Meet-The-Buyer: Kirti Meghnani, Choithrams
There are many ways to get a product into overseas markets. Some of the more common methods (using consolidators or Australian-based distributors) can add also significant costs. The best way is to form a relationship with a buyer directly. We spoke to Kirti Meghnani from Choithrams in Dubai, who appeared the Export Connect’s Forum at the show, as a part of our Q&A meet-the-buyers series about his time at Naturally Good.
What is your career background and what does your current role entail?
I manage the procurement for one of the largest retail groups within the region – Choithrams Group. I have spent over three decades across various divisions within the group, steering its journey of success from one milestone to another. Commencing with IT and then moving onto Logistics and Distribution in 1995, followed by a five-year stint in inventory management, I was named the Head of Merchandising in 2008 and Assistant Retail Manager in 2010. In 2012, I was named the Group Procurement Manager and have remained at the helm of sourcing for the renowned organization.
Can you give us an overview of Choithrams?
We are a retailer that is 75 years old and we have been in the Middle East (ME) for 40+ years. With almost 60 stores in the ME, we generally cater to upper and upper-middle class consumers. We thus have a sizeable special and niche SKU from UK, US and Australia. Choithrams operates in basically 2 sectors – Retail & Distribution. In terms of retail, Choithrams caters mainly to neighbourhoods and communities. We are trying to strengthen that aspect of our business by opening 2-3 stores per year until 2020.
As most retailers do, we churn our assortment twice a year and see which trends are followed, which categories are becoming popular.
From a distribution perspective, we have a division for all new brands which basically acts as an ‘incubator’ for such brands. We monitor the success of these new SKU and once we are ready to take it to the next level, we start distributing it to other stores. Depending on the profile of the product, it goes into the Gourmet channel or the mass market.
What are the trends that you are seeing in health, natural & organic products in your stores and in the UAE market more broadly?
Some of the categories that are growing (other than snacking,) are health and organic products. The same is true for the UAE. Within the health food category, there are a few trends developing;
- Protein – This has become a buzzword. All commodities are trying to enhance their offerings with added or enhanced proteins.
- Gluten Free – As gluten intolerance is increasing, this category is gaining more traction. There is also a growing trend with some nutritionists who are recommending limited foods that have gluten in them.
- Vegan – This too is a trend that has caught on. We can now see vegan meats, cheeses, etc. across the shelves that have a niche audience. Again, here too, nutritionists play a big role in influencing people’s eating habits.
- Organic – Organic has now become a very big category on its own. There is hardly any category that does not have an ‘organic’ range within it, including non-foods.
- Snacking – People are looking for healthy snacking options, but with fullness. The freeze-dried and air-dried fruits have not caught on here in the Middle East. However, small SKU like pop seeds, rice crackers, rice chips, sunflower seeds, other unsalted nuts, etc. are the leaders of change. Having said that, the old fashioned snacks like potato chips are definitely not in decline either.
What trends did you notice at Naturally Good? How do these trends compare to trends in your home regions?
We were able to see new trends emerging in Australia not only in terms of products but also within the retail industry. In the UAE, we are also seeing similar shifts in this area.
As the traffic gets worse in most of the major cities, people don’t want to drive a long time and then carry their bags. The heat is also oppressive in the Gulf, so many people want to stay at home but have the convenience of shopping. We’re seeing consumers returning to small format stores, and basket values rising within these small format stores. Online shopping is also picking up.
Snacking and health foods are big in the UAE, and these are also trends we’ve seen in Australia.
How did you find the show during your visit?
I found the Naturally Good Expo to be an excellent show that provided a snapshot of trends among Australian suppliers, especially in healthy, natural and organic foods and beverages. I discovered some innovative brands which, along with the B2B supplier presentations and supermarket visits organised for us by Export Connect, we anticipate stocking up to 15 new brands or ranges by the end of the year, including We have found that inbound missions are one of the most effective ways of listing more Australian products on our shelves.
Want to know about the other international buyers?
Kriti was joined by Euniece Chak from the Village Grocer in Malaysia and Al Overton from Planet Organic in the UK, visiting Naturally Good 2018 as part of the International Buyer’s Program in conjunction with Export Connect.
The International Buyers Program will be continuing in 2019, so make sure to get involved and keep up to date, and find your export opportunities with the Naturally Good Expo. Contact our team and book your stand today.