UAE’s Epik Foods nears its Saudi growth phase

UAE’s Epik Foods nears its Saudi growth phase
Epik Foods’ goal is to exceed its customer expectations through culinary experiences, sustainable practices, and community engagement. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 June 2024

UAE’s Epik Foods nears its Saudi growth phase

UAE’s Epik Foods nears its Saudi growth phase
  • UAE firm has an ambitious vision for its influence in the Saudi market

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s food and beverage sector is attracting interest from new businesses at home and abroad, and startup Epik Foods is one of those eying significant expansion in the burgeoning market.

Founded in 2017, the company now operates over 100 brands and 50 locations across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. 

The UAE-based firm has emerged as a dynamic and multifaceted F&B group, operating virtual brands, dine-in restaurant concepts, meal plan services, and catering services. 

In an interview with Arab News, Epik Foods CEO and co-founder Khaled Fadly shared the company’s strategy for acquiring a 20 percent share of the Kingdom’s market.

A strategic Kingdom 

Epik Foods has outlined clear objectives for its operations in Saudi Arabia, with Fadly saying the company’s immediate goal is to lay the groundwork for sustained growth and success in the Kingdom.

“Through strategic initiatives, strong partnerships, and a relentless focus on quality and innovation, we aim to carve out a significant presence and become a household name synonymous with exceptional dining experiences,” he said. 

“We are committed to establishing a solid foundation that will support our long-term objectives and ensure our continued success in the region,” he added. 

Looking ahead, Epik Foods has an ambitious vision for its influence in the Saudi market.   

“We aspire to influence the sector by continually innovating, adapting, and setting industry standards,” Fadly said. 

The company’s goal is to exceed its customer expectations through culinary experiences, sustainable practices, and community engagement initiatives.  

“Over the next five years, we aim to capture at least 20 percent of the healthy fast-casual dining market share in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam, while also expanding our virtual brand presence to cater to the growing online delivery segment. Through these efforts, we envision reshaping the landscape of the Saudi F&B market,” he said. 

Fadly elaborated on the company’s expansion strategy, stating that the expansion strategy in Saudi Arabia is multifaceted, focusing on establishing a strong presence, both physical and virtual.  

“Over the next two years, we plan to open 20 dine-in restaurants in key locations such as Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran for our flagship brands,” he stated.  

“Additionally, we’re launching multiple virtual brands covering diverse cuisines, including Arabic, Indian, Asian, burgers, fried chicken, and desserts which will be available exclusively for delivery through platforms like Jayez and HungerStation,” he added. 

Furthermore, Epik Foods is establishing partnerships with prominent gym institutions to operate Healthy & Co. kiosks within their facilities.  

These kiosks will provide convenient and nutritious post-workout meals, catering to health-conscious individuals and expanding the company’s reach into new customer segments, Fadly explained. 

Fadly confirmed that his company is “actively seeking opportunities” to collaborate with Saudi governmental bodies, adding: “We aim to work closely with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to ensure compliance with local regulations and standards. Additionally, we are eager to participate in initiatives like the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Program, which aims to promote healthier lifestyles and dining options.” 

Through strategic initiatives, strong partnerships, and a relentless focus on quality and innovation, we aim to carve out a significant presence and become a household name synonymous with exceptional dining experiences.

Khaled Fadly, Epik Foods CEO and co-founder

Epik Foods has set ambitious growth objectives for the next year, aiming to open five new dine-in restaurants, achieve a 30 percent increase in online delivery sales, and secure partnerships with at least three major gym chains for its Healthy & Co. and Prep & Co. brands.  

“In the Saudi market, we aim to achieve significant milestones including a projected 60 percent increase in revenue, doubling our dine-in restaurant footprint, and establishing ourselves as a recognized leader in healthy dining options,” stated Fadly. 

