Global plant-based food giant eyes expansion in Gulf region

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Upfield, the world’s largest plant-based consumer packaged goods company, is targeting growth in the Gulf region as demand grows, driven by a more health-conscious population.

The Netherlands-based company behind brands like Flora and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, will use its participation at Gulfood 2020 in Dubai next week to showcase its range of plant-based F&B products.

It said it wants to strengthen its presence in the North Africa and Middle East market which is showing a growing appetite for meat-free and healthier food choices.

A Fortune Business Insights report recently forecast that the global plant-based F&B market is on track to reach $7.38 billion in value by 2025, up from $4.16 billion in 2017.

Upfield said demand in the Middle East is on the rise, driven by a growing health-conscious population.

“Upfield’s command of the global plant-based F&B market and our history of innovation in this sector have earned our organisation a reputation as the authority on plant-based F&B. In this regard we have been rethinking food for decades,” said Reinier Weerman, general manager – North Africa & Middle East, Upfield.

“The Middle East region is a vitally important market for us and it is extremely pleasing to see a trade show with the stature of Gulfood calling on the world’s F&B industry to rethink the approach to food as we all strive to provide enough safe, secure and sustainable food for a growing population that is becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect the planet.”

Upfield, which made its Gulfood debut in 2019, will be showcasing its new line of butter beater, cream cheese alternatives, beverage cream spray, chocolate sprinkles, and a new range of 100 percent dairy free plant-based Flora Plant Cream and Flora Plant Butter.


Italian luxury jeweller reveals Gulf growth plan

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Luxury Italian jeweller Damiani, which is set to unveil its second boutique in Dubai next week, is planning to open two more stores in the Gulf within six months and an outlet in Abu Dhabi next year, the president and CEO of Damiani Group has revealed.

Guido Damiani said Damiani’s boutique in BurJuman Centre had been a success since it opened in November last year, but would not disclose sales figures.

It also opened a store in Thuraya Mall in Kuwait City in March.

“The Middle East is quite a new market but we believe it will be one of our best,” said Damiani, the third generation of the jeweller, which is only one of two listed Italian jewellery companies.

“We opened in Dubai last year and will double our size next month. In the region we are quite new even though we were founded 84 years ago but we are working with our partner here, Al Tayer Group, and we believe with them we will do great things.”

Damiani will unveil another boutique in the new Dubai Mall when it opens in the next ten days, with Damiani revealing the company will further boost its presence in the region with new stores planned for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Qatar within the next six months and Abu Dhabi in 2009.

He said Damiani will also have a point of sale within Harvey Nichols store in the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, before the end of the year.

Outside the region, Damiani said the company was looking for a location in Bond Street, London, to open its first UK store.

Damiani has 54 boutiques and 600 points of sale in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Damiani was one of the keynote speakers at the two-day Leaders in Luxury 2008 conference in Dubai taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday.


‘Made in Iraq’ labels headed for USA

BAGHDAD — U.S. shoppers will soon see “Made in Iraq” on clothing sold in American stores.

Shelmar, a 51-store retail chain based in Memphis, became the first American retailer to place an order with an Iraqi factory last month. About 2,000 tracksuits and boys shirts are expected to be on store shelves by early October, says Mike Longo, president and partner in the privately held company. Shelmar also does business as M Town and has stores in seven Southern states.

“We’ve got to get (Iraqi workers) back to work,” says Longo, who is a West Point graduate and former Army captain who taught at the Army’s military college in 1991 and 1992. “Otherwise, my buddies are going to keep getting … blown up.”

Longo says the deal with Mosul Ready to Wear, a state-owned factory in northern Iraq, was made after he was approached by a Defense Department team connecting American businesses to suppliers in Iraq.

At $10,000, the order is small, but the price was “comparably priced or lower” than what he normally pays, he says. The boys shirts will sell for $8, and the tracksuits will sell for $20, Longo says.

Hopes for a ‘great deal’

Sami Al-Araji, deputy prime minister of Industry and Minerals, which runs all of Iraq’s state-owned factories, says the deal is the first to bring together an American retailer with an Iraqi state-owned enterprise.

“It will be a great deal,” Al-Araji said. “For the first time, our product produced in our country will be in American stores. … And if Iraq succeeds in this, it means Iraq will be able to capture a percentage of the American market for our products.”

