After more than 52 years of leading the foodservice industry, Abela & Co is taking its considerable expertise and culinary knowledge to new heights with the launch of its Culinary Solutions business delivering bespoke food solutions through its state-of-the-art mechanised driven central processing unit.
Caterer Middle East sat down with the team behind Abela & Co to discover why they’ve chosen now to expand into this field, and just what Culinary Solution offers the industry.
Although a well-established company, with tough economic times hitting the region Abela & Co started looking to the future and began to think about how they could take the brand to the next level, as CEO Abdulkarim Hannawi explains.
“Four years ago the board asked me ‘what will be the main challenges in the next five years?’ The answers were space, technology, and labour. Space because rents were becoming more expensive, labour because it was hard to recruit and it was becoming more expensive – and technology because you have to invest in new equipment to become more efficient and drive down your operating costs. Looking at that, we started brainstorming and we thought of creating a central processing unit that would solve the problem of all three.”
But they had to take that initial acorn of an idea and turn it into a reality.
Hannawi: “We started small initially, primarily focused on supporting our own internal offering but as we were exploring it further with the board, our ideas started to go beyond how we could support our core business to how we could cater to an entirely new market segment and diversify and evolve our current business model. We thought, okay, we have a well-established client base that we have been catering to for years by feeding thousand of their employees such as those within the hospitality sector but we could never offer their chefs solutions because we didn’t have the capabilities. Today we do, and Culinary Solutions makes this possible.
In a time when many companies are cutting back, this was a bit of a risk, but one that Abela & Co felt was a calculated one.
“We made a sizeable investment in tough times,” Hannawi admits, “but we felt it was a great idea which would make Abela & Co more efficient and would help us grow.”
So just how does Culinary Solutions allow Abela & Co to reach new customers in a new way?
Abela & Co’s Corporate chef Colin Campbell, a 25-year veteran in the F&B industry explains what their potential customers needed.
He says: “We looked at the industry as a whole and saw a common problem people were talking about: the cost of operating food service outlets. We thought about what we could offer as an end-product solution that customers can take to their kitchen, outlet or service counter so that they don’t need to cook from scratch on-site, whether it’s a sauce, a gravy, a stock, or a dhal.
“The idea behind it was that instead of just doing one thing, we opted to diversify the system – we have a centralised vegetable line, a centralised meat line, a centralised cook line, and packing lines as well. The facility is flexible, it’s versatile, and allows for a component of creativity, either driven by us or the client.
“In terms of packaging, it’s completely different. A number of the major innovations that we’ve introduced are the adoption of modified atmospheric packaging, reduced oxygen packing, and even smart packaging through a company in the UK.”
But exactly how does this make your average chef’s life easier?
Campbell explains: “There’s a lot of long-term benefits that come through central processing. A lot of the mise en place work is taken away, meaning the chefs can now focus on the finesse, they can focus on the creativity and some of their own innovations. They have more time to focus on delivering an experience to the end user. That way you get a better end product and your consistency is always ensured.”
But for brands that have very specific ideas about the product they want, just how closely can Culinary Solutions work with them to create what they want?
“The way we see it is ‘mi casa su casa’,” says Campbell. “If you have a chef, a company, a hypermarket chain or a group of restaurants that have a requirement, they can come to the facility, sit down with our highly skilled chefs and work hand-in-hand developing their product specifications. Our facility is perfect because it’s neither too big nor too small, it’s a good size and allows for personalisation and customisation. There’s still a component there of made in the kitchen by chefs, for chefs.”
But even though they have the resources of a large company, Campbell says they are open to helping build smaller brands as Culinary Solutions starts to take off.
He says: “We can be very competitive and we have scales of economies that put us in a very good position and give us an edge. By keeping it manageable we’re keeping costs manageable. Culinary Solutions is prepared to engage with anyone in the market. If someone comes to us and is trying to grow a small business, it means we will grow in tandem. Their success is our success.”
For Brian Gambin, head of business development, this is what makes Abela & Co Culinary Solutions so appealing.
“That’s why our customers want to work with us – because that human touch is there. They are looking for diverse capabilities, they are looking for experience, they are looking for that quality and consistency that we can deliver. We’re not new to this industry, we’ve been doing this for 52 years.
“We offer variety, versatility, adaptability and flexibility to anyone looking to outsource their food production needs, which means that our potential customers are widespread. We are in a position to offer tailored food service solutions to a full range of potential customers and clients be it hotels, quick service restaurants, start-up F&B retail businesses, food service distributors, food service management companies, grocery store chains, EXPO 2020 and regional overseas clients across the GCC.”
But key to everything for Gambin is ensuring that Culinary Solutions maintains Abela & Co’s top tier reputation by delivering quality end product.
He says: “For us it’s not about doing what everyone else does, it’s about doing something different. If someone does a chicken sandwich, we don’t want to do the same sandwich. We want to offer something that people can distinguish between good and great – that’s where we see the opportunity to be different.”
Their desire to be the best is summed up by Hannawi, who concludes: “We want to challenge ourselves, our operations, our people. You cannot succeed without challenging everyone in the company.”