Every week, we’ve revealed a business leader from this edition’s GCC Inc. We’ve revealed Fabien Revol, Chief operating Officer at Newrest, and Dyala Sabbagh, Founding Partner, Gulf Intelligence. This week, it’s Giles Brook, CEO of Vita Coco – Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

giles-brookName: Giles Brook
Current position: CEO of Vita Coco – Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)
Previous experience:  
– General Manager and Commercial Director UK & Ireland at Innocent smoothies
– Graduate Scheme, Trade & Brand Marketing at United Biscuits Limited:   
Education: Honors in Food Marketing at Newcastle University
Interests: Family, all things sporting & outdoors

Giles Brook has spent an extensive amount of his life and career working in the food and drink industry. For four years, Giles Brook was General Manager and Commercial Director for Innocent Smoothies (UK and Ireland.) In his time on the Board there, he helped to transform the business, expanding profits from £17 million to £110 million. He spent an equally successful seven years in Commercial and Trade Marketing for Coca Cola Enterprises, between 1998 and 2005. He holds an Honors in Food Marketing from Newcastle University.

In 2009, he undertook the role of CEO of Vita Coco: Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Describing the nature of his work there, he says: “I have been responsible for building the coconut water category in Europe, leading that process with Vita Coco, the 100 percent natural coconut water brand which is already living up to its billing as the next big thing in natural, healthy lifestyle and sports beverages.”

At this point in time, Vita Coco and Coconut Water is the fastest growing global brand within the non-alcoholic beverage sector worldwide. Brook also supports and encourages other start-up businesses, and has previously held non-executive roles within the industry.

An interesting beginning

The Vita Coco journey started in the US more than 12 years ago. As Brook relates, Mike Kirban and Ira Liran were the original founders of the brand, and both are long-term friends of Brook. One day, Mike and Ira met two Brazilian girls in a New York bar, and asked them what they most missed about Brazil. The girls quickly replied ‘Aqua de Coco’. Shortly after that night, Ira hopped on a plane to Brazil to visit one of the girls, and learned that the coconut water story was real. It was widely regarded as an essential, tasty beverage by Brazilians.

Consequently, when Mike visited Ira in Brazil a few months later, they got down to business and formulated a plan to bring coconut water to the US. In that moment, the Vita Coco phenomenon was born. And, in a romantic twist to events, Ira married one of the two girls, who had inspired the initial idea, and moved to Brazil with her.

In 2004, Mike and Ira travelled once more to the tropical beaches of Brazil to produce the very first batch of Vita Coco with the aid of a small collective of local coconut farmers. And today, they operate factories in tropical nations globally.

Vita Coco-Inside View

Vita Coco is a simple product based on one single ingredient – fresh coconut water. The coconut water used in Vita Coco comes from young green coconuts and is full of naturally occurring potassium and essential electrolytes. With no colorings, preservatives or flavorings and never produced from concentrate, some say it’s just like sticking a straw in a coconut!

The Vita Coco brand has experienced strong international growth since it entered the UK in 2010 – the brand’s first overseas market. Interestingly, Vita Coco’s sales in London recently surpassed the brand’s sales in New York City, which had long been Vita Coco’s largest metropolitan market.

As Brook says: “There are a lot of coconut brands in the market but we always maintain the supply chain by working directly with the farmer. Every day we crack over two million coconuts to give consumers the refreshment that they are looking for. We have partnership with farmers as well as with production companies.”

Commenting on consumer feedback on Vita Coco, Brook says: “Feedback from customers is good. Customers love it since it is very refreshing and yet holds no calories or sugar. It perfectly meets the demand for natural, healthy products.” As he goes on to add: “We think it is great value for money and cheaper drink and premium quality testing.”

Vita Coco Coconut Water is currently sold at over 125,000 retailers worldwide. The product is now available in over 30 countries, including the UK, France, Germany, America and Japan. It has experienced spectacular growth since its initial introduction to the UK market in January 2010, a nation where sales is estimated to have expanded to £65m by the end of 2014.

Indeed, the brand has doubled its size in retail value every year since launch five years ago. In 2010 Vita Coco was awarded ‘Product of the Year’ and in 2012 it won ‘Marketing Campaign of the Year Award’ at the Sony World Food Awards for achievement in the UK and Europe. Today there are over 19,000 stockists in Europe alone.

Growth in the GCC

The GCC is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, due to a stable business environment and a steadily expanding consumer demand. Given this, the GCC is one of the most favorite destinations for many companies around the world, and Vita Coco is no exception.

The company identified a growing consumer demand and a favorable business environment for the consumption of fresh and cool natural coconut water in such desert countries. As Brook reveals: “We identified the GCC as a very important business growth area for our product over the next few years. Consequently, we have ventured widely into the GCC and now have our product on the market in most of the Gulf countries.”

