“We wanted something more scalable than [a restaurant] at a small incremental cost”

The Grid: From banker to B2B desert maker. What was that moment of change?

Rehan Samee: I always had the entrepreneurial curiosity. Since I first came to Dubai twenty years ago I have been itching with ideas. Whether it was to create nutritious preservative free TV dinners, inspired by the most amazing Thai red curry cooked by my ex-wife; or looking to establish different types of entertainment centers when all my boys would have to play with in malls when they were growing up were ball pits! Why not carting, archery or even miniature golf… with some kind of F&B? So I have been down a lot of paths that never materialized.

The Grid: Why do you think that was?

Rehan Samee: In hindsight, it was not as much about the feasibility of the product as it was the type of co-operation – particularly with the TV dinner idea. The person you think of as the co owner of the company interprets roles differently to what you do sometimes. Pieces therefore don’t fall into place.

The Grid: Your current business, Savarin, is picking up the pieces. It made the cut into Sharjah’s Sheraa accelerator program this summer. How did it begin?

Rehan Samee: In 2014 I found myself at a crossroad. After 17 years in the finance industry, my employer at the time was exiting the business across the world and offering gracious settlements to senior members of the team. I thought it was the right time to go on a tangent and set up a new company. I had the bandwidth. I had the runway. It was about thinking and research and meeting people and formulating and validating ideas though data and conversation. Then, it was about deciding to take the big step and going for it!

The Grid: Why was it food?

Rehan Samee: I sometimes think it was a lack of my imagination, which stopped at food! People eat everyday. Even with food, I was sure I didn’t want what ninety percent of people do – open a restaurant or café. I wanted something more scalable than that at a small incremental cost. Food service was the answer.

The Grid: So what is the food service industry really? What does the term mean?

Rehan Samee: Think of it as a central facility doing something related to food. It could be importing or exporting ingredients or finished products; manufacturing food in central kitchens for economies of scale; and distributing any / all of these to different segments… it could be a crisp factory churning out packets to supermarkets for end consumers.

What attracted me to food service, particularly the outsourced dessert production market, was the scalability of it. Yes, it requires a minimum type of up front investment because the fit out of your kitchen for example has to fully meet a minimum standard (HACCP or some ISO standard).

You can’t fit it out partially and then gauge appetite for your product(s) before upgrading the rest of the kitchen, for example. You have to consider your run way into the future from Day 1. But once you have that part right-sized to your business model, it is simply a question of taking your product and introducing it into different customer segments.

For us, these segments are hospitality / restaurants / cafes (or HORECA); the travel segment … be it airport lounges or in-flight meals; the home meal replacement segment … so that’s the food item you buy from a retailer or a restaurant or a bakery for consumption at home.

The Grid: Can you quantify the size of the market for our readers?

Rehan Samee: Again, we focus on desserts in the food service space. This on its own is approximately a USD1bn market today, just in the UAE on an annual basis. This is the approximate spend in the industry measured by consumption of dessert products, primarily in the HORECA space and items purchased for home consumption (but not prepared in homes). Some estimate a much larger number but we prefer quoting from our own anecdotal experience.

This is an extract from an interview with Rehan Samee, Co-Founder of Savarin – redefining desserts.

Interview by Tasneem Mayet, Research Director, The Grid Media Ltd

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