“Quality is not about how expensive a product is but how consistent it is”

The Grid: You have focused on a specific area with in the food service industry, why?

Rehan Samee: You mean deserts? There was such a glaring deficiency (in terms of quality) and still is. When you go to a Starbucks, for example, you have a variety of food items to choose from; lollipops and packaged nuts near the check out counter to croissants, muffins, cookies and cakes in their display chillers. These are supplied by different vendors. What we found – and what we still find – is that the quality of these products, particularly bakery and pastry items, is very average. There is sweetness but nothing else.

Now take a step back and just visualize what “food” is to us today … it’s not just a means of survival … it is an experience! Switch on any TV network in any language. There are channels just dedicated to food. Look at the trends reflected there and on social media. There is a growing consciousness of the quality of ingredients, flavor subtleties and texture combinations and clearly a demand for more.

So when we were out there researching the desserts segment, we discovered  that desserts typically available in food service were so poor in quality, you could  taste the short cuts.

For example, you can tell the difference when a cheesecake is made with real cream cheese versus when it is made with a combination of fats / flavourings / preservatives etc that have broadly the same “feel” as the natural product. To us, it didn’t sit well that, on the one hand we had the Nigella Lawsons of the world educating us about the subtleties of flavours and textures, and on the other hand the readily available desserts in Dubai were just about short cuts.

So when we thought of focusing on deserts only it started with fusing these few observations:

  1. People are interested in culinary talent and imagination – so we should offer something imaginative and innovative
  2. People are getting more discerning about ingredients – so we should go totally clean with no artificial chemicals and preservatives (a strong differentiator)
  3. People show loyalty to consistency – so we should have understand that quality is not just about how expensive a product is but more so about how consistent it is.

So the cheesecake – and for some reason I always think of cheesecakes as examples –  that you supply must always fall with in those quality parameters. A slice of it must be the same weight every single time; same qualities same quantities every time. Being fair to the customer. We felt the market was lacking in all of these things and presented a great opportunity.

The Grid: Who is “We”?

Rehan Samee: “We” is truly everyone who works within the company, in addition to the three co founders. This includes my partner Jan Bijsterbosch, a thirty-year food service veteran, and our executive chef Alannah Franchesca who raises culinary imagination to where we want it. For example, we infuse zucchini in our carrot cakes!!! ‘We don’t just execute recipes, we redefine them.’ [Our tag line!]

The Grid: So what is your advice to other similar entrepreneurs passionate about authentic food?

  1. Incentivize the chef – she or he is a very important part of the equation.
  2. Execution is key. Otherwise you risk wasting money.
  3. Don’t take your eye off the ball. Control cash flow.
  4. Find investors with the right time horizon to ultimate exit.
  5. Put together a team that works efficiently.
  6. Inculcate in your company that a humble product – as long as people who eat it think it is best – is worth being proud of. It can have the same gravitas as a fancy product if done right. Don’t obsess over haute cuisine.

The Grid: So how do you feel about the stage of the business you have reached today?

Rehan Samee: We are very proud of the client base that we have developed since inception. These are entities in UAE whose name is synonymous with quality. Of course cost is important to everybody but, even though these are challenging times, we have not had a single request to review our pricing or lower our standards, because our partners don’t want to compromise on quality.

We are at the point where all our clients see us as a consistent and reliable partner and thus feel comfortable that they don’t have to have an army of pastry chefs anymore. So we have succeeded in developing a unique DNA for the business … and now it’s all about scaling up!

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

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

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