The order is small for a factory the size of Mosul Ready to Wear, which produces men’s suits, teen clothing and athletic wear primarily for the domestic market. Together with the Mosul Textile Factory next door, it employs about 3,500 people, Al-Araji says. The plant was shut down for about six months after the 2003 U.S. invasion and is now operating at 30% to 40% of capacity, Al-Araji says. With access to spare parts, continuous power and raw materials, it could return to 90% of capacity, he says.

Al-Araji says that talks about more clothing deals are in progress between other Iraqi textile plants and several well-known American retailers. The Shelmar deal is serving as a prototype for making future ones possible.

Shipping is still being worked out. “We’re trying to put some type of a system together for other arrangements,” Al-Araji said, adding that four or five other factories are expected to be making shipments to the U.S. market.

American retailers place orders from all over the Third World, Al-Araji says, citing textile producers China, Bangladesh and Jordan.

“We want to be just like them,” he says.

Bob Love, director of operations for the Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq, says the Shelmar deal is a first but not the only one. Two more deals have since been signed. One deal is worth $250,000 for 200 rugs to be made by the State Company for Hand-woven Rugs in Baghdad. The other is for 120 rugs to be manufactured for $115,000 at seven different sites in Kurdistan, Love says. He did not provide the names of American buyers.

Each rug takes two to three people six months to weave, Love says.

Vital to restoring security

Paul Brinkley, director of the Pentagon-based Task Force for Business and Stabilization Operations in Iraq, says rebuilding Iraqi industrial capacity is an important element of restoring security.

According to a paper Brinkley wrote last month, Iraq’s unemployment rate is effectively at 60% and “a major contributor to instability.”

Before the war, 64 Iraqi government-owned factories produced consumer, agricultural and industrial goods. But Iraqi industrial production plummeted 80% after the U.S. invasion, due in large part, Brinkley writes, because of a series of decisions by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country for 13 months after the invasion.

The CPA transferred cash and receivables from factory coffers to infrastructure reconstruction projects, shutting off cash flow needed for operations. It prohibited commanders and diplomats from doing business with state-owned businesses, to drive demand to private enterprise. And the process of removing members of Saddam Hussein’s regime from Iraqi institutions eliminated the government’s planning staff, who managed industrial production, according to Brinkley’s report.

“If people are out of work, and you’ve got a population that’s disenfranchised and not part of the process, they’re going to become part of the problem,” says Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq.

Last year, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, then commander of military operations and stabilization efforts in Iraq, pushed the Bush administration to consider restarting state-owned factories. Brinkley recently traveled to plants that produce fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, tractors and textiles, doling out grants totaling $40 million, which was appropriated by Congress to revitalize Iraqi industry.

Brinkley visited the Mosul clothing factory to deliver $575,000 for cotton, thread and fabric, spare parts and a new boiler to help expand production. Mosul Ready to Wear submitted a business plan describing how the money would be spent and how it intends to expand, Al-Araji said.

Factories will be monitored

Each factory that receives money has submitted a business plan for expansion, has been assessed by U.S. experts and will be monitored for a year to make sure it progresses toward its goals, Brinkley says. Brinkley says at least two dozen factories will reopen this year. They include manufacturers of textiles, tractors, fertilizer, plastics and handmade rugs.

Factories are identified for help after U.S. forces secure the surrounding area. Factories have not been targeted by militants, but Brinkley says the ongoing insurgency is still a concern.

“I worry all the time, but so far it hasn’t been a problem,” he says. “(Insurgents) haven’t attacked, and the local population seems to know better than anybody if it’s safe to go back to work.”

Longo says he has concerns, too.

He has no plans to draw attention to the Iraqi-made products, but he’s not sure how shoppers will react.


Kurdistan to develop Vision 2030 supported by UNDP

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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s Ministry of Planning, in order to provide strategic guidance and technical support for the development of KRG Vision 2030.

Held in Erbil on 03 February 2020, the signing reaffirms the Region’s commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Minister of Planning at the Kurdistan Regional Government, Dr. Dara Rashid Mahmud, said:

“The people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have been through a lot in the past years. They deserve a better life and upgraded social, economic and environmental conditions.

“We are confident that our strategic partnership with UNDP will provide us with the necessary tools and means to achieve sustainable development in a way that meets the aspirations of our people.”

Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Ms. Zena Ali Ahmed, said:

“The global Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development emphasizes that no one should be left behind. This is precisely what we are working to achieve in Iraq by this expanded partnership with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“The foundations for this work were established through our earlier cooperation, including the previous support to KRG Vision 2020. Only through sustainable development will the Region and Iraq realize sustainable peace and justice.”

