x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hotel brand farms social responsibility in Bahraini community

The Life: A Kempinski hotel in Bahrain has arranged to have its produce supplied by a local farmer in a fine example of corporate social responsibility.

Puneet Singh, the general manager of the Kempinski Grand & Ixir Hotel, Bahrain, inspects produce with a local farmer. Phil Weymouth for The National
Puneet Singh, the general manager of the Kempinski Grand & Ixir Hotel, Bahrain, inspects produce with a local farmer. Phil Weymouth for The National

When a Bahraini farmers' market, a government agriculture initiative, launched at the end of last year in Budaiya - a coastal town in the island's north-western region - it got the community talking.

Part of that chatter came from executives at the Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel who were so intrigued they went to check it out.

Impressed by the quality of the produce on offer, the general manager Puneet Singh and executive chef Stefanos Malianos explored the idea of partnering with one of the farms involved.

The hospitality brand places importance on corporate social responsibility programmes as a way of helping smaller local businesses and integrating into the community it operates.

Farming - historically an important part of Bahrain's economy - has suffered a decline since the 1970s. However, the sector is currently experiencing a revival thanks to government support and the increased consumer interest in good food and knowing where it comes from. For the Kempinski brand, a project in the agriculture sector seemed an obvious choice.

"We went there, looked at it and said: 'let's pick a partner that would like to do something with us,'" recalls Mr Singh.

Mr Malianos, who grew up in Germany and is used to seeing food cultivated around him, took the initiative forward, identifying the farmer Sadiq Mirza, whose family had been in agriculture in Bahrain for generations, as a potential partner. He visited the farm to discover whether Mr Mirza was growing the right type of produce for the hotel and to assess the hygiene standards and the types of fertilizers used at the farm. Satisfied Mr Mirza could deliver, the chef took the entire culinary team, along with Mr Singh, to see the farm for themselves.

"We went there and we clicked," Mr Singh says.

The farmer was not required to make any operational changes but he expressed an interest in working closely with Kempinski to better match what he could supply with what the hotel needed. From the outset he supplied tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, broccoli, cauliflowers and herbs. But by keeping in constant contact with the culinary team he has since planted rocket and watermelons, meaning the hotel no longer needs to source these from other suppliers. He is also considering becoming a main supplier of eggs and meat.

"Everybody walks away a winner," Mr Singh explains. "The clients get good products and if they want to see where a cucumber is from, we know. Prices are slightly higher than we are used to but the quality is good so that's fine. It's fresh, it comes in almost every day and we are supporting the local economy."

Tying up with local businesses has been increasingly popular among hotel chains in recent years. Hyatt, Accor and Loewes are among the operators that have policies in place to support local enterprises. Research also supports the notion that buying local benefits business and local economies. A study by the London-based think tank, the New Economics Foundation, found that when consumers bought produce at a local farmers' market, twice the amount of money stayed in the community compared with when they bought produce at a supermarket chain.

For Mr Mirza, the partnership has been enlightening.

The farmer says he was delighted on the first day of delivery to find hotel staff armed with cameras waiting at the loading bay to document the first truckload of fruit and vegetables arriving from the fields.

One Thursday, the executive team held their daily meeting at the farm while breakfasting on fresh eggs and coffee. However, they had to earn their meal by helping to pick the hotel's weekend supply of fruit and vegetables.

Mr Mirza also came into the hotel to supervise the transformation of the Bizarre night lounge into a farmyard - complete with straw-covered floors - ready for the arrival of 17 VIP guests, Kempinski employees from around the world involved in an executive MBA programme. Over two weeks, the guests - all general manager level and above - stayed at the hotel to learn about the innovations the Bahrain-based hotels have introduced to the brand, including the tie-up with Mr Mirza.

The hotel is not limiting its community engagement with the farm, however. In the run-up to Ramadan, it is running a competition to find the best recipe submitted by a member of the local community. The winning dish will be prepared by the hotel chefs during the Holy Month and feature in the nightly Iftar buffet.