Vita Coco expanded into the UAE in 2014, which is now one of their biggest markets, and this success has increased consumer demand across the GCC region amongst expats and locals alike. The company has recently launched its natural coconut water in Qatar, where it is stocked by leading retailers such as Carrefour, Lulu, Spinneys, Al Meera, Monoprix and at many office sites, sports outlets and other leading independents.

Commenting on the source of the coconut water in the GCC, Brook notes: “We have nine production sites across seven different countries. For Qatar, we mainly source our products from the Philippines.”

He goes on to add: “We expect Qatar to be a strong market for the Vita Coco brand, as promoting a healthy lifestyle is top of the agenda for the State of Qatar. Coconut water is one of the fastest growing drinks in the non-alcoholic beverage category across the globe, and Vita Coco leads the global growth in the market. It continues to do so as more people look for healthy beverage alternatives in their day-to-day lives.”

The way forward

Like every other business, Vita Coco also faces challenges. As Brook reveals:  “The major challenge to us is a lot of competition in the market, but competition actually brings a number of benefits to our business. The main aim is to stand out of the crowd, so we welcome competition.”

However, Brooks is extremely optimistic with regards to future expansion of the Vita Coco brand in the GCC, and in order to achieve that, he is always developing more effective strategies for growth in the future as he says: “An extension of our presence in the GCC is imminent, as we are planning to enter markets in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain soon.”

In the highly competitive global beverage market, there is little doubt that coconut water has become extremely high-profile, with many celebrities and other market drivers embracing its refreshing, healthy benefits.

Yet, given that the product has seen such an expansive growth rate of sales, what is the secret of success given the rise of other powerful players like Pepsico, whose brands include O.N.E. and Naked? Brook says: “We build the brand from the bottom up, serving the right customers through the right marketing tools. Listening to your consumers is key – it can have positive results for customer experience, which in turn leads to more successful business.”

There is no doubt that a company that can connect consumers with a great refreshment experience can easily go to the next level in a sustainable way, and to Vita Coco, customer experience is crucial. It is clear that exotic sells, and with a product that is low in calories and fat and rich in vitamins and minerals. Vita Coco have the vital tools forged from experience in the industry to entice consumers to participate in that exotic, healthy and above all refreshing dream.

dyala-sabbagh

Name: Dyala Sabbagh, Founding Partner, Gulf Intelligence
Age: 46
Educational qualifications: BSc. History/Economics, University of London; MA School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington DC
Previous positions held (prior to Gulf Intelligence): Middle East Bureau Chief Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal

Dyala Sabbagh is an experienced journalist, working in the Middle East. She is a much sought after moderator and master of ceremonies for the government

Whatever be their chosen field, from business to politics, or culture to creativity, women have transformed the world since the dawn of time. Many of them have displayed such an enthusiasm in changing the world around them with their brilliant ideas and passion for hard work that they have gone on to inspire other women to make a similar change and write their own success stories in today’s competitive world.

Sabbagh, one of the founding partners of Gulf Intelligence, once the bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires in the Middle East, and an international journalist who has presented business programmes for the BBC and CNBC, is such a woman. She is currently very much in demand as a moderator and master of ceremonies for government, business and charitable events across the GCC, and has personally hosted events featuring international luminaries such as US President Bill Clinton, Queen Rania of Jordan and Sir Bob Geldof. In her writing and broadcasting career, Dyala has interviewed a wide and diverse range of leaders from the political, economic, cultural and business world.

From the world of banking to the media world

As Sabbagh says: “I am a UK/Lebanese citizen, raised in London. I completed my BSc. in Economics and History from the University of London and an MA in Arab Studies from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Shortly after that I began working in business media as a reporter, based in London. I have also worked in the banking sector, with Credit Suisse First Boston.”

This dynamic combination of a UK public school education, coupled with her Lebanese origins, has resulted in a fluency in Arabic and English which helped her gain a deep understanding of the complex nature of the issues facing the Arab World and helped her to emerge as a face of the modern Middle East by addressing those issues in the media.

She is also a founding partner of Gulf Intelligence – as she states: “I moved to Dubai in 2000 as the regional bureau chief for Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, and thereafter worked in network TV with the BBC and CNBC. In 2010, I co-founded Gulf Intelligence.”

She passionately believes that the influence of media on views regarding gender in the GCC is progressing in the right direction. As she states: “As far as I am aware, the media in the GCC portrays women accurately. And I would go on to say that on the whole, it is a positive portrayal – one where women play a critical role both in the economy and the home.”

Sabbagh is married and has three children. Indeed, she believes that her greatest achievement to date, has been to balance her professional progression in conjunction with raising a family.

