Rebound in eating out will be slow amid ongoing crisis, says top UAE FMCG exec

IFFCO senior exec says ‘out of home’ food sector has seen decline of about 40% since the start of coronavirus pandemic

Hopes of an early rebound for the ‘out-of-home’ food sector in the Gulf region to the pre-pandemic sales levels have been dashed with the second wave of the virus infection, according to a top FMCG executive.

The segment, which mainly caters to restaurants, pubs and airlines, among others, has suffered a decline of about 40 percent over the last nine months, although this represents an improvement from the 80-90 percent losses suffered in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic still continues – second wave going on, so it is early for out-of-home consumption to come to pre-pandemic levels,” Arzu Alibaz, global CEO of out of home business for IFFCO, told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview.

UAE-based IFFCO, which manufactures and markets mass market food products, runs 80 operations in 33 countries and employs more than 12,000 people.

“Out of home consumption has dramatically fallen by 80 percent in the start of the pandemic, where nearly all public spaces were closed due to extreme pandemic measures until June. Countries have started to gradually open public spaces after the first shock, however, out of home consumption has never been restored to pre-pandemic levels yet,” the CEO added.

Arzu Alibaz, global CEO for IFFCO

Alibaz, however, pointed out that the performance of the FMCG sector, on an overall basis, was good in the last 9-month period due to increased consumer demand in retail and in-home consumption.

“For ‘in-home’ consumption, FMCG really performed well, but this was clearly coming at the expense of ‘out-of-home’ consumption.”

Alibaz said contrary to the industry trend, IFFCO has performed well during the pandemic.

“Regarding IFFCO’s out-of-home business unit, I can say that when the market declined up to by 80 percent, the company has only experienced a single digit decline and recovered sales lost after August.”

She also revealed that IFFCO has significantly increased its market share in the ‘out-of-home’ business segment during the pandemic.

“We have launched special SKUs (stock keeping units) for changing out- of-home requirements like delivery channel and cloud kitchens,” she revealed, adding that the company’s biggest strength was to give solutions to its customers with new product ranges for changing consumer behaviours.

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