Organic Foods and Café Values
Interview with Nils El Accad, Funder
Organic Foods and Café is a family run company founded in 2004 that runs organic supermarkets and cafés selling fresh organic and biodynamic foods, groceries, supplements, meat, dairy products, breads and household cleaning products. Today, the company employs over 500 people. It operates in 6 locations across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. OFC is not only a simple grocery store, it brings community together. Some stores have a café / restaurant and the largest two have a deli, pizza and sushi take home section. As a part of the company’s values, OFC promotes health and inclusion, as well as fights obesity, which is one of the biggest issue in the region.
We will open two new large store in Dubai and are looking for a location in AUH. There will be the closure of the store in the village on the beach road and Midriff will be moved to a larger location. Our big focus for the next years is the regional expansion in Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
Our new app has been launched. We are also launching organic pizza and sushi home delivery linked to customers more interested in home delivery.
Nils El Accad, Funder
You supply over 10,000 hormone and chemical free products. We should not stop reminding consumers to read what they buy and check the labels. Can you tell us how important organic and healthy eating is?
A healthy life needs organic food, clean air and exercise, if you pollute your body with chemicals that’s not good and the only way to stop that is with organic foods. Your body also needs the right nutrients to heal itself and for that again we need organic food.
OFC is selling fresh organic and biodynamic food. What is the difference between two?
In organic the aim is to grow food free from artificial fertilizers, pesticides and in the processing preservatives, colour, flavour etc. In biodynamic there are NO chemicals at all and its farming in harmony with nature. The aim is for the farm to be its own ecosystem and have am few none farm inputs as possible, we call this closed loop agriculture. The heart of that is the soil and key to that is composting and the idea is to achieve this with the closed loop and mixed agriculture farming the right products for that climatic zone panting in the right way and time etc so livestock, single cuspid like grains and grass and bicuspid like veg etc and all come together in the compost that feeds the soil.
We can see huge efforts globally in addressing the meat and dairy production and consumption. What are your efforts and ethics behind this product range?
We have a huge range or pant based products also in the dairy section and alternatives to milk. we need to get to less meat and farming in harmony with nature so that’s what we do is sustainable.
OFC offers consumers the most diverse healthy food options (such as gluten free, vegan, etc) in the UAE. You are also able to cater to Coeliacs by special request. Can you tell us more about your Gluten Free Bakery?
We have the largest range of gluten free products in the middle east and also bake fresh organic gluten free breads. We will be launching a new range of breads so the range will expand although this is gluten free not all necessarily organic cause the ones who need to eat gluten free need to be catered for fully and not just partially and we cannot get all we would like to in organic.
How would you describe your consumers? Are there any nationalities more present than the others?
All those who care about their heath and the planet.
Plastic and waste reduction initiative as a part of OFC’s Values
Plastic waste has been a huge issue globally. The countries started banning single use plastics. In developed countries, the plastic bags are chargeable, which is still a step ahead from where we are today in the UAE. OFC was the first one to eliminate plastic bags and offer alternatives. Can you tell us more? Since when did you stop plastic bags distribution?
We’ve never had plastic bags. Form the day we opened we had 100% recycled paper bags. Today we still have paper bags and we charge for the paper bags. We also sell reusable bags and we offer boxes in which the products that we sell came in for customers to use.
By charging for the paper bags we encourage people to reuse bags and the boxes we have and not use new bags cause even new 100% recycled apper bags use resources to make.
OFC does not only sell the bags, but also gives to customers at their disposal the carton packaging and boxes from suppliers to transport their purchased items, instead of throwing it. Can you tell us any other example of reusing waste?
We send back old produce to local farms to get composted. Even plastic trays that we don’t like but some produce comes in get re used. IN our cafes we use old jam jars not specially made glasses. We used to cut old glass bottles and make drinking glasses out of them and sold them rather than throwing the bottles.
Your fruits and vegetable section is NAKED. Looking into operational and food waste efficiency, is it really necessary wrapping fresh food into plastic, what we can see in most other places?
For sure we do not need to use plastic pre packs.
We give customers the option of reusable net bags, paper bags, diodegradable PLA bags or boxes with the produce in it. we put the price tags on a small wooden plank which we re use.
This way there is no plastic and produce can be selected and bad produce removed.
You run a great initiative of stimulating consumers to divert waste from landfill. You offer them an immediate discount for returning empty glass jars to the store. What happens with these jars after the consumers return to your store?
We use them in the café for drinking glasses and the yoghurt glasses with lids for cookies and soup jars.
In your café and food take-away you have also found alternatives to single use plastic. How cost efficient was this decision apart from bringing a great value to the environment?
We use only paper and fully biodegradable packing. Its very expensive but what is the alternative? plastic? That’s cheap for here and now but we pay the price for generations to come so in effect many times more expensive.
You have refill stations in your stores. How do the consumers respond to it?
Sill slow to take up but those who are aware and care about the environment use it. its definitely growing in popularity
You work on innovating and reducing CO2 footprint throughout your operational activities. The latest highlight is your new washing liquid refill able product. You managed to find the solution to exclude plastic from the entire product’s life cycle, which is great and unique. Can you tell us more?
Normally when you refill plastic detergent bottle you fill them from other plastic containers so in effect only save 5% plastic. Together with one of our suppliers we managed to get metal drums and we re use those drums and sell to be re used and finally they get recycled. This way you save 100% of the plastic. It’s the first truly green refill station.
We also have all our new refrigeration systems running on R 290 which is a refrigeration gas with a global warning potential of 4 versus the R 404 and 410 a gases regularly used which have a global warming potential of over 2000.
We believe that whatever short cut taken today is too expensive to take and we better pay a bit more today and save tomorrow.