Spokesperson and the Head of Human Resources of France-based Bel Foundation Egypt and North East Africa Haitham Essam speaks to Ahram Online about the impacts of the pandemic on the foundation’s business in Egypt and how it sees the investment climate in the Egyptian market.
Essam unveiled that the total investments of the foundation in Egypt amount to EGP 400 million, adding that the country is the foundation’s hub to other borders and North African countries, reaching 14 countries with total investments worth EGP 1.5 billion across the region.
Ahram Online: How does Bel see business doing & investment climate in Egypt?
HE: Egypt succeeded four years ago in developing a plan towards mapping out the features of the country's new economic development in line with UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Egypt’s 2030 Vision is based on the principles of 'comprehensive sustainable development' and 'balanced regional development'.
This was accompanied by massive economic reforms that were hard at the beginning, but, in time, they helped strengthen growth, reduce unemployment, increase foreign reserves, and put public debt on a downward path. Such bold decisions at the time helped in maintaining a strong economy in the current tough time we are all going through.
Bel Group has been in the Egyptian market for the past 23 years with more than EGP 400 million in investments, and is offering three of the renowned and most desired brands to Egyptian consumers which are; La Vache Qui Rit, Kiri, and the latest release Abu Al-Walad. Egypt for Bel Group is considered a strategic market in Africa and Middle Eastern fronts.
Throughout the past years, our strategy in the local market reflects our global strategy, focusing on three main pillars including, “building a positive brand” and championing healthier and responsible food for all, while accelerating positive innovation by improving the nutritional profile of products, offering new flavours, new formats, or new usages.
Finally, we focus on “adapting to tomorrow’s distribution channels” to become a major player in healthy snacks through expanding their brand presence to all channels such as e-commerce, specialised organic food stores, and on-the-go sales circuits.
AO: How has the COVID-19 crises affected your business in Egypt, the sales as an example?
HE: The impact of the global COVID-19 crisis is increasingly and directly affecting global economies on various levels. However, the pandemic entails positive effects and negative as well, for instance, the world is moving towards technological advancements like never before.
For example, to counter these adverse effects, the Egyptian government acted positively to support economic activities and households via accommodating fiscal and monetary policies. We are estimating that we are currently in the recovery phase, with the presence of vaccines, life will return back to normal. As you know, the fast-moving consumer goods sector is not only a vital sector for the national economy, but it is also an essential sector for consumers worldwide.
We as Bel Group, just like the rest of Food and Beverage companies, witnessed a surge in sales at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter of 2020 due to consumers’ appetites for storage, and the month of Ramadan. However, after that period, the sales declined due to the continued closure of many outlets which are vital to food and beverage companies such as hotels and restaurants. Bel Group is aware of the growing economic, societal, and environmental challenges, and is determined to change their consumer’s expectations in favor of natural content, food safety, transparency, and quality.
AO: How did Bel in Egypt contribute to supporting the Egyptian community in this challenging time?
HE: As we explained before, our sales have been affected, as is the case for other private sector companies. But during the coronavirus and the lockdown periods, it was important for us to ensure the continuity of our production process and availability of our products in the market and we have put the safety and health of our employees on top of our priorities.
Not only that, our support extended to our consumers with the launch of La Vache Qui Rit’s family “Laughter Box initiative” during COVID 19 to empower the moms with happy memories to support their families; choose to stay home, choose to stay positive, and choose to laugh during those tough times.
The campaign managed to help more than 10,000 families spend valuable time with their kids and we succeeded in reuniting the family, creating wonderful moments that were engraved in their minds in a period when it was difficult to feel joy.
It is among the established values of Bel in Egypt, as a private sector company in collaboration with NGOs, to support the Egyptian government to combat the pandemic with multiple initiatives. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bel in Egypt has dedicated EGP 4 million for a series of initiatives since the outbreak of this global pandemic.
Also, Bel in Egypt cooperated with the Egyptian Food Bank by supporting daily wage workers through donating part of La Vache Qui Rit’s sales during Ramadan and has also collaborated with the Egyptian Cure Bank to provide maintenance of medical ventilators equipment.
Not only this, Bel in Egypt participated in the coalition formed by several Egyptian private sector companies along with UNICEF and AMCHAM, to provide other medical supplies needed for combating COVID-19.
AO: What are the company’s plans for the Egyptian market?
HE: We are honoured to be part of a promising economy like Egypt, investing sustainably in children’s wellbeing. We are also continuing to reinforce our commitment in the Egyptian market since we became part of the fabric of this great nation by generating employment, investments, and knowledge transfer from the global market to Egypt.
When it comes to investments in Egypt, there are several aspects that influenced us to continue our commitment to the Egyptian market; first, we consider Egypt one of the most strategic markets on the African and Middle Eastern fronts. It is simply our hub to other borders and North African countries, reaching 14 countries with total investments worth EGP 1.5 billion.
Secondly, we are planning to launch several programs in relation to retail aiming to empower retailers to expand their businesses in a healthy and professional manner.
As for our corporate social responsibility strategy, we started in 2020 our cooperation with several civil society institutions with the purpose of providing healthy and responsible food for all, especially with the existence of the global pandemic, and today through the announcement of the Bel Foundation’s annual global grant, our support is still ongoing.
As for the environmental aspects, since 2008, we have succeeded in reducing the consumption of water used in production in our factory by 60 percent, and since 2013, we have managed to reduce energy consumption by 29 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 35 percent.
AO: Can you please tell us in detail the whole story about Bel foundation and the annual global grant?
HE: Bel Foundation is an extension of Bel Group corporate mission; namely “Championing healthier and responsible food for all”. Bel Foundation supports initiatives in bringing concrete solutions for the most vulnerable children and is fully in line with the Group’s mission and reflect its values. Bel Foundation provides support to big and small NGOs through a yearly an international Call for Projects in countries where the group operates.
Bel Foundation, for the first time, is being introduced in the Egyptian market in 2021 through an official launch event. This year, Bel decided to shed light and create awareness in Egypt about the global annual grant offered by its Foundation to invite Egyptian NGOs to take part in this global initiative, and the winning NGO will be granted a financial award.
This initiative enables Bel Group to contribute to the global agenda and UN SDG 2: “Zero Hunger”, which aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition and commits to universal access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food at all times of the year.