From a car to cooler trucks: The journey of a raw juice entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur is no mean feat in Qatar, or anywhere else. Couple that with introducing a new lifestyle through health drinks in a country where unhealthy fast food options and health diseases are aplenty, and the challenges multiply manifold.
This is Layla Al-Dorani’s challenge, running RAW Middle East (RAW ME).
Entrepreneurship is rarely a smooth ride and the initial struggle to get the business up on its feet for Al-Dorani meant revamping her entire lifestyle. Al-Dorani, a yoga teacher, has been studying raw foods for a while. She prepares the juices based on her research as well as her own tests of which flavour combinations would go well together. Things are going well right now, she says. “But there’s never a sweet, comfortable spot you can settle into; business always goes through changes, especially when you are running a startup,” she adds.
On her business, she continues: “Juice is an easy grab-and-go option for people, especially with their busy lifestyles. The concept of RAW is to raise awareness about the benefits of eating whole unprocessed food for a healthy life, especially considering how chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and coronary diseases are on the rise here in Qatar,” says Al-Dorani about RAW’s products.
RAW’s cold-pressed juices are high-end products because of the price and quantity of the ingredients that go into them. “It takes about 3 pounds of fruits and vegetables, to produce a half litre of juice. In this case, we have to price our products accordingly. People in Qatar are spending between QR15 and QR20 on a cupcake made from cheap ingredients like flour and sugar compared to our juices made from fresh fruits and vegetables for QR40,” she says. “It’s more about getting people to think about their food choices as many don’t realize how much processed food they actually consume,” Al-Dorani remarks.
A raw market
“There aren’t any prominent local brands of food and beverage in Qatar that are exported and distributed internationally. When I visited the Gulf Food Expo this year, I noticed that there were brands of food from all over the globe and sadly the Qatar section specifically sponsored by QDB had nothing to showcase that is locally made. The closest thing we have to a locally exported brand is the Chapati & Karak.
“With diseases such as obesity and diabetes plaguing the society here, the country needs to make a huge effort to meet Qatar’s National Vision for 2030 for a healthier future. There are no healthy products made here, which is what we’ve been pushing for. Sadly, there has not been much support from the government. They don’t support entrepreneurs or innovation as much as everyone assumes they do. I believe there is a gap in the government and their understanding of what a startup company actually is and their requirement. There has to be some flexibility with the rules especially during the growing phases,” Al-Dorani says about restrictions.
Hurdles in business growth
The restrictions on businesses, she explains, are many. Obtaining licenses is one of them.
For example, if a business needs to manufacture something for a retail outlet, the manufacturing facility needs to be located in a specific zone in the Industrial Area. “However, as a small startup with limited financial capital, you can’t jump to that stage but have to start small. We are handcrafting each bottle we produce; we hand pick each ingredient, grind, press, fill, seal and label. At the beginning of a business we test the market and demand, as it grows we can start investing in bottling machines for example, but we are not yet at that stage. We’re growing in a very organic way and the government does not realize a startup’s requirements; they only see the large businesses,” Al-Dorani comments.
Setting up shop
“As the owner of a startup business, you have to put in a lot of hard work, and hours; you have to limit your social life, because your priorities change. It’s very hard to find quality help, especially people whom you can trust. You need people who are dedicated and that trust in your vision and those who can help you see it through 100 per cent,” Al-Dorani adds.
In Qatar, this can be an added challenge because of the labour laws she continues, “and you cannot hire or fire them as easily as you would in other countries because of all the money invested in bringing them on board.”
However, before things could go well, Al-Dorani had to invest more than just money to get RAW to establish itself in the Qatar market. “Initially, I did the juicing myself and made the deliveries to customers in my car. The business was registered in December 2010, and the year after that I participated in a number of local and regional business competitions. In March 2012, we began operating full-time,” she said.
Support for the business also came from a good business partner who was able to dedicate all his time to it. “Without my business partner, I would not have had the balance that I would need for this business, especially on the operations side,” she adds.
Al-Dorani began with hiring a general manager from the United States. From that point on, with one staff member on board, RAW ME officially began hiring employees who were in Qatar and were able to change sponsorship. Since its launch, RAW ME now has a full production facility at Barwa Village, which is where all of the brand’s juices are produced.
A step-by-step, stone-by-stone organic growth process is what Layla Al-Dorani envisions for her business, which is currently focusing on distribution and is open to partnering with other companies to sell their products. They currently source local ingredients as much as possible with whatever is in season. For others that aren’t available here, they rely on imports. “Certain ingredients such as vanilla beans and raw organic agave are not produced here, so we have to source them from abroad.”
All that the business earns it pools back into itself to reinvest in its growth and development efforts – to buy more machines and vehicles, hire more people, and other related expenses. “Earlier I used to do all the juicing myself and deliveries out of my car and as we grew, we had another car with a cooler; subsequently, we were able to get a cool truck, and then another one, that’s how the growth happened – organically. We don’t have a lot of marketing either; we rely primarily on word-of-mouth to get customers.”
Get in touch with RAW ME via their website or phone at 6613 9882.