With 30 branches nationwide and 600 employees, Imtenan Health Shop has established itself as Egypt’s best-known health products brand. But the homegrown company is not content with its local achievements, striving to beat the world’s top health retailers.
Originally retailing premium honey, Imtenan was founded in 1982 by Farouk’s father, a military communications officer by training. All of the company’s produce was exported to Saudi Arabia, until the late 1980s when he decided to target the local market as well.
“He (my father) wondered why high-quality products were not sold at home and had to be exported,” remembered Farouk. “He was told that Egyptians only cared about the price. But he believed that Egyptians would pay a premium price for high-quality products.”
It was not until the second generation took charge after the founder’s death in 2000 that the company sought to diversify its portfolio. With his eldest brother, Farouk introduced the concept of a one-stop health shop to Egyptian consumers.
In 2005, Imtenan’s first health store opened in Egypt. But the company first had to reverse misconceptions about natural food.
“The biggest challenge we faced when we opened the first health store in 2005 was people’s lack of confidence in organic and natural food,” said Farouk. “Organic products available on the market then were a hoax.”
To distinguish itself from fake brands, Imtenan sought endorsement from the government and experts, making sure that its products were licensed by the Ministry of Health and promoted by nutrition specialists.
“Also, all our salesmen have a scientific background. They are either nutritionists or graduates of schools of pharmacy or natural sciences,” said Farouk.
In addition to honey, Imtenan has hundreds of products and supplements encompassing cosmetics, women’s and children’s health, and athletes’ needs.
Customers can also consult in-house nutritionists and order bespoke formulas to boost energy, revitalise memory, rejuvenate skin or help alleviate the symptoms of some chronic diseases. At the back of each store, a nutritionist, clad in a white gown, face mask and cap, prepares the required product instantaneously.
According to Farouk, Imtenan products comply with Codex Alimentarius, a collection of guidelines recognised by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. The company also observes safety measures stipulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Imtenan hopes that attaining such high standards will help the company compete with top Western firms. In particular, Farouk and his brother remain inspired by the prestigious British health retailer Holland and Barrett.
“We really hope to become like Holland and Barrett,” said Farouk, who believes that competitive pricing can help them see off foreign competition.
“The idea of Imtenan is to offer healthy products of premium quality at a price that everyone can afford,” said Farouk. As an example, Farouk cites Imtenan’s weight loss tea. While Imtenan charges U.S.$1 for a pack, foreign competitors charge U.S.$17 for a similar product, he added.
“Imtenan has this pricing edge over its American and European competitors for two reasons,” he explained. “First, the labour cost is much lower in our country. Second, we do not charge a cost for the know-how of the formula. We only charge people for the ingredients.”
The company has two overseas stores so far, in France and Saudi Arabia. “We are planning to open more stores,” confirmed Farouk, adding that annual sales have reached nearly U.S.$14 million.
Yet Farouk is wary about the future of his family’s 35-year-old business. “Most family businesses are usually dismantled by the third generation,” he said. “The mission of the second generation is to make sure that this company lasts for 200 years.”
To ensure the brand’s longevity, Farouk is considering independent corporate governance. “We should separate ownership from management,” he said. “The company should be run by professional managers.”