Savola Food Company – Innovation Founded in Intelligence

Savola Foods is a great place to work that is pushing innovation throughout the food industry.

When we speak to Adil Walanshira, General Manager, and head of Business-to-Business Development at Savola Foods, it is immediately clear that he is pleased. He has every right to be as well. His firm has just been awarded the title of ‘A Great Place to Work in Saudi’. It is an award that Walanshira obviously agrees with.

“It is a people’s company, and people are our most valuable asset and resource,” he insists. “This is exactly what drove the passion that formed the first generation of Savola 40 years ago. It drove us to start investing in food production.”

Savola Foods started out as a small edible oil company, going on to become a multinational player in the categories of edible oil, sugar, pasta, nuts and spices, vegetable fats, seafood, and bakery, not only in the Saudi market but also in regional markets.

Savola Food Company today owns operations in nine countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan and UAE. It manages a broad portfolio of food brands, including many market leaders across multiple countries. Brands like Afia, Al Arabi Oil, Al Osra Sugar, Ladan Oil, Yudum Oil, Al Malika Pasta, Culina Fat and Rawabi Ghee.

Led by the Market

“We are building food security concepts in existing markets, maintaining strong brand equity and achieving the highest market shares while gaining consumer and customer trust,” Walanshira tells us. “As a local supplier in nine countries, Savola Professional is the right business partner for all B2B Customers, offering just-in-time delivery, high-quality products and competitive pricing.”

It is a position that Savola Food Company has been able to maintain thanks to an ongoing focus on innovation, itself built on a foundation of customer and market understanding.

“In addition to all of that Savola is trying to be very close to its consumer and its customers and that differentiates us,” explains Diaa Rashwan, General Manager of Strategic Marketing Services & Innovations at Savola Foods and Head of Marketing in the B2B arm. “We have an in-depth internal consumer understanding centre focused on comprehending the market, the trends, what the latest customer needs are and what the competition is offering.”

This knowledge base directly informs Savola’s innovation pipeline.

“We build on that good understanding of the markets and try to provide our end users with a differentiated product that gives them a real benefit, different from what our competition is offering,” Rashwan says. “We have a central innovation team that supports our different business units across all markets, with smaller teams in each market, and a central team in Egypt. We work together to deliver product and packaging solutions.”

Innovation and market understanding are more essential now than ever, as the industry, and food security across the board are undergoing a volatile period.

 Adapting to New Circumstances

“We are seeing increasing commodity prices, which is leading to volatility in selling prices,” says Walanshira. “We are also facing a lack of supplies in certain products, due to Russia and Ukraine War.”

The challenges are particularly evident around Savola’s original lead product, edible oils, demonstrating just how fragile food security can be.

“For example, look at edible oils, the main ingredient for the majority of our products. We import crude oil and refine it and fill it into our bottles to sell in the business-to-business format, and to consumers. Now there are huge challenges in that supply chain from different countries,” Walanshira tells us. “Several months ago, with effects from global warming, Canada was not able to supply canola oil. Argentina couldn’t provide soya and we were left with two main types of oil, sunflower and palm oil. 70% of sunflower oil comes from Ukraine and Russia. That meant they couldn’t supply us, so we had palm oil imported from Indonesia, but then inflated prices to local consumers meant the Indonesian President banned exports. That created a big challenge to countries all around the world, as Indonesia commands around 60% of the exports of palm oil.”

Savola Food Company has responded by implementing new procurement strategies, such as hedging, to avoid buying risks, and has diversified its sourcing to include new international imports.

“We are expanding our sourcing to include new countries. We have begun bringing sunflower oil in from Romania and Bulgaria,” Walanshira explains. “We can also blend different types of oil to get a final product that suits our customers in the Saudi market.”

Managing Talent

Throughout any changes or volatile behaviour in the markets and the food chain, Savola relies on its dedicated and talented staff.

Generally, Savola recruits fresh management trainees and builds their knowledge to be future leaders in the companies they own, in addition to injecting our teams with experienced leaders.

Clear SMARTS, cross-functional projects, and on-the-job training,” Walanshira says “We are also implementing a variety of retention programs to keep high calibre staff within the organisation.”

Because of the company’s international reach, Savola has a wide pool of talent to draw from.

“Working in the countries that we do means we have access to top-tier talented people. We have been in this field for quite some time, we have our own academy, our own programs with universities geared to attract high calibre staff,” Walanshira explains. “We have a clear system that measures performance, we run cross-functional projects between departments and provide on the job training. Together this helps us know exactly how people perform based on our standard operating systems. We have an internal auditing system to make sure other departments are performing to the standards we are measuring them by.”

A key aspect of Savola’s approach is that people tend to modify their behaviour depending on how they are measured, and so it is important to measure what matters. Staff perform based on these clear SMARTs, or “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound” criteria throughout the year.

“Everyone in the company knows what they need to do to be among our top talented managers and what they need to do to achieve a higher rating year on year,” Walanshira explains.

Moving forward, Walanshira expects Savola Food Company to have a bright future, with its business-to-business vertical identified as a key growth pillar and priority for the company. Savola has set a clear target to be the dominant player in MENAT by 2026, winning through innovations of relevant solutions and excellent customer service.

“This is why Savola has launched its new arm, Savola Professional to address the increasing demand in this important channel, in eight regional countries,” Walanshira points out.

It will be exciting to see how this new branch of the company evolves.

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