Founded by Nils El Accad nine years ago in Dubai, Organic Foods and Café is one of the most natural-friendly product-and-goods businesses in the Gulf. El Accad has since added two other outlets to his roster, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and opened the largest organic shop in the world in Dubai Mall.
Its Bahraini sister, Organic Foods and Café Bahrain, was established by Ali Al-Khalifa, after years of suffering the lack of, what he calls "real food" in his hometown.
Al-Khalifa took it upon himself to give Bahrain a natural and holistic alternative to the conventional chemical-filled products. The store stocks food, body care, and household materials. In his words, his prime aim is to "bring us all closer to the natural rhythm of nature."
Ali Al-Khalifa talked to Khaleejesque about his experience in the food industry…
What inspired you to open this store?
I had lost way too many people to cancer. The most prominent cause of cancer in Bahrain is the food we eat. Bahrainis pump an incredibly astounding amount of chemicals through our body as it is completely legal to sell things here that are banned everywhere else in the world.
Was the organic food industry something you were always interested in?
I studied economics in university – nothing to do with the food & beverage industry. After serving my time in investment projects, I decided I needed to do something that is worthwhile; hence the idea of opening an organic supermarket in Bahrain. Luckily, I had just met Nils, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Was there a strong demand for organic goods in Bahrain?
There was not a very strong demand, but over the last year we have built up the market. I think that we have established a nice niche for ourselves.
How did you first establish your store?
We sort of just found a location and started working. Things fell into place during the construction of the shop.
Was it hard doing so?
It was definitely a lot of hard work and only in the last minute did things fall into place.
Is your store 100% organic, or do you carry other lines as well?
Our shop is 95% organic. We have a few non-organic products for when an organic alternative is not available, such as fish products; they usually cannot be organic since they are not grown in controlled environments. Specialty foods for diabetics or celiacs are not always available organic. Also, soy products were all classified as non-organic a few years ago due to cross-contamination, but some were finally awarded organic status again this year. We support those that have taken the leap and gone back to organic by stocking those products first.
Do you have any exclusive brands?
We carry 4000 different products from 300 different suppliers. We have exclusivity of many of our brands, as well as many other brands no one else bothers to import because there might not be a market for it. We have taken the risk and said that these products will eventually catch on in Bahrain and so we help promote them.
Do you carry local produce?
There is yet to be a certified organic farm in Bahrain, and therefore we have redefined local. We have drawn a circle around Bahrain and defined how far away we will get our produce from. It is only in extreme cases that we go further. Most of our produce comes from Africa, India, Pakistan, as well as a little bit from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
We are actively lobbying the government to allow organic farming in Bahrain (it is technically illegal right now due to restrictions on the import of seeds) and we are trying to work with local farmers to get them certified. Unfortunately, many people of concern do not see the value of organic farming and are resisting change.
Has feedback been positive and do you see an increasing interest in the organic movement?
The feedback has been phenomenal. We have developed a small but loyal customer base of people that have discovered the difference that eating organic has on a person!
With our shop, we have made organic products and produce very accessible. It is here, available, and at a reasonable price. In addition, every third Friday of the month we have a 15% off all groceries sale for those that wish to try organic and still believe it’s too expensive!
Care to share a piece of advice?
You are what you eat, so make what you eat tasty, healthy, and most importantly natural.
Organic Foods and Cafe Bahrain is located on the 1st floor of the new extention in Seef Mall. For more information visit www.organicsbahrain.com
– Staff Writer
Photographer: Ammar Hammad
** This article was first published in Khaleejesque Magazine's Oct/Nov/Dec 2012 Issue "The People Issue".