The MoU provides a framework for cooperation to implement and monitor progress towards the SDGs in the Kurdistan Region, as part of broader efforts to achieve the SDGs in Iraq. It focuses on strengthening the institutional and analytical capacity of relevant stakeholders, including to meet the challenges of transitioning from a crisis to a sustainable development context.

Vision 2030 will be aligned with the new Government Programme 2019-2023, addressing reforms, service delivery, freedoms, democracy and coexistence, economy and finance, among other priorities.

Detailed information about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs can be found here:


Duhok to Establish First Solar Energy Park

Duhok will soon have its first solar energy park in a major step towards becoming a low-carbon governorate, setting an example on sustainable renewable energy to follow in Iraq.

On 04 February 2020, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a letter of agreement with the Governorate of Duhok to establish a pilot solar park that will provide a minimum of two megawatts of electricity within two years.

The European Union (EU) provided US$2 million of funding for this project under the UNDP programme “Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development.”

Governor of Duhok, Mr. Farhad Atrushi, said:

“Our commitment to take climate action, deliver affordable, clean energy to the citizens and address electricity shortages remains as strong as ever. Under the Duhok Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP), we pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“Establishing the first solar park in Duhok will contribute to achieving this goal and meet the needs of the market. We are grateful to the EU and UNDP for helping to make this happen. We look forward to purposeful partnerships with the private sector for green energy for present and future generations.”

Duhok experiences serious deficits in electricity and has over 1000 electricity generators that are causing chronic air and noise pollution. According to the Sustainable Energy Action Plan that was developed under the Local Area Development Programme (LADP II), Duhok foresees the installation of solar parks to provide up to 40 megawatts of clean electricity by 2030.

Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Iraq, H.E. Ambassador Martin Huth, said:

“This intervention will not only improve access to energy for the population in Duhok Governorate but will also ensure that this energy is green. In Europe, we are strongly determined to tackle climate change and succeed in our recently launched green deal, becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. And I am delighted that we are able to support KRI in its own sustainable energy deal”.

Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Ms. Zena Ali-Ahmad, said:

“We are encouraged by the Governorate of Duhok’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and providing green energy to its citizens. Establishing a solar park will stimulate the economy through private sector investments, create more jobs in green economy, and above all reduce pollution. The project will represent the first introduction of solar energy supply on such a scale in Iraq.”

The programme Supporting Recovery and Stability in Iraq through Local Development aims at contributing to the stability and socio-economic development of Iraq by enhancing democratic governance at the local level. It is working to improve the ability of selected governorates to efficiently manage local government and public services.

Economic growth and job creation are prioritized, with a focus on green projects, involving youth and women, in addition to enhancing the living conditions of returnees and in conflict affected areas.


Reflections on Investments in Iraq’s Tech Ecosystem

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2019 showed an exciting development for Iraq’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: the investments in two Iraqi tech startups – e-commerce company Miswag, which received investment from Iraq Tech Ventures, and Lezzoo, the first Iraqi startup to join Silicon Valley’s premier accelerator Y Combinator.

In October 2019 Five One Labs hosted its second delegation of regional and international investors to the Kurdistan Region to expand understanding of the Iraqi business environment and startup ecosystem; to build bridges between international and Iraq business communities; and to expose local entrepreneurs to global best practices.

Through conversations with both early- and growth-stage entrepreneurs and discussions with local businesses and government representatives, the group of 17 investors received first-hand information about the business environment and entrepreneurship ecosystem on the ground in Iraq.

We spoke with the investors from the trip and had conversations with Yadgar Merani, co-founder of Lezzoo, and Laura Olivier, Executive Director of Iraq Tech Ventures, to dive into key challenges and opportunities for investment in Iraq, from the investor and entrepreneur perspectives.

Iraq’s lack of market data and challenging regulatory environment make it hard for investors and entrepreneurs to agree on the level of risk and opportunity.

According to Merani, one of the main challenges Lezzoo faced when speaking to investors outside of Iraq was convincing them of the country’s market size and providing them with accurate answers to specific market-sizing questions. Obtaining accurate estimates of the market is of course important for investors as it impacts projections of cash flow and potential valuation.

While data on numbers of pharmacies or schools, for example, are publicly available in other countries, the lack of easily-accessible market data and the reluctance of certain government ministries to provide this data has forced entrepreneurs in Iraq to rely on assumptions when sizing the market. Merani says that while Lezzoo tried to gather this information from various ministries, the team was often told that the information Lezzoo was seeking was either unavailable or confidential.

