Mohammed Abbas Del Monte

Being ready for change is crucial, according to Mohammed Abbas, Fresh Del Monte’s vice-president for the Middle East and North Africa region. “We’re going further in terms of diversification, opening up in more countries,” he says. “At the moment, we’re present in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey, but we have plans for multiple openings elsewhere.”

Discover new opportunities in the Middle East fresh produce business at Fruitnet Forum Middle East 2017

Del Monte is now establishing fresh-cut facilities in both Kuwait and Qatar, to be opened within the year. “We also want to open a fresh-cut facility in Jordan,” says Abbas. “Egypt is another target, since it is a huge market. We’re in the process of opening our office there, with a packhouse for imports and exports. We’re equally expanding in Saudi Arabia, opening a facility in the north and south, so we’re less focused on just Riyadh and Jeddah.”

Perhaps the most significant development at the company is the planned opening of a trading office in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. “This office will be primarily for the European market, as well as for North Africa,” says Abbas. “This is the best way into the North African market. We will also be sending North African produce to Europe, from countries including Tunisia and Morocco.”

Opportunities have arisen in Tunisia since neighbouring Libya descended into disorder. “Most Tunisian produce used to go to Libya,” says Abbas. “A lot of players were established in Tunisia, but most left when the chaos in Libya began and the market disappeared. We regard Tunisia as an untapped territory, where we feel we can add value for the growers. We have been surprised by the high quality of the agronomists in the country. Tunisia should be sending to Europe, especially products like early grapes and winter vegetables.”

In addition to building up fresh-cut facilities and packhouses for various growers’ produce, Del Monte is also investing in both the production and the retail side of the business. “We are focusing more on agriculture,” states Abbas. “We have a huge 200ha tomato production facility in Jordan and a 200ha farm in Saudi Arabia for salads and potatoes.”

But the company also boasts a growing number of retail stores. “We have ten outlets in Saudi Arabia selling exclusively Del Monte products, including juices, sandwiches, salads and fresh-cut fruit, plus five under construction in the UAE, he notes. “By the end of 2017, we will have 30 stores. By 2020, we plan to have 100, not just in the Middle East, but also in Europe.”

It is through such diversification that Del Monte is prepared for future opportunities. “We’re not reliant on one product or one business category,” explains Abbas, “we’re involved in fresh produce, fresh-cut, freshly squeezed juices, catering and retail.”