Middle East

Why Emirati Entrepreneur Mahmood Baltawi is Confident in the Future of Healthy Eating

Mahmood Baltawi grew up in a luxury luxury car garage and wasn’t ready to drive him across the city of Dubai. He was the son of a prosperous Emirati businessman, but he had to struggle to make money.

“My dad never gave me money to launch something. I had to work part-time in college. This is common in other parts of the world, but here Not so. I was fortunate to be one of the people who was given the opportunity, and I think it gave me independence, “says the young businessman.

Wearing a T-shirt and jeans while chatting, Baltawi blends in with the image of a “new era entrepreneur.” He is very candid both on-record and off-record and is visibly enthusiastic about his work. After working for several banks, Baltawi honed his skills in the financial industry. Baltawi’s entrepreneurial itch began when he felt that the “policy” in his corporate role did not provide him with the flexibility to serve customers in the way he or they deservedly expected. rice field.

“My willingness to find a better way to do things will conflict with policies. Policies are set by companies to get people to work in the box. I’m always I felt that my willingness to serve customers exceeded the limits set by my position, my position, and sometimes my experience. I felt like I could do better. And in order for everyone to have a successful drive and what they are passionate about, I think it needs to be done for themselves first, “he said. Says.

Introspected Baltawi realized that his passion was on a different path.

“I remember taking a walk along the beach early in the morning with my dad at 5:30 am, where he talked to me about a lot of things, including the need to stay healthy. He told me. They taught me some very important life lessons on those morning walks. He told me a lot about food and how everything in nature has a cure. And he told me about his walk and how he was young by doing it. And these things really started to shape the way I see things. “He says. “The morning walk with him taught me to be independent and health conscious.”

Baltawi, who was constantly scrutinizing the city for healthy eating options, found a gap in the discerning diner market. “At that time, people considered health foods to be unsavory hospital foods, so I wondered what would happen if we created a restaurant that served not only healthy food, but really really delicious food. We hired a fine Italian chef and paired these delicious dishes with a calorie-calculated nutritionist to launch a brand called Under500. That was the first brand we launched. I was the first consumer of this product and saw other people enjoying it It only motivated me to spend more time on it. I continued to work in the bank. Obviously, once you’re used to bonds, it’s very difficult to just quit and test your passion. However, after two and a half years, I was able to quit my job and create a business where I could start doing fun things. Everyone believes that a healthy diet should be eaten, and that’s why we did that business. “

Healthy part

It is not surprising that the health food industry across the region is booming. Over 50% of consumers surveyed across GCC ate KPMG’s “healthy diet” for at least a week. 2019-2020 GCC Food & Beverage The report was found. To meet the growing demand, some F & B operators challenged the new health food concept, while others changed the menu to include vegan and vegetarian options. “It’s not a big opportunity yet, but today’s operators shouldn’t miss this trend,” the report said.

Another report by Frost & Sullivan highlights the ongoing shift to healthy eating spaces, especially in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. By the end of 2020, the region’s health and wellness F & B market is estimated to reach $ 14.56 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.9%. KSA and UAE Health & Wellness Food and Beverage Industry Outlook 2020 found. Together, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia account for nearly 85% of the GCC’s health and wellness market. “The active efforts of the GCC government have led to a rapid increase in the incidence of lifestyle-related diseases in areas such as cardiovascular disorders, osteoarthritis, joint disorders, and diabetes (such as a combination of diabetes), resulting in a medical increase. Regulations have been put in place to raise awareness about healthier foods that benefit, and obesity), “said Satvik Jaitly, a chemical, materials and nutrition consultant at Frost & Sullivan.

“We expect the health and wellness F & B market to become more mainstream and important over the next five years due to increased consumer awareness influenced by social media and connected consumers.”

The report also emphasized the trend in calorie counting and the need for operators to accurately understand consumer behavior in order to expand their reach within the market.

Bartawi and his team launched Under 500 in 2016, offering less than 500 calories in two stores. I don’t have a bicycle, so I remember delivering it to the customer myself. But that experience helped me grow, “he recalls.

After launch, the brand expanded through the franchise and signed 20 units in Saudi Arabia. The company also partnered with the cloud kitchen platform Kitopi as one of the first brands to expand to the UK and US and launch multiple virtual health food brands.this It turned out to be an important decision for its future.