Fadly also shared news about new products tailored for the Saudi market. “We’re excited to launch our Daily Meal Kits featuring pre-packaged meals inspired by both traditional Saudi cuisine and international favorites,” he said.  

“The Saudi market plays a pivotal role in Epik Foods’ expansion strategy for several reasons. With its large and growing population, strong economy, and increasing demand for diverse culinary experiences, Saudi Arabia presents a significant opportunity for growth,” Fadly stated. 

“By establishing a strong foothold in Saudi Arabia, we can leverage our success to further penetrate neighboring markets and enhance our international brand recognition and reputation. Thus, the Saudi market serves as a cornerstone in our strategic roadmap for sustainable expansion and long-term success,” he added.

“We prioritize maintaining open communication channels with relevant authorities, regularly updating our policies and procedures to align with new regulations, and investing in employee training and development to ensure awareness and compliance at all levels of our organization,” Fadly explained.  

Additionally, the company leverages technology to streamline regulatory processes and minimize compliance risks.  

“We actively participate in industry associations and forums to stay informed and contribute to shaping future regulations, demonstrating our commitment to responsible business practices and regulatory compliance in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Business fundamentals  

“Throughout our journey within the Saudi Arabian market so far, we’ve encountered various challenges that demanded our attention and strategic maneuvering,” stated Fadly.  

These challenges include navigating the intricate regulatory framework, tailoring offerings to resonate with the distinct Saudi culinary palate, efficiently tackling logistical complexities in supply chain and workforce management, and carving a distinctive identity amidst a bustling landscape of local and global competitors.  

“To tackle these obstacles, we’ve embraced a holistic approach rooted in cultural insights, agile adaptability, and a commitment to delivering quality and innovation,” he added. 

“At Epik Foods, our business model is a fusion of various services tailored to meet the evolving needs of today’s consumers,” Fadly explained.  

The company operates a diverse portfolio comprising dine-in restaurants, innovative virtual brands, corporate catering services, personalized meal plans, and convenient meal kits.  

“While each avenue contributes to our revenue, the primary sources stem from our dynamic virtual brands and bustling dine-in restaurants,” he added. 

“We are proud to share that our company has achieved profitability at the country level,” Fadly revealed.  

“We are excited about this achievement and remain focused on further growth and success in the future,” he added. 

An Epik inception 

“The motivation behind founding our company stemmed from a desire to bring something new and innovative to the F&B market in Dubai,” Fadly recalled.  

In 2017, Fadly and his current co-founder Ranya Basyuni, both transitioning from corporate roles, identified a significant gap in the market, the absence of poke restaurants.  

This realization led to the opening of their first poke restaurant, marking the beginning of their journey in the F&B sector. 

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 presented unprecedented challenges, compelling Epik Foods to adapt its business model.  

“This period of adversity prompted us to pivot towards virtual brands, a strategy that not only allowed us to sustain our operations but also to explore new culinary avenues,” Fadly explained. 

The formation of Epik Foods was a strategic move to consolidate their ventures, merging the operations of Happy Platters Kitchen and Sweetheart Kitchen with KR&CO.  

“As we continue to evolve, we are looking forward to announcing the launch of Epik Catering, our catering service, to further expand our culinary footprint and cater to the diverse needs of our clientele,” he added. 

“At Epik Foods, we measure success through a multifaceted approach, relying on key performance indicators such as customer satisfaction scores, revenue growth, and the expansion of market share,” Fadly noted.  

The company is also committed to customer retention and operational excellence, which relies on prioritizing adaptability to local nuances and swiftly responding to evolving consumer preferences.  

“Our top metrics include an analysis of customer feedback and local market penetration,” he added. 

“We have raised a significant amount of funding, which we are strategically utilizing to expand our presence in Saudi Arabia,” Fadly shared.  

Specifically, these resources are being channeled towards opening more than 20 physical dine-in restaurants within the next two years.  

“This investment underscores our commitment to growth and delivering exceptional dining experiences to our valued customers,” he added. 

