Qatar, a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, largely consists of desert and most of its people live in the capital city of Doha. There are seven supermarket giants with multiple huge outlets there. The shelves are full of top products from Europe. Nescafé and Lipton aren’t the only things they sell there – herring from the North Sea, French cheeses, refined Italian meat products and so on. Why are all those European specialities to be found in the middle of that desert? And how do you get them there? In this article Cees Mostert, Managing Director, and Bram Wijbenga, Commercial Director of Eurochoice Leeuwarden, explain why and how they’re flying European products straight to supermarkets in the Middle East.
Top products for a melting pot of locals and Western expats
Qatar is known as the Middle-East for beginners. The safe social climate makes the metropolis a home for many European expats. There are Dutch, German, French and Italian people working for large international companies here. They form the vast majority of the population, at 75%. Despite the fact that expats are largely citizens of the world, a desire for day-to-day products from their home countries remains.
Mostert: “Our customers serve a melting pot of locals and Western expats. They’ve got 10,000 international products from fifteen different countries on the shelves. Store concepts are perfectly attuned to their needs and offer the absolute best, including organic, vegan and diet products.”
From Tony Chocolonely to fresh herring
Wijbenga: “From Tony Chocolonely to fresh herring: local shoppers appreciate Eurochoice’s European products too. As well as a supplier, we’re also a product scout. We really enjoy displaying original top brands from Europe. Purchasers let us know, for example, that they’re looking for top products in a specific category. We then look for the best supplier across Europe. There was recently a demand for baked products, for example. We responded with a wide range from Dr. Oetker – ready for order.”
Intricate and profitable supply lines Customers want the best European specialities and those just aren’t going to be delivered to a country like Qatar in a full container per product. Purchasing in small quantities requires an intricate and consolidated approach.
Mostert: “The focus on consolidation and international brand visibility can be challenging for purchasers. That’s why they work with several consolidation partners from each country. Only Eurochoice can supply most European products. That’s what purchasers appreciate in us.
Top brand suppliers Calvé Peanut Butter, Dr. Oetker baking mix and Milka chocolate; we collaborate with top brand suppliers. To them, we’re one domestic EU delivery in bulk. That gives them a profitable export channel, which would normally be far too pricey. Thanks to our connections and our working method, we can supply at competitive rates.”
“A shipment will often consist of ten to twelve pallets of various European products. Everything gets a label in accordance with local legislation and has the right paperwork. That’s what we’re good at.”
“A shipment will often consist of ten to twelve pallets of various European products. Everything gets a label in accordance with local legislation and the paperwork is in order too. It takes a huge amount of effort to get this to the customer in such an intricate manner. Everyone is watching and there are a hundred ways it could go wrong. We’ve become very adept at this in the past twenty-seven years, owing to our logistical knowledge and advanced ICT.”
Wijbenga: “Depending on the quantity and nature of the goods, the products are transported by sea or by air. Sea freight is a possibility, but flights are crucial. There’s a direct flight to Qatar every day. Sometimes, even two. Our good collaboration with Qatar Airways allows us to change the delivery right up to the last moment. If we have twelve pallets to send instead of six, for example, we’ll get that space.”
Challenges during the corona crisis
Their appointments are often lengthy, so expats usually live in the city with their whole families. They pick up boxes full of local delicacies from their home country a few times a year. But many expats remained in Qatar due to corona.
Mostert: “Expats were fully reliant on local supermarkets. Despite all the challenges of the corona crisis, our service levels remained acceptable. Communication was intensified during the pandemic; we kept our customers up to date on the status of transfers and the product range by e-mail.
Many transport lines fell away during the COVID blockage – just when the number of requests from supermarkets was rising. The transport lines that were still operational became hideously expensive. Three of us went out in search of new lines and were able to process more than we thought owing to the expansion of our warehouse. That allowed us to scale up and seize upon this crisis situation. Most of our customers have a strong working relationship with the authorities. They understand how to clear things through customs, and what happens if something goes a bit differently at some stage.”
“Eurochoice can supply most European products; consolidated. That’s what purchasers from the Middle East appreciate in us.”
Europe’s Gateway Supermarkets in Qatar have organised the logistical challenge of a wide range of international products very well, with a strong mix of local partners. As Europe’s gateway, Eurochoice is an important partner. This consolidated collaboration means an expat in Qatar is never far from home.