F&B ‘treps in the MENA region were in for a treat when the Dubai-based Aseel Group organized their Imago initiative, an accelerator program specifically targeting the F&B market. The GCC and the rest of the MENA region has seen their respective industries in this sector soar, and it’s exciting to know that there are little to no signs of a slowdown. We had the opportunity to talk to Naaz Noor, founder and Managing Partner of the Aseel Group, about Imago and the future of the region’s F&B industry.
What inspired you to launch the Imago initiative?
Our F&B consulting firm and restaurant clients have witnessed some interesting shifts in the industry. For instance, five years back, we witnessed a lot of Western brands coming into the region as franchisees. Over the last couple of years, we are seeing a lot of new creative concepts coming from local entrepreneurs. Some of these local concepts have been extremely successful and are now in their growth stage, but do not have the right kind of resources and knowledge to grow their companies. This is what inspired the foundations for Imago: the thought process was if we can provide these entrepreneurs with mentorship, funding and some marketing and outreach help, these brands can not only span across the region but can also be international brands in their own right.
What’s the need for an accelerator that’s restricted to just F&B startups, as opposed to the other more general accelerators already out there?
Imago’s first series will revolve around F&B, but subsequent chapters may explore other growing industries as well. What remains common is our drive to encourage homegrown talent and Middle East based brands. From an internal perspective, we selected F&B since our consultancy, Aseel F&B has great knowledge and understanding of this region and how to grow F&B brands internationally. F&B is a very unique sector in its own right; it takes a lot of experience and industry specific knowledge to thrive in the industry and that is the key reason why we wanted to develop Imago’s first chapter to be less generic and more focused on specific aspects and problems that growing brands would face in the industry.
From a sheer market perspective, all the external drivers like a growing population, high income per capita and an ever-growing culture of eating out contribute to the reason as to why F&B is an industry of choice for Imago’s first series.
How does Imago fit into Aseel F&B’s vision statement?
Our vision with Aseel Group has always been to embrace new and unique ideas and support home grown talent and brands. We’re a team of entrepreneurs and can relate to the challenges that entrepreneurs go through. Our objective with Imago is to help these local F&B brands in their journeys and give them the opportunity to fully realize their potential.
Tell us more about what the Imago initiative is all about.
In essence, Imago works with growing brands step by step to resolve any issues and capitalize on their strengths. Once they have their foundations and growth strategy is strong, these brands are funded and supported by mentors to give them a better chance of success.
The three key elements that Imago works with are as follows:
- Mentorship: Connecting growing brands with a F&B centric program curriculum and industry renowned mentors who have faced some of these growth pains and challenges themselves.
- Money: Imago will work concurrently with a fund that provides investments to these growing brands so they can have the resources to truly scale regionally and internationally.
- Marketing: We are exploring the idea of a YouTube series that not only puts these growing brands in the limelight but also allows the thousands of other aspiring restaurant entrepreneurs to get a behind-the-scenes look into the daily ups and downs of running and growing restaurants.
Which type of F&B business was most visible at the workshops?
The region in general is seeing a growth in the fast casual segment, and that seems to be the recurring theme even in the businesses that have applied to be part of the Imago program.
How has the F&B industry in the GCC developed since you started your career?
I have been consulting F&B and restaurant clients for the last five years. In these years, my team and I have witnessed some interesting shifts in the industry. For instance, five years back, we witnessed a lot of Western brands coming into the region as franchisees. Over the last couple of years, we are seeing a lot of new creative concepts coming from local entrepreneurs. Some of these local concepts are now in their growth stage but do not have the right kind of resources and knowledge to grow their companies. This is what inspired the foundations for Imago: the thought process was if we can provide these entrepreneurs with mentorship, funding and some marketing and outreach help, these brands can not only span across the region but can also be international brands in their own right.
What are some of the interesting F&B trends you’ve noticed in the region recently?
The most prominent trend right now is that of street food (especially food trucks) and consumer centric events (like Taste of Dubai) giving prominence to F&B concepts. Other than that, we are seeing good demand for experiential concepts – something that provides customers with a unique and memorable dining experience. Additionally, there is a growth in the organic food segment and the demand for healthy fast food is increasing as well.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs in the F&B industry make?
The biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is to copy and paste concepts that they have either seen internationally or imitating local success brands. We have over 6000 F&B outlets in UAE alone, and to stand out from the crowd, it takes far more innovation and creativity to truly be a scalable brand. The brands that truly find a sense of differentiation are the ones that are likely to succeed in this region.
Are there any plans for Aseel F&B to organize more initiatives like Imago in the future?
At Aseel F&B, we try to launch at least one self-owned project each year. This year aside from Imago, we are launching Whey2Go this September, which will be the region’s first protein ice cream concept.