“Yes, we are actively exploring opportunities to secure additional funding to support our expansion plans,” Fadly confirmed.  

The focus is on enhancing infrastructure, scaling up operations, and entering new markets within Saudi Arabia.  

“Securing additional funds will enable us to accelerate our growth trajectory and better serve our customers in the region,” he said.  

He further shared the company’s current objectives that extend beyond financial metrics. 

“With Saudi Arabia’s vast population and diverse culture, we anticipate becoming integral to their lives and attracting even more customers,” he said. 

“The expansion potential in Saudi Arabia is immense, surpassing that of the UAE, and our success will serve as a regional springboard, enabling us to leverage synergies across neighboring countries,” Fadly elaborated.

Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 

Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 
Updated 23 July 2024

Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 

Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia completed its riyal-denominated sukuk issuance for July at SR3.21 billion ($855.7 million), according to the National Debt Management Center.  

The level once again remained above SR3 billion, following a June issuance level of SR4.4 billion, SR3.23 billion in May, SR7.39 billion in April, and SR4.4 billion in March. 

NDMC revealed that the Shariah-compliant debt product in July was divided into five tranches. 

The first tranche is valued at SR612 million and is set to mature in 2029, while the second amounted to SR159 million maturing in 2031. 

The third tranche’s value stood at SR961 million, maturing in 2034, and the fourth was a SR1.25 million tranche with a maturity date in 2036. 

The fifth tranche had a size of SR226 million maturing 2039. 

This is part of the Kingdom’s Sukuk Issuance Program, which started in 2017, with the aim of establishing an unlimited riyal-denominated sukuk initiative under the NDMC. 

The announcement from NDMC came as Kuwait’s financial center Markaz published its own figures for bond and sukuk issuance across the Gulf Cooperation Council region for the first half of 2024.

The analysis showed that Saudi Arabia was the leading player in the six months to the end of June, raising $37 billion through 44 issuances.

A report released by S&P Global in April said that sukuk issuance globally is expected to hover between the $160 billion to $170 billion mark in 2024, holding steady compared to the $168.4 billion seen in 2023 and $179.4 billion in 2022. 

According to the US-based firm, the issuance of this Shariah-compliant debt product began on a “strong footing” in 2024, with Saudi Arabia becoming a key contributor to the performance. 

The credit rating agency also noted that the sukuk market will continue to grow in the near term driven by financing needs in core Islamic finance countries, along with the ongoing economic transformation programs which are currently underway in nations like Saudi Arabia. 

It added: “The drop in issuance volumes in 2023, which mainly resulted from tighter liquidity conditions in Saudi Arabia’s banking system and Indonesia’s lower fiscal deficit, was somewhat compensated by an increase in foreign currency-denominated sukuk issuance.” 

In April, another report released by Fitch Ratings also echoed similar views and noted that global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the coming months of this year. 

Fitch noted that economic diversification efforts and the rapid development of the debt capital market in the Gulf Cooperation Council region will propel the growth of the sukuk market in the coming months. 

Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order

Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order
Updated 23 July 2024

Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order

Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order

FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom: Government-owned airline flydubai is in early talks with planemakers Boeing and Airbus to place its largest-ever airplane order, CEO Chief Executive Ghaith Al-Ghaith said on Tuesday.
“The last order we did was 175 and this (next one) is going to be the biggest, I’m sure,” Al-Ghaith told Reuters in an interview at the Farnborough Air Show. Flydubai announced the purchase of 175 Boeing 737 MAX airplanes in 2017. 

Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105

Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105
Updated 23 July 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105

Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Tuesday, losing 69.22 points, or 0.57 percent, to close at 12,105.54.        

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.8 billion ($1.8 billion) as 55 of the listed stocks advanced, while 173 retreated.    

The MSCI Tadawul Index also dropped 10.49 points, or 0.69 percent, to close at 1,512.94.    

The Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu gained 123.53 points, or 0.47 percent, to close at 26,164. This comes as 33 of the listed stocks advanced, while 32 retreated.  

Sumou Real Estate Co. was TASI’s best-performing stock as the company’s share price surged 9.98 percent to SR47.95.        

Other top performers included Kingdom Holding Co. as well as Perfect Presentation for Commercial Services Co., whose share prices soared by 9.93 percent and 4.04 percent, to stand at SR7.86 and SR15.96 respectively.        

Other top gainers included Nayifat Finance Co. and Gulf Union Alahlia Cooperative Insurance Co.      

Miahona Co. was the worst performer, wth its share price dropping by 6.82 percent to SR39.60.    

Nama Chemicals Co. and Jadwa REIT Saudi Fund saw their share prices drop by 3.39 percent and 3.22 percent to SR27.10 and SR12.02, respectively.

Other poor performers included Rasan Information Technology Co. and National Medical Care Co.

On the announcements front, First Mills Co. reported a net profit of SR45.5 million in the second quarter of the year, representing a rise of 30.3 percent compared to the same period in 2023.

Revenue also saw an annual increase of 13 percent in the second quarter of this year to reach SR242.3 million.

The company announced that it will distribute cash dividends of SR1.55 per share to shareholders for the first half of 2024.

The total dividend distribution amounts to SR86.03 million, to be allocated across 55 million shares.    

Saudi telecom Etihad Etisalat Co., also known as Mobily, reported a 33 percent increase in profits, reaching SR661 million in the second quarter of 2024, compared to SR497 million in the same period last year.  

The company attributed the rise in net profit to higher operating profits and a 26.2 percent reduction in financing expenses, which decreased to SR130 million due to a reduced debt portfolio.    

Lower zakat and income tax expenses also contributed to the improved financial performance, it added.  

Saudi Telecom Co. also reported a 9 percent increase in profits, reaching SR3.3 billion in the second quarter, compared to SR3.0 billion in the same period last year.  

The company attributed the rise in net profit to a revenue increase of SR828 million, which was partially offset by a SR272 million rise in the cost of revenues, resulting in a gross profit increase of SR556 million.    

Operating expenses decreased by SR48 million, and zakat and income tax expenses fell by SR23 million, it added.

Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 

Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 
Updated 23 July 2024

Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 

Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 

RIYADH: The unavailability of certain key data has led Fitch Ratings to withdraw from categorizing Lebanon, as the agency no longer has sufficient information to maintain its assessment of the nation. 

The global credit rating agency has affirmed Lebanon’s long-term foreign and local-currency issuer default ratings as restricted and has subsequently withdrawn the nation’s IDR and country ceiling. 

Restricted default indicates a country has neglected specific financial obligations while continuing to meet others. 

This means that the agency has confirmed Lebanon’s long-term debt ratings as restricted and ceased providing assessments and analysis for the country due to insufficient data. 

Lebanon has been in default on its foreign-currency obligations since March 2020, significantly influencing its rating assessment. 

The government’s failure to repay the Eurobond, which was due on March 9, 2020, led to its categorization as restricted default.

“The government has stopped servicing its outstanding stock of Eurobonds pending a debt restructuring,” the agency said.  

The local-currency IDRs remain in restricted default due to the government’s failure to resume interest payments on Banque du Liban’s holdings of local-currency securities despite continuing to serve local-currency debt to private creditors. 

Fitch also stated that the authorities have not initiated a local-currency debt restructuring. 

The agency’s decision to withdraw Lebanon’s ratings was driven by the issuer’s cessation of publishing national accounts and fiscal data, which are now only available up to 2021. 

This lack of up-to-date financial information has made it unfeasible for Fitch to maintain accurate ratings. 

The agency added that Lebanon’s environmental, social, and governance relevance score for political stability and rights and for the rule of law, institutional and regulatory quality, and control of corruption stands at five. 