Additionally, the lack of general understanding of the Iraqi market and the risks of investing in a post-conflict environment mean that entrepreneurs may need to provide potential investors with additional information — and this is a point that has been expressed by a number of Iraqi startups seeking to raise their seed rounds. Merani said that on multiple occasions when trying to raise funds in the US, he was repeatedly asked questions like, “What happens if the internet goes out in the whole country? What would you do?” And this uncertainty or concern over volatility in Iraq may result in lower valuations for startups.

This added scrutiny also extends to the investment itself. The syndicate of investors that invested in Miswag’s seed round (four angel investors and one institutional investor) experienced legal challenges from the outset. When trying to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for Miswag in the financial free zone Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), ADGM repeatedly asked for more documentation given the startup was incorporated in Iraq. After several months, the investors eventually decided to invest directly into Miswag’s bank accounts in Iraq rather than through this SPV.

Olivier of Iraq Tech Ventures also mentioned another challenge:

“One difficulty we experienced recently was that many of the investors’ transfers were heavily delayed due to banks needing extra documentation due to the scrutiny that goes into processing transfers to Iraq.”

However, local and regional investors are willing to put in the work, and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge.

One of the Five One Labs investor trip participants, Anas Elayyan, said:

“Since inception, iMENA Group has been on the lookout for extraordinary founders and startups operating in under-served markets. The new wave of founders and entrepreneurs that we met in Iraq in the last few months are the real assets for Iraq’s future. Those entrepreneurs have been hustling in the system to mark a new digital era for Iraq. We, at iMENA Group, are very excited to be part of that era.”

For Miswag, the success of the syndicate’s investment can likely be attributed in part to the fact that the investors were familiar with the market. Four of the five investors were Iraqis who work in Iraq but live outside of the country. Because of their knowledge of the operating environment, they were willing to invest directly rather than establishing an offshore entity.

Both on the investor and entrepreneur side, there are key innovators who are willing to take higher risks in order to show that high-growth startups can be built and grown in Iraq. “There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs in Iraq to take the lead,” Merani says, “because Iraq needs so much.”

Looking ahead to 2020, we look forward to seeing more investments in Iraq’s tech startups and to welcoming another delegation of international investors to the Kurdistan Region later this year.


IBBC Meetings and Dinner in Baghdad


On Wednesday, 5 February, Christophe Michels, Managing Director, Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) and Rasmi Al Jabri, Deputy Chairman, IBBC met with Dr Salar Ameen Acting Chairman of National Investment Commission (NIC).

They discussed the longstanding cooperation between the NIC and IBBC and how to deepen it and made plans for a joint Baghdad conference to be held as soon as a new Government is formed.

Later, Mohanad Al Khattab, Baghdad Office Manager, accompanied them to the British Embassy where they met with John Tucknott the Deputy British Ambassador to Iraq. Beverly Simpson, Director DIT Iraq also attended the meeting. They spoke about the present situation in Iraq and how it affected the business environment and discussed how best to work together in Iraq and in the UK in the month ahead.

In addition to the meetings IBBC held a dinner for its members and guests at the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad on 5th February. The dinner was hosted by Rasmi Al Jabri, Deputy Chairman of IBBC and Christophe Michels, Managing Director of IBBC.

Rasmi Al Jabri gave an opening speech welcoming everyone and spoke about IBBC’s activities in Iraq and UK. The dinner also attended by Dr Salar Ameen, Chairman of the National Investment Commission, H.E. Dr Luay Al Khateeb, Minister of Electricity, Mr Abdul Aziz Shwan A Ahmed, Chief of Staff of DPM Dr Fouad Hussein and Mr Abdulrazzaq Al-Zuhairi, Chairman of the Iraqi Federation of Chambers of Commerce. IBBC member companies in attendance included Al-Burhan Group, Al-Maseer, ENKA, Eversheds Sutherland, G4S, GE, HHP Law, International Islamic Bank, KPMG, Management Partners, Serco Middle East, Shell, Siemens Iraq, SKA International, Standard Chartered Bank and TurnKey LLC.

The evening’s sponsor was Sardar Trading Agencies who displayed their new Range Rover Mild Hybrid Car, Model Year 2020.

The next day the IBBC team visited the offices of International Islamic Bank, HHP Law and Serco at Baghdad air traffic control.