Please bring a check

Exit strategies have always been an important aspect of entrepreneurial ventures. It doesn’t matter if it takes years or even decades. Baltawi discussed his exit plan and was able to withdraw cash from his business last year.

In February 2020, Kitopi, which has been funded several times since its launch in 2018, announced that it was able to “double its revenue and expand internationally”. After raising $ 415 million in the July 2021 Series C funding round, it announced in November that it would invest in five regional F & B operators as part of its next growth phase, including the Under500.

“We decided to invest in the brand based on our belief that the operation, growth and expansion of the brand is becoming more complex in the post-pandemic world,” the company said in a statement. “The new strategy allows brands to leverage Kitopi’s unique technology and infrastructure to grow at an accelerated pace while maintaining a customer experience.”

Baltawi remains silent about the amount of money he sold the business, but says it was eight times the EBITDA of Under500. “Kitopi’s vision is always that they win the brand, and in the end I think that’s exactly what they did. They collect money and they’re going to develop. Numerous new kitchens – therefore it makes sense to reduce loyalty payments and buy brands. Under500 is proud to be one of the top brands in Kitopi with the highest retention rate, and I think it’s related to health. There are still gaps in the market, and I think there are many health food brands out there. Great growth can be seen in this space. The reason for selling the Under500 was to actually create an aggregator and create a place for this new and existing health food restaurant community to connect with a healthy eating group. In my opinion, this is a niche platform that will be the next big thing. “

Increased appetite

Baltawi has already formed a team and has begun raising his “next baby”. The platform, called Mealzap, is a niche food aggregator for health food brands that allows users to choose from preset plans or customize their own dietary plans. The platform provides the ability to filter dishes by allergies and tastes such as vegan, low carbs and keto. At the back end, its machine learning AI-based platform investigates user choices and creates algorithms that support customized options.

Mealzap is initially planned for operations in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and will be available in UAE in the second quarter. “We chose to launch in these markets because it is one of the most obese markets in the world. Therefore, about 31 percent of the population is obese. Obesity is associated with heart disease and many other problems. We want to help people in the region get healthier, “explains Baltawi. He adds that the growing number of cloud / dark kitchen concepts tailored to a healthy space is another impetus for starting a brand in these markets.

He is also clear that long-term plans remain for globalization. “I think we need a healthier diet and a healthier brand for the world to come together. Unhealthy people have to start seeing it as something important. We are all In this era of access to, this should be at the top of the list. My vision is to provide a healthy diet. I think I was able to further realize my vision by selling the Under500. Now you can create a platform that can bring together all the healthy food restaurants for those who want to be healthy. It’s much more difficult, but I’m solving a bigger problem. I think it’s far more satisfying to know. “

His own vision reflects Mealzap’s vision. “My dad died in 2010, but I hope I can shape the lives of my children, my friends’ children, and everyone I meet in my personal journey. I don’t think there’s any reason why someone shouldn’t eat healthy. It’s all about consciousness. And this is the right time. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes. And that’s what I do. It just motivates us to go further. “

Obviously, his new menu is ready.

Key points: Tips for entrepreneurs

Find big problems and create a business that can solve them. Business is basically the gap between problems and solutions. If it’s a small problem you’re trying to solve, it’s not worth it.

Whatever you are passionate about, start spreading your ideas. As an entrepreneur, you are always afraid that someone will copy your idea. In reality, the problem is solved only if everyone is trying to achieve the same thing. But to do that, we need to discuss ideas. If someone was trying to do it themselves, that’s good for them. But usually, if you are the most passionate person in the room, it is you who attract the most passionate people to reach your goals.

Look at your time-what are you spending the most time on?
Some people spend their time on music, others play soccer, but they are all really good at it. And if it can deal with big problems, you will attract a team that is passionate about joining you.

Make sure you take the right advice-it shouldn’t come from high-ranking people in the enterprise. It should come from the people who actually made the startup-it’s the only way someone can understand this journey. There is no shortcut to it. You need to experience for yourself.

https://gulfbusiness.com/cover-story-why-emirati-entrepreneur-mahmoud-bartawi-is-confident-on-the-future-of-healthy-dining/ Why Emirati Entrepreneur Mahmood Baltawi is Confident in the Future of Healthy Eating

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