This reflects the high impact of the World Bank Governance Indicators in Fitch’s Sovereign Rating Model. 

“Lebanon has a low WBGI ranking at 14.8, reflecting the absence of a recent track record of peaceful political transitions, relatively weak rights for participation in the political process, weak institutional capacity, uneven application of the rule of law and a high level of corruption,” the agency added. 

Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets

Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets
Updated 23 July 2024

Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets

Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets
  • The order was worth $8.8 billion at catalogue prices
  • Qatar Airways held out the prospect of a ‘sizeable’ order for wide-body jets around the turn of the year

FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom: Qatar Airways on Tuesday ordered 20 Boeing 777X long-haul aircraft worth $8.8 billion at list prices, boosting the US aviation giant at Britain’s Farnborough International Airshow.
“Qatar Airways is proud to announce an expansion to the existing Boeing 777X aircraft order with an additional 20, totalling 94 Boeing 777X aircraft,” said the airline’s chief executive Badr Mohammed Al-Meer.
“We... are an industry leader and operate one of the youngest fleets, offering unparalleled innovation and quality. Keeping an eye on the future, we continue to ensure that all Qatar Airways passengers are only met with the best products and services available in the industry.”
The order was worth $8.8 billion at catalogue prices although major aviation customers typically secure big discounts from aircraft manufacturers.
Boeing’s 777X began test flights earlier this month in preparation for certification to enter service. That is expected in 2025, which is five years behind schedule.

The blockbuster news came on the second day of the biennial Farnborough Airshow, which traditionally features a dogfight between Airbus and Boeing for multi-billion-dollar orders.
More plane orders flowed in at the Airshow on Tuesday despite supply chain pressures on jetmakers and the complaints from airlines about delivery delays.
Airbus announced deals with Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, while Boeing bagged an order from Macquarie Airfinance. 
Delegates have been expecting limited deal-making at this year’s showcase aviation industry event, with Airbus and Boeing sold out for several years of production and struggling to ramp up output amid supply chain problems.
Delays in plane deliveries have limited some airlines’ ability to take advantage of a post-pandemic travel boom which some say is starting to fade.
“I think all of us on the airline side are slightly surprised by the long impact of COVID on the supply chain,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss told Reuters, as his airline ordered seven Airbus A330-900s in a deal worth $807 million, according to estimated delivery prices from Cirium Ascend.
“We’re urging our ... engine suppliers, the manufacturers, to do everything they can to get back on track.”
Boeing in particular had to scale back production as it came under legal and regulatory scrutiny after a panel blew off mid-air on a near-new 737 MAX 9 in January.

Japan Airlines finalized an order for 20 Airbus A350-900 and 11 A321neo jets to be delivered from 2028, worth just over $3 billion in total, according to Cirium Ascend estimates.
The airline had said in March it would buy 21 wide-body A350s and 11 A321neo narrow-body jets, but it is only ordering 20 A350s now as it will receive one as a replacement for a jet destroyed in January in a collision with a Coast Guard aircraft.
Macquarie Airfinance, meanwhile, ordered 20 Boeing 737 MAX-8 planes to be delivered in 2029-2030, worth just over $1 billion, according Cirium Ascend estimates.

Also at the show, Al-Meer said Qatar Airways would decide on a “sizeable” new order of wide-body jets around the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2025.
He added the company had also decided to extend the service life of its Airbus A380 jets and would carry out upgrades including new wifi.
Airlines are increasingly looking to run existing planes for longer as jetmakers struggle to deliver on their order backlogs.
Consultancy Bain said in a report last week that airlines faced their longest-ever waits for engine maintenance amid the shortfall in new aircraft, adding to their costs.
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said at the air show that his airline was being “very vigilant” on new plane deliveries, but that at the moment “our planes are broadly coming in the timelines that we need them to come.”
(With AFP and Reuters)