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Interview: Just Falafel- With love, from UAE to the world
CEO of Just Falafel, Fadi Malas tells Kipp about its journey from being perceived as a humble street food offering, to being the hotly pursued, ambitious multinational brand that it is, today.
August 8, 2012 10:00 by Priyanka Pradhan
How do you plan to achieve your objective of opening one Just Falafel store a week, globally? That’s an ambitious claim to make, for an SME…
We are now operating 25 stores and we have another 16 under construction so for the next 4 months, we are covered in our objective of opening one store a week. Our objective is to grow even faster at some point in the future. After opening this week in Qatar and Lebanon, we have covered the regional markets thoroughly, so by default, we have to look at growth market elsewhere. We’ve signed up with a partner in the UK to start rolling out stores before the end of this year. We’ve already set up a central kitchen there and it is completely fitted out and good to go.
We’re also looking to expand to India, beginning with Mumbai. It’s only a 3 hr flight from here and 60% of the population in India is vegetarian. We already share a very strong rapport with the Indian community here, in the Emirates- they love our food and we love serving them. So it’s a natural expansion for us.
Apart from India and UK, we are also looking at US and Canada- we are talking to a lot of people and are hoping to start soon. We get about 10 -15 requests for franchisees per day from around the world- there have been more than 2,500 requests from 73 different countries over the past few months!
The brand proposition for Just Falafel is rather unique – A modern, ‘healthy’, vegetarian fast-food offering. Are you doing something specific to push the ‘health’ agenda forward in the fast food market in the region?
Naturally by birth, this food is a healthy vegetarian proposition and we know the benefits of a vegetarian meal, as opposed to other meals. We’re not trying to make it healthier- it was just born this way. Also, we are operating at the forefront of this food category- we are the no. 1 falafel roll out franchise proposition cross the globe today. This is a food category which has been neglected and no one has ever adapted it to the 21st century lifestyle so we have a good first mover advantage in this category.
Who do you consider competition?
We compete on meals with every fast food, quick service restaurant on the food court. People can’t eat the same food category everyday even if it was his favorite fast food! People need diversity and we offer an alternative meal proposition which one might want to consider as a part of the meal mix. So every brand in the fast food category is our competition.
What does the marketing and advertising roadmap for Just Falafel look like, given the expansion at this super-sonic speed?
The reason we stand a chance to compete on meals across the food courts with well established brands in the quick service restaurant industry like the Burger kings and McDonalds of the world, is our ability to integrate social media into our marketing plan. It is a huge part of the bigger picture. We’ve done an in-house study on alternative marketing and found that we were able to achieve 30 million impressions in June, growing up to 80 million in July 2012, only on Facebook. If we were to pay for these impressions in the market, we’d be paying millions of dollars per month. It is extremely cost effective.
Today, I have the luxury to have 100% digital as opposed to some of the established players in the business who are probably doing the opposite or just dabbling in advertising on social media but you’ll see that they will soon be migrating to what I am doing, rather than me migrating to what they are doing!
Are there any developments in the plans for an IPO for Just Falafel?
I want more people to benefit from our story. We are laying the roadmap for the IPO but we would like to be ready in terms of corporate governance to be on par with listed companies a soon as possible. We have had more than one meeting with NASDAQ and other parties involved- It should take us no more than 18 months to be absolutely ready for this.
What challenges have you faced as an SME in the UAE market and how did you overcome them? What advice would you give to upcoming home grown brands in the Middle East?
We face challenges everyday as an SME. I think that what we’ve learnt, that if you take anything for granted, you will lose ground. One of the challenges we have overcome is to secure real estate in the most prominent retail environments in the region. We went from Falafel being perceived as a street food, to now, when mall operators know that if they don’t have Just Falafel on their floor, they will have a major gap in their food proposition.
No one can be a leader forever, in whatever they are doing- they will always be beaten by someone who started as an SME!