From modest beginnings in Jordan more than 25 years ago, Al Nabil Food Industries Company has grown to become one of the biggest producers of frozen and chilled food in the Kingdom.
By Dina al-Wakeel and Jane Hosking
Following the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, many Iraqi businessmen resolved to shift their companies to Jordan due to its close proximity, stability, and Free Trade Agreements with the United States and other key markets. But Nabil Rassam, the general manager of Al Nabil Food Industries Company, recognized the value of the Jordanian market long before.
The company began life in Iraq in 1945, when Rassam’s parents established a 500 square-meter factory. He first started helping out at the small facility at the age of 12, before assuming leadership when he graduated from university.
Gradually the factory started expanding, eventually reaching 27,000 square meters. Soon after this expansion, challenges forced them to close the factory and establish another in Jordan. Here they also grew from a humble 4,000 square meter factory in 1989, to approximately 30,000 square meters located in the King Abdullah Industrial City, with about 800 employees, most of whom are Jordanians. The company now produces 70 tons of food products daily.
“We chose Jordan because between Iraq and Europe it’s located in the middle, and because of its stability. We are also satisfied with Jordan’s trade agreements with the West. Now we can export to the U.S. without taxes, we can also export to some Arab countries and others,” he explained.
Almost three decades since their move to the Kingdom, the brand and all the products it represents—from the famed range of Iraqi kubbeh, to cold cuts and various frozen chicken produce—have flourished, becoming a common dish on many Jordanian dinner tables. The company has also become the main supplier of meat and chicken for the likes of McDonald’s, Papa Jones, and Subway in Jordan.
It was only possible for Nabil to become a renowned brand acknowledged by international fast food chains and franchises because of the high standards they follow. “What we produce we eat,” insisted Rassam. “It was due to these ideas that we succeeded.”
Australia is the main source of Nabil’s beef, while their chicken is sourced from Brazil, dry ingredients and spices from Europe, and packaging materials from Jordan. They also implement HACCP, the global standards of food safety management system, and carry out several laboratory analyses throughout the production process, earning the factory several food safety and quality certificates.
Rassam is particularly fond of new technology, making sure to add the latest machinery to his factory. “I always work on adding the latest technology,” he said, citing an anecdote of when he asked his pregnant wife what she would deliver and her answer was “a machine,” because she is fully aware of her husband’s obsession with machinery, technology, and new things.
Today the factory’s product lines include meat and chicken, pastry products, traditional sub-products, as well as desserts. They export around 50 to 55 percent of their products to the GCC, Iraq, Lebanon, Tanzania, and they also export vegetarian products to Sweden, Australia, and the United States. But the ongoing political instability in Libya has pushed them out of that market.
According to Rassam, all of Nabil’s products are quite popular. But it also depends on the country they export to; In Jordan, for instance, the most popular products are the kubbeh and the pastries, as well as the burgers and the chicken produce. But he insisted that in general, all of his products appeal to different taste buds.
Their largest market share is in Jordan at 57 percent, while Saudi Arabia is their second biggest market at 10 percent, followed by Iraq with 8 percent. There is also an increase in demand for Nabil’s products from airline catering companies as well as oil and gas camps.
Furthermore, the company continues to invest in upgrading its facility. Since 2009, they have invested $21 million to triple the capacity of production, upgrade technology and machinery, add new production lines, create a new showroom, and streamline operations.
Rassam also attributes his company’s success to keeping his employees happy. “We want our employees to go home to their families happy and then get back to work happy to produce good products. Good products also make customers happy. This is our strategy.”
Although Rassam said there were no hurdles to his business in Jordan, he still acknowledged that the rise in electricity prices was a challenge.
“Everything is going well in Jordan,” he said, adding that although they couldn’t increase their sales by 25 percent last year, as was their target, mainly because they had to pull out of the Libyan market and the fluctuating Iraqi market, they still managed a respectable 12 percent growth. “Electricity is our only difficulty and that is the same for [everybody] … But we are still doing well, we pay salaries, change our equipment, and live nicely,” he added.
A look Ahead
In 2013, a new partnership also brought new blessings to the company. The Carlyle Group announced in May that year that they now held a significant minority equity stake in the company, with the Rassam family continuing to hold a majority stake and retaining the management role.
They have recently introduced a new line of fully cooked products. “This is particularly helpful to the working wife … I want to provide them with a lot of items; good food, easy to be prepared, and at a reasonable price, to heat and eat to save them time and energy,” said Rassam.
They’re also collaborating with a fitness company to create a new, oil-free health line. Rassam expects these new products to hit the markets within the coming few months. His short-term plans also include recruiting a general manager so that Rassam can focus more on development and customer service.
But it is people’s confidence that has given them the seal of approval. “You have many companies here and the market is open for products from other countries, but for us you can see in the market where we have a big share,” said Rassam. “We gained people’s confidence and they believe in our products. We feel that we are doing something right; I produce good products, using good quality raw material, I take care of my employees, customers, and the hygiene in my factory. I keep my customers satisfied.”