The American putting the flavor back in the tomato in the UAE and sharing it with Saudi Arabia

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Sky Kurtz, CEO at Pure Harvest told Arab News the company hoped to expand into Saudi Arabia in 2020. (Pure Harvest)
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The tomatoes are grown all year in climate controlled greenhouses hear Abu Dhabi. (Pure Harvest)
Updated 29 November 2019

The American putting the flavor back in the tomato in the UAE and sharing it with Saudi Arabia

  • The startup is on schedule to expand operations into Saudi Arabia by H2 2020
  • It is hoped that with technology advances that the farms will generate solar energy too

DUBAI: For the last few decades retailers have treated flavor as a separate commodity to the food they were selling – for one price you get the item, pay more and you get the taste those in their 40s and older used to experience throughout their childhoods.

But a UAE-based multimillion-dollar startup is looking to change that and already has its eyes on Saudi Arabia with plans to start operations in the second half of 2020.

“We are trying to bring back a nostalgic connection to food that is local, that supports your local economy - but also is flavorful, is healthy, and is safe,” Pure Harvest CEO, Sky Kurtz, told Arab News.

“Our slogan at the company is ‘It tastes like it should’.”

Sky Kurtz says flavor is key with his produce. (Pure Harvest)

And because the produce is grown locally its production will contribute significantly to the local economy.

The Gulf region is notorious for its arid landscape - the UAE alone imports up to 90 percent of its food – Saudi Arabia has a similar issue with import reliance – and the food that is grown in the country usually lacks flavor, Kurtz said.

But he said he believed this same landscape was actually “one of the best places to farm in the world,” when the right technology was used.

“We have an abundance of light, an abundance of labor, cheap land, zero percent corporate taxes.”

Using climate-controlled greenhouses, that offer optimal conditions for growing fruit and vegetables year-round, Pure Harvest is producing approximately two tons of tomatoes every day that sell at the supermarkets for about $3.40 for 300g.

Expansion plans

The firm’s customer base includes hotels, restaurants, caterers and a number of supermarkets including Carrefour, Spinneys and Waitrose.

Pure Harvest was set up late in 2016, and initially raised $5.8 million in 2017 in what has been described as the Mena region’s “largest-ever seed financing,” led by Shorooq Partners and the Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund.

The operational side of the company started life in the desert outside Abu Dhabi in October 2018.

“The initial farm we built is really a commercial scale proof of concept. What we are going to build will be over 12 hectares – we’re going to build a much larger footprint,” Kurtz added.

They experimented with different types and varieties of tomatoes – it was a test run, Kurtz said, to convince future investors of the company’s potential.

Tonnes of tomatoes are being produced in the current trial operation near Abu Dhabi. (Pure Harvest)

Kurtz said Pure Harvest was not a conventional farm, but instead a food manufacturer and already the company is looking to add lettuces and strawberries to its product line.

“We believe that if we can bring down the cost and improve the affordability and availability of these crops, we can massively grow those markets,” Kurtz explained, adding: “We believe that we can deliver that here at a more affordable price than other companies that import.”

He said the long-term aim of the business was to “drive the cost out of food production and share that with the customers.”

Rather than selling at a premium, Kurtz explained, the plan was to grow the market share across the Gulf region, but bring down the cost and increase consumption.

And the business plan seems to benefit the local economy, because with every unit of produce sold means more money spent locally, which Kurtz said lead to a “significant multiplier for the region.”

"Consumption benefit" 

What’s more Pure Harvest has received a significant level of funding from international funders.

“There’s a consumption benefit… we attract foreign direct investment, over half of our capital is from abroad and the expansion is likely to be even more than that,” he explained.

The extra funds – he said – would help secure land rentals from the governments, pay for the various resources and also create some employment opportunities.

Kurtz says the firm is also carbon negative, buying the gas generated by oil refineries to aid with the growing of its crops.

“We consume carbon. We actually purchase food grade CO2 and we feed it to the greenhouse…  We displace the airplane that would have otherwise brought the food that is burning jet fuel to get here.

“We use less than 32 liters of water per kilogram of production. A typical farm in the UAE uses over 260 liters.”

It is not just crops that Pure Farms are going to produce, Kurtz said they were looking at the potential for becoming a solar power farm.

With solar energy technology advances it is likely there will be duel-function glass that will provide sunlight for the plants, but also capture the solar power that will not only power their operations, but also be sold onto the national grid.

The ultimate aim, Kurtz added, was to expand across the Gulf region, producing local food for local communities – but with the potential to export the excess. 

First Abu Dhabi Bank and Egypt Post launch services drive

Updated 30 September 2020

First Abu Dhabi Bank and Egypt Post launch services drive

  • The First Abu Dhabi Bank is the largest bank in the United Arab Emirates

CAIRO: First Abu Dhabi Bank in Egypt has signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt Post to boost financial inclusion in society and improve customer services.

The strategy is in line with the country’s plan to improve and develop communication channels with citizens and improve access to basic services.

The agreement was signed by Mohamed Abbas Fayed, CEO of First Abu Dhabi Bank, and Sherif Farouk, Chairman of the National Postal Authority, Egypt Post.

A statement issued by First Abu Dhabi Bank said the memorandum of understanding will improve access to post offices, through which foreign remittances, salaries and pensions can be received and disbursed by Egyptians at home and abroad.

The partnership will also help the bank provide notification and collection services to customers, payments through its mobile smart wallet, services for collecting and paying customer dues, exchange and collection services for small and medium enterprises, credit services and contractual postal services.

The statement added that the agreement will build a culture of financial inclusion and awareness, while also reducing the cost of banking operations.

Farouk said that the memorandum will allow the authority to handle remittances of overseas Egyptians through its 4,000 Egypt Post branches across the country.

Fayed said the partnership is part of the bank’s strategy to boost access to customer services, whether individuals or companies.

He added that money transfers from outside Egypt are one of the most important sources of foreign currency for the country. Easing money transfers for Egyptians working abroad with First Abu Dhabi Bank via the National Postal Authority will increase the amount of remittance exchange outlets and transfers.

The First Abu Dhabi Bank is the largest bank in the United Arab Emirates and one of the biggest financial institutions in the world. Its network of branches are in 19 countries around the world, including Egypt.