Fruitnet Forum Middle East, the new conference event for the Middle East fresh produce industry, which takes place in Dubai on 4 December, is pleased to announce the addition of David Prokopiak, the head of airfreight procurement at Dubai-based Kibsons International, to the programme.
Appearing alongside Paul Morgan of retailer Spinneys, Prokopiak will discuss the successes and challenges of Kibsons’ fledgling home delivery service in the UAE. “E-commerce has proven to be a good opportunity for us and is a channel that we are looking to expand”, says Prokopiak. “The idea was to get as close to the consumer as possible, in a similar way that retailers have been trying to get closer to growers.”
Kibsons’ strategy with respect to product offerings is no longer fully dependent on the procurement decisions of supermarkets and the wholesale market. They now have much more freedom and flexibility to customise the product range that they offer to their online customers. As a result, the range of products that Kibsons stocks and sells has expanded significantly in the last 18 months, and this is a refreshing change from their traditional wholesale market model.
“By listening to our home delivery customers we can develop and tailor our range to suit their specific individual needs,” says Prokopiak. “Every customer has their own favourite products and preferences, so variety is key. By variety I mean variety in product sizes, product varieties, packaging sizes, ripeness levels, tastes, origins, price ranges and our overall product basket. It’s a lot to juggle from a procurement perspective, but it’s very rewarding to experiment with new products, watch them succeed and constantly improve and streamline our product portfolio.”
The volume of feedback received from customers is a new yet refreshing challenge for the Kibsons team. “Customers waste no time in giving us their feedback and this is amazing for us,” reveals Prokopiak. “We are highly reactive in dealing with any compliments, general feedback and complaints and our customer service team is kept very busy.”
This strengthened communication has given a new perspective to Kibsons, which is primarily a wholesaler and in the past has had limited and very slow access to direct consumer feedback.
“In a multicultural society such as Dubai, consumer perceptions, preferences, buying habits and tastes vary widely and we have to understand these in detail to offer a truly comprehensive service,” says Prokopiak. “Our direct feedback is now fast and specific, which helps us make swift and informed decisions that add real value to Kibsons as a business and to the online shopping experience of our different customers.”
Kibsons is also excited about sharing this new-found and direct feedback with its suppliers to add real value and build stronger relationships.
“Their products literally go direct from farm to table and our suppliers often have detailed feedback on taste, quality, new products, packaging and consumer acceptance within 48 hours of their shipments landing,” says Prokopiak. “This helps both parties to optimise internal quality and traceability systems, as we can both react swiftly to any issues and trace them back to source instantaneously. It requires much dedication to process, analyse and transfer feedback to suppliers, but it’s worth the effort as this will ultimately differentiate us in the long term.”
Retail consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to price changes and are always searching for value-for-money propositions. Kibsons’ position in the market as a wholesaler, with longstanding supplier relationships developed over more than 35 years, helps it to meet its online customer expectations.
“Retail customers don’t like sudden spikes when there is undersupply, but they do really love price reductions when there is oversupply,” says Prokopiak. “Overall, customers react well to the wholesale price advantage that Kibsons can offer and they see considerable added value relative to shopping at other supermarkets in the UAE.”
At a time when the Saudi Arabia market has slowed due to economic conditions, Qatar and Oman remain largely closed, and Syria and Iraq continue to be engulfed in chaos, the UAE has become the main focus for many traders. Such innovations may be essential as competition intensifies on the market.
Taking place the day before the WOP Dubai exhibition commences, Fruitnet Forum Middle East will gather key players in the region for networking and discussions, including on the growth of the fresh-cut and convenience market in the Gulf, the rise of local farming and the importance of branding.
Other speakers at the Forum include Faisal Juma Al Badaiwi of Dubai Municipality, Mohammed Abbas of Fresh Del Monte, Marc Peyres of Blue Whale, Sky Kurtz of local producer Pure Harvest and David O’Brien of LucaZara, which handles the Pink Lady brand in the region.