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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Ramadan businesses: Chocolatiers busy in the run-up to Eid

Chocolates replacing traditional gifts such as kaak and maamoul, special Eid cookies made from pistachios and honey and dusted in sugar

Aline Ashkarian, country general manager of Patchi, says all employees head to the brand's retail stores to help out with sales ahead of Eid. Antonie Robertson / The National
Aline Ashkarian, country general manager of Patchi, says all employees head to the brand's retail stores to help out with sales ahead of Eid. Antonie Robertson / The National

Every year in the last three days of Ramadan, all employees of Patchi’s UAE headquarters – without exception – switch off the lights at about 3pm and head directly to the brand's retail stores.

They stay there until the doors close, serving customers alongside the sales staff, in a routine that has played out since the brand opened its first store here more than 30 years ago.

“It’s part of our culture and it has always been like that. In the UAE we strongly promote it,” says Aline Ashkarian, country general manager of Patchi.

And it includes everyone who works at the HQ – including the chief executive, who is based in Lebanon, but visits the UAE every month for a week at a time.

“We have a very funny story actually,” Ms Ashkarian says. “Once we were in Dubai Mall, and all the staff were busy and a client bought a big tray, so there was no one to deliver it to the car. So the chief executive went and delivered the tray to the car for the customer. So the customer thought it was one of the office workers [and gave him money].”

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The annual routine is partly to support its staff through the Ramadan and Eid rush – the holy month is without question the luxury chocolate brand’s busiest time of year – and partly tradition.

The company launches a special Ramadan collection of chocolates with dried fruits and nuts, which it sells in its stores in the first 15 to 20 days of the holy month. It is followed by a second collection in the days immediately preceding Eid, when it sells up to 70 per cent more products.

In the UAE, people traditionally give each other two types of biscuit called kaak and maamoul – small cakes made from pistachios and honey or filled with sweet date paste and both dusted in icing sugar – to celebrate Eid, but chocolates are becoming increasingly popular.

“Ramadan is the highest season we have in terms of sales and work,” Ms Ashkarian says.

“It’s part of the culture that the [second] day of Eid you need to go and visit your relatives and close family and congratulate them, and take a nice tray of Patchi chocolates with you.”

Patchi may be one of the biggest chocolate companies in the industry, but smaller brands have also experienced a similar jump in business in the run-up to Eid.

Dana Ashkar, founder of Caho Chocolatier. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dana Ashkar, founder of Caho Chocolatier. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Caho Chocolatier, an artisan chocolate brand, launched last December, and had not been expecting such a big rush. The company has experienced a 70 per cent jump in orders during Ramadan.

“We weren’t expecting that at all. If we had foreseen that we would have at least increased our staff. It was our first Ramadan. We knew we would take a share of the market, but we didn’t expect that much,” says Dana Ashkar, Caho’s founder.

“We are short on a delivery drivers – I am doing some of the deliveries and I am seven months pregnant.”

The company has received about 50 orders a day minimum online this week and about the same number in-store.

Corporate sales are also strong, a trend that Patchi has also experienced.

“It’s a very strong culture now. Corporates contribute about 30 per cent of our sales,” Ms Ashkarian says.

“Most the companies here do gifting twice in a year. Once in Ramadan and one is at the end of the year. And they are divided between National Day and Christmas, depending on who you are gifting and the occasion.”