The Business Year

Saleh Abdullah Lootah

UAE, DUBAI - Energy & Mining

Right To Choose

Managing Director, Al Islami Foods


Saleh Lootah boasts comprehensive experience across the board in various capacities within diverse companies. He currently holds the positions of Managing Director of Al Islami Foods, Founding Director of Souq Extra, Chairman of Al Farooj Restaurant, Board Member of Aman Insurance, and Chairman of Food & Beverage Manufacturing Group of Dubai Chamber. He received his Bachelor of Commerce degree with a focus on Marketing from California State University, Los Angeles and went on to complete his MBA at Harvard Business School.

TBY talks to Saleh Abdullah Lootah, Managing Director of Al Islami Foods, on recent performance, competition, and the meaning of halal on a global scale.

How has Al Islami performed over the last year?

It is the second year since Dubai was named the capital of the Islamic economy. This is a hot topic everywhere we go and we see it getting even hotter day by day. I am happy to announce our business is growing and our company was used as a case study in January 2015 at Harvard as we presented our case for the agri-business school there. It is amazing to see how well the halal industry was received. More than 200 senior figures attended our agri-business course and they were highly engaged in the topic and what we believe in, which is Al Islami’s mission to become a leading brand in halal food.

How would you describe your growth strategy?

We are taking some major steps. There are a lot of discussions going on with different parties and many of them want to be part of what we are doing, including global companies, international companies, and different investment firms. We are looking to develop in phases, first in the UAE, then the GCC, the wider Middle East, and then globally. These are the steps that we are taking right now, gradually.

How is customer segmentation defined for Al Islami Foods?

In the UAE and other GCC countries, Al Islami is considered one of the premium brands in the market. Our pricing is a bit more expensive than the other brands as a result of the quality that we are trying to maintain, including everything from packaging to merchandising to distribution and R&D. We try to create a gap between us and our competitors. We are strong compared to our competitors in the halal segment. There are people who compete with us in the chicken segment, but for halal products we are ahead. There will always be consumer segmentation to a certain extent, as a minority want to go the extra mile to check that something is indeed halal, instead of simply believing the government.

Where do you see the opportunity going forward?

We are looking to educate our consumers as to why we are better. We aim to really convert the masses. We are not just selling food, we are selling the philosophy that our founder embedded into our products. We want to show the bright side of Islam, as the media often shows the negative side. If you ask this number of Muslims what they see in the media about their religion, it is not positive. We are trying to give them an alternative, and it is about future, brightness, and accepting others.

How would you describe your vision and the evolution of what halal foods internationally?

I believe in consumer rights. At the end of the day, the consumers have rights. And they have to be educated to be able to use their rights. Halal standardizations are different in each part of the world. Turkey says it has real halal, as does Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There is no way we can get a unified standard to make everybody happy. We need to give the consumer the right education for them to decide what to eat. Islam will accept anyone as long as the person believes in it. In Islam, there are people who have to do it by the book, and then there are the people that are more neutral a they just believe. These are individual differences that we cannot standardize. We have variation, which is acceptable, like any religion. We have to give the consumers their right to decide what they want. At the same time, it has to be written on the packaging. Anyone can write “halal,” but we explain what our process was. There are many kinds of processes, and the consumer should be able to choose. If they want to eat machine-slaughtered chickens, then that is ok, and if they want to eat hand-slaughtered chickens then that is ok too. They should have the right to know and choose on their own. Most companies do not want to say how it was produced, so they just write “halal.” I think the day will come when the consumers demand the right to know.



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