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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

SME profile: Healthy returns for Dubai fresh fruit delivery service

April was a good month for Dubai-based Fruitful Day.

The company, which offers a fresh fruit delivery service, has only been trading since August and has been steadily building its customer base.

However, managing partner Marie-Christine Luijckx said that it registered a spike in inquiries following the endorsement of a National Charter for Happiness and Positivity by the UAE Cabinet on March 20. This followed on from the country’s earlier appointment of a Minister of State for Happiness.

“One of the things that I keep hearing over and over again is that people saying because [the government] appointed a minister of happiness, they are starting to look at workplace wellness,” she said.

“As a part of that, they are looking to reduce stress in the workplace and get people to do more activity, but also to address nutrition and a healthy diet. Our company has been a really good fit for that.”

Fruitful Day is run by Ms Luijckx and three business partners – Lyla Rawi, Lindsey Fournie and Yael Mejia – from a warehouse in Dubai Investments Park.

Ms Luijckx, who has been in Dubai for almost a decade, had previously worked for Deutsche Bank and Barclays – jobs that sometimes involved long hours and hectic schedules.

“That was part of the inspiration for starting this company because you’re stuck in the office a lot and you don’t have any healthy snacks. You probably have a sweets machine, but nothing really healthy around to snack on.”

After getting pregnant with her first daughter, Ms Luijckx took a year out and began to think about other opportunities. From her own experience, a business delivering fruit to businesses seemed like it was filling a niche.

“That’s when I started putting the concept together with my business partners,” she says.

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Ms Rawi and Ms Fournie came on board as partners and they used Ms Meija’s experience in the food industry to help source ingredients. Ms Meija is the founder of the Baker & Spice artisan grocery and restaurant business, which started in London before opening in Dubai in 2009. She had spent years sourcing ingredients for her own business, and brought that knowledge to Fruitful Day, where she holds the title of Chief Fruit Officer.

The partners believed there were a number of factors that would make this business appealing to Dubai.

“Firstly, Dubai is a place that likes convenience, and this is certainly a convenience – having a box of fruit delivered to your doorstep,” says Ms Luijckx. “I think Dubai is a place that increasingly is looking towards health and wellness, and this certainly fits in with that. And also, unfortunately, there is a prevalence of things like diabetes and heart disease in the UAE and therefore it’s important that we encourage healthy eating.”

Fruitful Day was formed in January 2015, but took until August 2015 to make its first delivery. Ms Luijckx explains there was a lot of work done during the intervening period. For instance, it had to find suitably-sized premises for its operations. “We didn’t need a massive space and there aren’t a lot of small warehouses in Dubai. It took us a while to fit out the space as well. We have a kitchen that has been purpose-built for slicing fruit and for washing fruit. We wanted to have our own refrigerated vans, because fruit’s a lot better when it’s served in a chilled box. It’s more delicious that way.”

It also spent a lot of time working out operations before launch. The business needed to be scalable, and being from a corporate background Ms Luijckx said that she knew the value of customer relationship management (CRM) systems. It bought and implemented one of these prior to launch, allowing customers to order directly from its website.

Moreover, the partners were keen to make sure the business did things in the right way.

The fruit is washed, but the only agent used in the cleaning process is bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, as they were keen to avoid using harsher chemical cleaners.

Fruit is typically delivered in a box, with the company’s most popular Discovery Box containing 25 servings of fruit. Much of this is delivered whole, but items that are difficult to cut or peel in an office – such as mangoes, pomelo or coconut – comes prepared in sections, which are placed in airtight bags. The bags used are biodegradable, provided by Lamis Harib, the founder of UAE-based Bio-D.

The delivery boxes are both reusable and recyclable.

The company charges Dh125 (inclusive of delivery) for its Discovery Box, and Dh95 for a Staples Box, which does not contain as many exotic fruits. Users need to subscribe, but delivery frequency can be varied from daily to bi-weekly shipments. Larger boxes of 50 servings are also available.

The contents of the boxes change over the course of the year to take seasonality into account, and where possible the company tends to use regional fruits from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and India.

“One of the partners every week goes to the fruit and vegetable market. We don’t let anyone else make the fruit buying decisions,” says Ms Luijckx.

“Over time, we’ve got better at working out where is the best fruit and asking the right questions of the suppliers because they won’t necessarily tell you what their newest shipment is.”

To date, Ms Luijckx says that Fruitful Day has required significant investment, which has included the recruitment of staff to help pack and deliver produce. “I’d say roughly, from the point of when we first started investing money to when we break even, and we’re not quite there yet, we’ve put about one million dirhams into the business,” says Ms Luijckx. “That’s a mix of capital expenditure and working capital.”

The biggest surprise for Fruitful Day so far has been the evolution of its customer base. This was a business conceived for the corporate market, but individuals working within firms then began to request home deliveries as well. This now comprises about half of its customer base.

A study published by Nielsen last year found there is already a lot of interest in online grocery deliveries via the internet in the UAE, with 17 per cent of those surveyed already using online deliveries and 34 per cent indicating they were “definitely willing”. Of those who do order groceries for delivery, 23 per cent use an app and 39 per cent order directly from websites.

Camelia Pacurar, who is an occupational health, safety and wellness manager for building consultancy Aecom in the Middle East, says that she believes fruit delivery services are “a great idea, especially for busy people who may not have the time to prepare healthy snacks or visit the supermarket to purchase fresh fruit”.

“When our blood sugars crash, we often crave simple carbohydrates, such as sweets and soda, but having fresh fruit readily available would encourage people to consider a healthier option.”

She says that Aecom hosts monthly campaigns to promote health and wellness, and has previously brought nutritionists into its offices to extol the benefits of a balanced diet.

“We also encourage the provision of healthy snacks at training sessions and meetings,” says Ms Pacurar.

Ms Luijckx says that events or conferences with a human resources element have been one of the markets it has targeted for growth, alongside fairs and event days within local communities. Its most effective marketing tool, however, has simply been to offer a free trial box to companies.

“We feel like there’s still a lot more customers here. It’s really a word-of-mouth place. When people try our fruit, they recommend it to friends and we get more subscribers.”

mfahy@thenational.ae

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