x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cheese inspires Abu Dhabi’s Agthia to boost Irish links

The UAE's Agthia Group is looking to explore options to expand its product range, with cheese being an inspiration. The food producer hosted an Irish trade delegation this week.

A consumer market research showed that the Middle East market has an appetite for good quality cheese. Pawan Singh / The National
A consumer market research showed that the Middle East market has an appetite for good quality cheese. Pawan Singh / The National

A growing appetite for cheese in the UAE and Saudi Arabia has led Agthia Group to explore options to expand its product range.

The Abu Dhabi food producer hosted an Irish trade delegation this week that aimed to build links and increase cooperation between the two countries.

The delegation, led by the country’s minister of agriculture and food, Simon Coveney, included executives from the Irish Dairy Board and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association.

“One of the things that we looked at is in importation and distribution of high quality value adding food ingredients from Ireland into the UAE and capitalising on the very robust distribution system of Agthia to bring these products to life in the UAE,” said Ilias Assimakopoulos, the company’s chief executive.

Agthia has conducted extensive consumer market research in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East that revealed an appetite for good quality cheese, he added.

“We see that this segment is growing and eventually there might be a point of difference here by bringing better options, more choice and high quality options,” said Mr Assimakopoulos.

Talks also centred on the transfer of technology and know-how in the dairy and animal feed industry in addition to training and development.

“This can be also part of our Emiratisation programme where select Emiratis can be exposed to this developmental and educational skill enhancing opportunities who can come back to the UAE environment with a much wider perspective and understanding of this industry,” he said.

“At the same time there are a lot of Irish companies that want to understand the Middle East better and they want to expand in the Middle East faster and we made ourselves available to partner with the businesses in the private sector if and when they decide to pursue a presence here.”

But Agthia is not only interested in importing its products. It sees potential to export some of the food produced here to Ireland.

“By the middle of next year we will be commissioning a very modern latest technology frozen baked products factory on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi,” said Mr Assimakopoulos.

“This factory has the capacity to meet not only domestic demand but also export. We will see if we can do it both ways.”

Kerry Group, the Irish food company that operates globally, recently opened a regional development centre in Dubai to support sales growth across the Middle East.

gduncan@thenational.ae