Bahrain announces 1.6% economic growth in Q3 2019

According to the Q3 2019 Bahrain Economic Quarterly report from the Ministry of Finance and National Economy, the private sector grew by 1.6 percent in the third quarter of 2019 from a (revised) 0.3 percent in Q2, while the oil sector contracted by 0.1 percent as production held steady.

The transportation and communication sector, supported by Gulf Air’s route expansion, led growth at 6.4 percent year on year (YoY). The hotels and restaurants sector also grew strongly at 6.3 percent YoY, as did the manufacturing sector at 4.1 percent YoY, bolstered by the launch of Alba’s Line 6.

The report also revealed that the total number of visitors arriving through Bahrain’s International Airport saw a 2.9 percent increase to just over 800,000, while the occupancy rate at 5 and 4 star hotels reached 51 percent and 48 percent, respectively. The average number of stay nights rose to 63 percent.

In terms of infrastructure investments, in Q3 Bahrain welcomed the launch of a national broadband network ‘BNET’, the signing of a $2.9 billion contract with Saudi Arabia for the transitional phase of the King Hamad Causeway, as well as the approval of electricity and water network expansion projects valued at $1.6bn.

The report also highlights the progress made by Bahrain towards accelerating investment-driven development, as outlined in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, which placed the kingdom among the top 10 improvers globally and second among the Arab states – advancing 19 places to 43rd out of 190 economies.

Additionally, Bahrain was ranked 45th out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) in the Human Development Report 2019. The country also improved five spots and ranked 45th out of 141 countries in The Global Competitiveness Report 2019.


Bahrain Fintech Bay announces new CEO

Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB) on Tuesday announced changes to its leadership team, with Khalid Dannish being promoted to the role of CEO, effective from February 1.

The appointment follows the departure of founding CEO Khalid Saad who will be leaving to pursue his own Fintech ventures that aim to further support the ecosystem, a statement said.

Since its launch in February 2018, Bahrain Fintech Bay has brought together over 100 partners and is home to 42 Fintech residents and established a national Fintech talent program, as well as its first acceleration program.

Dannish said: “I have had the privilege to be a part of Bahrain Fintech Bay from our launch, and I am delighted to be given the opportunity to lead the next phase of growth and strengthen our value proposition to our partners, fintechs and the region.

“Together with the Economic Development Board and our founding partners we have built a truly impactful and innovation-led platform to position Bahrain for years to come.”

Khalid Humaidan, chairman of Bahrain Fintech Bay, added: “I would like to thank Khalid Saad for leading Bahrain FinTech Bay since its inception and we wish him all the best in his endeavors. Furthermore, I look forward to working with Khalid Dannish to take this important national initiative forward and strengthen Bahrain’s leadership in Fintech.”

Prior to Bahrain Fintech Bay, Dannish was a vice president at JP Morgan in London.

Bahrain Fintech Bay provides a physical hub to incubate scalable Fintech initiatives through innovation labs, acceleration programmes, curated activities, educational opportunities and collaborative platforms.


Expansion of Bahrain’s only oil refinery nears 40% completion, says oil minister

Construction work on the multi-billion dollar expansion project at Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco)’s Sitra oil refinery has reached 40 percent completion and is set to be commissioned by 2022, Bahrain’s Minister of Oil told Arabian Business’ sister website ConstructionWeekOnline in an exclusive interview.

HE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, said the expansion is being handled by a consortium led by Italy’s TechnipFMC, South Korea’s Samsung Engineering, and Spain’s Tecnicas Reunidas, which he described as “three major construction companies”.

Touted as the biggest industrial project in the 90-year history of Bapco, the expansion will increase the refinery’s capacity to 380,000 barrels per day (bpd).

“We’re expanding our one and only refinery, Bapco, which has been operating since 1936. This expansion is well underway, and we have reached 40 percent completion on the project already,” HE Sheikh Al Khalifa said.

The minister also revealed that the firm is working with state-of-the-art process technologies, which would allow products to be produced to market specifications.

He explains: “As of January 2020, International Maritime Organisation has implemented a law saying that all bunker fuel has to be below 0.5 percent sulphur, therefore high sulphur fuel oil is not allowed in the shipping industry.”

“People are observing how compliant shipping companies are, but so far we have seen it in the margins. The price of high sulphur fuel oil has collapsed repeatedly. If you’re not ready with producing products that are on spec, refineries will go out of business.

“This is one of the first milestones in making sure that the BAPCO refinery meets customer demands, and hopefully by 2022, we will see the commissioning of the refinery and the world wide export of its high quality products.”