LEADING F&B AGENCY IN DUBAI
Over the past twenty years, I-AM has worked across the full range of F&B outlets from fine-dining (FerahFeza, Haz) to fast-casual (Itsu, Chilagno) to QSRs and coffeeshops (KFC, Costa).
This is a fascinating, rapidly evolving and multi-faceted sector in the Middle East; highly competitive, certainly, but with big rewards for the brands that get it right.
Observers of this sector have until recently divided it into two categories: multi-national brands on the one hand and ‘home-grown’ brands benefiting from local investment and leadership on the other. But recent developments in the region’s economy – and the growth of the food-delivery sector – have seen further layers of complexity added.
The ubiquitous big players were the first to create an established casual-dining market in the Middle East: Yum!, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, Focus Brands (think Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s etc). They are all still here – but what’s interesting to watch is if/how they’re adapting their brands, and to what extent, in order to survive in the local market. This is not just down to design tweaks but also menu adaptations, both of which offer a potential reward of greater market-share but – equally – a potential risk of brand dilution and irrelevance.
Finding the right balance between retaining the brand essence that has made the business successful to-date and adapting it to an ever-changing local market is critical.
I-AM is well-placed to provide the necessary market insight and expertise to create essential design adaptations – and we have the capacity and experience to carry out rollout projects on a large scale across the Middle East. This includes design delivery and supervision during implementation.
Then there are the newer entrants to the Middle East, some of which may have been established for many years in their home countries, but which have only just come to this region: Dubai Mall, for example, was The Cheesecake Factory’s first international venture in 2012 and its partnership with Al-Shaya has seen that number grow to eight restaurants in the Middle East as of July 2018.
And then comes the new generation of ‘burger bar’ and fast-casual restaurant that have evolved thanks to a more demanding (health- and style-wise) and better-travelled (therefore greater variety) consumer base: Shake Shack, Five Guys, Carluccio’s, Wagamama, Pizza Express, Elevation Burger, Black Tap, Yo! Sushi…
These brands have a major influence on – and therefore face stiff competition from – home-grown brands, and, in order to succeed, they must – more so even than the established brands – find that balance between retaining their identity and appealing to the local market. It’s also essential to understand that what might work in the UAE, for example, may not necessarily work in Saudi or Oman.
Here again is where I-AM’s insight and service design work can prove invaluable.
Established home-grown brands
There have been many success stories in the fast-casual dining sector in the Middle East; the likes of Zaatar w Zeit (Lebanon), Operation Falafel, The Noodle House, Shakespeare & Co. (all UAE), Café Bateel (KSA), Slider Station (Kuwait) spring to mind. These are brands that either have expanded into international markets or in the planning stages of doing so.
Before trying to secure international franchise partners and then actually moving into international markets, a brand usually needs to go through a rigorous process of brand consolidation and preparation – including the creation of suitable guidelines, market-centric retail design manuals and franchise documents.
Given I-AM’s multi-national, multi-sector and multi-cultural expertise, we are well-placed to help brands grow both inside the MENA region and beyond.
Corporate home-grown start-ups
The region is undergoing rapid development, driven in part by the constituent economies’ need to diversify. This has resulted in new entrants into the hospitality and F&B sectors. Whereas developers may have previously outsourced F&B requirements to existing brands, many of them are now looking to create and operate their own concepts.
The likes of Meraas, Emirates and Nakheel are leading the way in the UAE, and I-AM is always pleased to be of service.
Independent home-grown start-up
Perhaps the most interesting sub-sector of the F&B market in the Middle East is the one in which the independents operate. While governments are necessarily looking beyond oil for their wealth, local citizens are similarly looking to diversify their sources of income – and the F&B sector has become better for it.
Parts of Kuwait have neighbourhood coffeeshops that wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch or Brooklyn, Riyadh seems to have a new burger joint on every corner, and Dubai is…. Dubai.
I-AM has been creating new F&B concepts around the world since 1997. Our experience and breadth of services mean we can accompany our clients on the entire journey – literally from soup to nuts. For example:
- Target audience profiling
- Competitor benchmarking
- Name generation
- Brand mark and strapline
- Corporate identity
- Restaurant collateral (menus, uniforms, packaging, tableware etc)
- Architecture and external signage
- Branded interior design
- Furniture and materials specification
- Digital menu boards
- Website and app
Our experience across the region also means we have the relationships with suppliers and vendors to ensure pain-free and on-time delivery.