Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia at the Gulfood 2019 event, group CEO Tariq Ahmed Al Wahedi said: “We are the only company to bring science to water. Nobody else is doing that.”
“Agthia as a company was based on elements such as innovation, food security and our corporate social responsibility initiatives are all also based on these two points.”
Innovation is definitely a key focus of the company, with a focus on health benefits especially with bringing this to mineral water.
“[One of our new launches here today] is our Al Ain Zero Bromate drinking water, which is especially suitable for pregnant women and patients with kidney issues as it is light on the kidneys,” said Al Wahedi.
According to him, bromate is a known carcinogenic-linked compound and although regular waters already do meet regulatory sanitary and health standards, going completely zero-bromate makes for a ‘worry-free’ product.
This follows on the success of other Agthia fortified mineral waters, including its market-first sodium-free water several years back, and its Bambini water for babies which was specially formulated to be used in baby formula or directly ingested without harmful ingredients such as sodium sulfate.
Agthia also produced a Vitamin D-enriched mineral water a year back, and the technology for this has been transferred into another of its newly-launched products: The region’s first vitamin D fortified flour, Grand Mills Vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is a big thing here [in the Middle Eastern region],” said Al Wahedi.
“We have a lot of sun but rarely go out and stay indoors in the air-conditioning all the time – this has led to some 80% of the population being vitamin D deficient and is the cause of many diseases.
“Introducing vitamins as a fortification is nothing new, but [putting it into water] is challenging as it normally needs an oil medium. But we wanted to put it into water so that people can drink it daily [and] benefit from it with no other unnecessary stuff like sugar, colouring and so on.”
He added that making the water available to the masses in terms of pricing was also a point of focus, so it was very economically priced at some AED2 (US$0.54) per bottle.
“We then took this technology for water and put it into flour, changing the concept to fortify [bread, which is one of the region’s staples]. Before this, putting vitamins into the oven would mean it disappears [upon heating],” he added.
Both the zero bromate water and vitamin D fortified flour will be available to the public in March this year.
Apart from these, Agthia also launched three other products at the event: Alpin Alkaline (a pH8.5, mineral water rich in alkalizing compound), Yoplait Lactose Free (a lactose-free fruit yoghurt), and Al Ain Water Bag-in-Box (BiB) (a unique new packaging form of water specially aimed to be used for outdoor gatherings, picnics and the like.
Eye on Asia
According to Al Wahedi, the company currently has a presence in the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa and Iraq, and have started exporting to Asia too.
“We have started exporting to China now, and our first shipment has just been sent to Singapore. We’re looking at discussions with Malaysia, and working on moving into Indonesia as well. We are definitely quite active in the [APAC] region,” he said.
“There are also very close discussions with Japan now, and they are very much interested in our Vitamin D products.
“Each market [in APAC] is unique and has its own demands and requirements [but it is] definitely one of the areas we think will bring a huge value to our company
“No doubt that when it comes to size and difficulty and complexity, China [takes the lead]. When it comes to the sophisticated consumer, definitely Japanese consumers are challenging because they are used to innovation.”
He added that Agthia is also already active in Europe, in the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium, and is hoping to penetrate the United States market this year too.
Trends on their side
When it comes to current trends in the F&B industry, Al Wahedi is positive that these present huge opportunities for Agthia.
“All of us know the pressure that is being applied to carbonated soft drinks. The sugar tax, the sin tax, everybody knows about it,” he said.
“At the same time, this opens a huge door for us and the consumer to realise that water is actually very ‘interesting’”
“Nobody denies that at the end of the day, water is water and it is ‘boring’. But the consumer is hungry for innovation, they want something different, something special that is unique be it in terms of status or all-natural or with added functionality [and that is something we can bring].”