Gulf Intelligence

“In the Gulf, the depth of advice in the public relations space was, until recently, rather basic and the founders of Gulf Intelligence identified a genuine need for tangible value-added communications advice in the energy sector and other industries.”

Gulf Intelligence is a UAE-based communications consultancy, whose primary aim is to enable vital knowledge exchange between stakeholders operating across the South-South Corridor. Through effective networking, Gulf Intelligence connects government-related entities in the Middle East with international partners, in order to reveal and produce intelligence that can be shared for their mutual benefit.

They produce an annual Gulf Intelligence Middle East Energy Series of energy-focused forums in the Gulf. They also develop and produce media and industry roundtables for their clients, publish a quarterly Energy Outlook, white papers and analytical special reports on critical topics of concern to energy companies and international investors, who may be considering business in Asia and Africa.

With regard to Gulf Intelligence’s diverse portfolio of clients, Sabbagh says: “Gulf Intelligence’s clients incorporate regional and international companies, predominantly in the energy, finance, health and IT sectors. We help them to develop strategies that deliver results.”

Strategic consultancy

“Creativity, curiosity, horizontal thinking and an attentive focus on client needs are the secrets to true success in the strategic consultancy sector.”

Strategic consultancy is one of the most prestigious segments within the professional services industry, offering clients an extensive portfolio of management consulting services, addressing important strategic issues, solving operational problems, developing creative strategies and providing practical solutions at every stage of the client’s development. With her in-depth background in international broadcast journalism, Sabbagh was always ideally placed to launch a ‘high-end’, premier league strategic consultancy with superb global reach. As she states:

“As a journalist, one garners a lot of insight into the personalities and trends of the industry or areas which one covers. In the Gulf, the depth of advice in the public relations space was, until recently, rather basic and the founders of Gulf Intelligence identified a genuine need for tangible value-added communications advice in the energy sector and other industries.”

Sabbagh has been a leading player in the industry for over six years and her vast experience has helped her to identify some of the key skills essential for success in this competitive field. As she says: “Creativity, curiosity, horizontal thinking and an attentive focus on client needs are the secrets to true success in the strategic consultancy sector.”

She notes that staying ahead of the curve, continuing to think out of the box and to offer tangible value to clients are the biggest challenges for her business. To conclude, her aim is simple – to address the demand from top global institutions for effective strategies that will result in powerful actions that will help them stay on top and ahead of the competition in the combative arena of world markets.

Fabien Revol

fabien-revolName: Fabien Revol, Chief Operating Officer at Newrest
Age: 36
Educational Qualifications: Master Degree in Business and Cross Cultural Management
Newrest’s presence in how many countries with how many kitchens: 50 countries – 70 inflight central kitchens
Last year’s turnover: 1.4 billion euros

Fabien Revol, Chief Operating Officer at Newrest, was raised by an entrepreneurial family who specialized in hospitality. So there is little wonder that Fabien has a great passion for working within the hospitality industry.

Fabien graduated in economics and marketing, obtaining a Master’s degree in international business. His specialization in Asian cultures brought him initially to Asia, before joining Newrest in 2010 as Operations Director. Today, Fabien is Country Manager Qatar and COO for the Middle East (excluding Saudi Arabia), Asia and Oceania.

Passion in the blood

Having been raised within an entrepreneurial family (which owned and operated restaurants and hotels) Fabien Revol was attracted to the service industry. As he says: “With regards to food and beverage, I am proud to say that culinary skill runs in my family! I was lucky to have a mother and grandmothers, who were all amazing cooks. Mealtimes have always been very important events in my family, precious moments where family and friends could gather together and exchange stories.”

He adds: “After graduating in marketing and business in France and UK, I worked with my dad and had the opportunity to manage my first business unit. After a year of doing that, I seized the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree in multi-cultural management, with a focus on China. That took me to Shanghai and Beijing, where I started to work for the catering industry.”

He describes that as “a natural path to start a career in the catering industry,” and goes on to say: “As I was already acquainted with the food and beverages aspects of the catering industry through my upbringing, after finishing my studies I discovered amazing opportunities to share my passion for food on a much larger scale. For me, this necessarily involved the implementation of high-quality catering services that could be affordable for everyone, with a focus upon providing people with quality on a daily basis, particularly when at work, or traveling.”

Fabien spent over 10 years in Asia, learning and honing his skills until he took on what was, as he states: “A fantastic challenge – to manage the entire operations of Newrest in the Sultanate of Oman, with more than 100 sites spread across the country. This led me to become General Manager, before we created Newrest Gulf in order to expand our presence in the KSA and Oman.”

