RIYADH: Dairy and plant-based drinks company Koita Foods saw a 350 percent rise in online sales last year as consumers working from home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic embraced e-commerce and healthier diets.

“Many platforms are asking for our products as globally there is a big move toward buying online,” Mustafa Koita, the firm’s founder and CEO, told Arab News.

Established in 2013 in Dubai, Koita Foods’ mission is to make healthy food more accessible for families in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (MENASA) region.

The company’s data showed that during the first half of 2020 total sales in Saudi Arabia increased by 111 percent year-on-year, with a 150 percent rise in demand for plant-based drinks, and a 140 percent growth in sales of lactose-free produce.

There has been a huge demand in Saudi Arabia recently for more organic, lactose-free, and non-dairy milk options, with sales up by around 31 percent.

“People are looking for vitamin D, especially when you’re looking at immunity. Immunity is now a buzzword with coronavirus,” Koita said.

Although the business’ online sales have increased during the period of the global health crisis, Koita noted that the virus outbreak had impacted on the sector.

“Seventy percent of my business is retail and grocery stores. The other 30 percent is hotels, restaurants, and catering. So, the hotels got shut down, but the grocery stores were the only thing open in the region,” he added.

In order to monitor the fast-growing new sector, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) has put in place stringent product labelling requirements, in a bid to adhere to international standards.

“They want consumers to see and to have more information at hand. So, we’ve also updated our labels with the SFDA requirements. And we’re very excited that the SFDA is acting as the leader,” Koita said.

The company already has its own strict labelling policy on ingredients. “We already have very good ingredients, such as our organic chocolate milk which is made from organic cocoa, organic brown sugar, and organic milk.”

A self-funded venture, Koita conducted extensive research into the marketplace before launching his namesake products. Via social media, he interviewed thousands of mothers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, and Singapore to find out what they were looking for in a good organic milk solution.

When it came to production, he picked Torino, in Italy, a region known for making some of the best milk in the world. “I found out that the quality of milk depends on what the cows are eating or what is in the soil, as well as how the cows are treated, the pasteurization process, and packaging of the milk.”

He added that the land in Italy was very fertile and that cows there enjoyed a good quality of life. “They have a better view than I do in my own home,” he said.

Koita Foods’ products are sold in more than 1,000 retail outlets throughout the MENASA region and other emerging markets, with revenue continuing to grow.

“We did a lot of expansion in 2020, and I think now what we want to do is focus on doing a better job in the 11 countries that we’re already in.”

Koita added that Saudi Arabia was one of its core markets and that he aimed to improve the firm’s distribution network in the Kingdom over the next 12 months.

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