, Buyer Manager