A truly diversified client portfolio 

“Newrest Gulf’s food and catering services cut across a number of organizations, increasingly focusing on catering for companies, government workers, oil and gas, education, the health system as well as camp construction”

Since establishing Newrest Gulf in 2013, the company has provided its innovative, industry leading out-of-home food and catering services. These services cut across a number of organizations, increasingly focusing on catering for companies, government workers, oil and gas, education, the health system as well as camp construction.

Newrest sells its expertise in over 50 countries, and is the only out-of-home catering and services company that is active across all catering and related hospitality segments, including in-flight services, rail and group catering, retail, buy on board, duty free, and remote site support services.

As Revol states: “With 70-plus central kitchens worldwide, Newrest serves most of the regional airlines. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Saudi Airlines are among our largest clients.”

He goes on to add: “Newrest Gulf currently caters over 60,000 meals per day in Qatar, providing services to a number of prestigious clients including the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Interior, Qatari Diar, Waseef, Qatar Foundation affiliates, Qatalum and Qafac to name a few. We also have significant presence in the oil and gas sectors, including Qatar Petroleum and affiliated companies such as Qatalum and Qafac.”

A one-stop shop

Newrest manages revenues of 1.386 billion euros (2014) and has more than 28,000 employees worldwide, in 49 countries. This makes Newrest the second largest ‘independent’ airline caterer in the world.

Newrest Gulf is building on this tremendous global success through an unwavering commitment to deliver every aspect of the business to the highest international standards, ensuring greater efficiencies in its quality and services, and setting the benchmark for out-of-home food and catering services in Qatar.

As Revol notes: “For instance, for oil and gas clients we also manage wider aspects of the hospitality and catering business than the provision of healthy and tasty meals. This includes diverse areas like housekeeping, pest control, and laundry.  Basically, when it comes to catering, we are present at each important moment of the client’s or employees’ experience throughout the day.”

Revol also notes that, with regards to airline passengers, this breadth of involvement in the customer’s overall experience: “Means that Newrest is present at all steps of the passenger experience, from the lounge that we manage, to the supply of onboard magazines, laundering sleep blankets, packaging earphones, providing meals on board from first class through economy) to the duty free and buy-on-board solutions.”

Quality first

“Newrest manages revenues of 1.386 billion euros (2014) and has more than 28,000 employees worldwide, in 49 countries, making it the second largest independent airline caterer in the world”

Newrest Gulf is unwavering in its dedication to implement international standards on a local level as it maintains the ethos of the Newrest offer worldwide to each and every aspect of delivery. This includes a core management team from the Newrest corporate office as well as Newrest offices from around the world who are trained and experienced in their core values and operational practices.

As Revol says: “As a service-based company, Newrest Gulf continues to focus on the people who are at the forefront of their business every day, ensuring the best possible quality meals that are adapted specifically to the environment they are in.”

He goes on to add: “Newrest Gulf works methodically to ensure that nutritional intake is provided across a range of different scenarios and nationalities, which means adapting menus to the need of the local environment.”

On top of this, Newrest Gulf has regular international audits and reports from Newrest’s Head Office in terms of adhering to food quality and safety. Newrest has invested globally into building this infrastructure to ensure that it never compromises the quality of its operations, and maintains a firm focus on the people that it caters for.

In addition, Newrest Gulf maintains rigorous efficiency in processes and upholding effective cost measures, achieved in the main through their dominant global position within aviation and on board catering services. Newrest Gulf also has an unrivalled wealth of international experience and knowledge with regards to food safety, hygiene, work-site best practices and job safety.

In Qatar, Newrest Gulf continues to emphasize the healthy value of their food as they cater to over seven different regional cuisines per day in each of their operations, serving a mix of Asian, Indian, South-East Asian and European cuisines.

What gives Newrest the edge

Revol believes that the varying, diverse sectors of Newrest’s business complete rather than compete with each other, a dynamic, adaptable process that compensates in order to address market fluctuations, as they are not driven by the same cost structure. For instance when the oil price is low, it is good for the airline industry but not for drilling clients.

Nevertheless, despite transient setbacks in any specific sector, overall the company strives to apply the same high quality of delivery, safety standards  and production values across the board. As he says: “At the end of the day, whether our job is to cut tomatoes in a safe and hygienic way, provide service with a smile, or serve up a competitive price, we maintain high standards across the entire spectrum of the services we provide, in whatever environment you may be in –  on a plane, in a train, on an offshore platform or within your office in West Bay.”

Finally as he says: “Being present within all these sectors allows us to be more cost-efficient by driving down our central structure costs and developing support services for our clients such as the digital platform which is used across our entire client portfolio. For example, Newrest launched an application that allows consumers to be informed of the daily menu, promotions and nutritional information in their specific cafeterias in real time, and on time.” 

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