Halima Jumani, Co-Founder and Director of Kibsons Online Home Delivery on succeeding during challenging times.
Throughout the lockdown period, there are some businesses that have thrived. Those who were able to adapt and meet the new needs of customers during this time have seen great success as we all navigate through a new way of working. One company who has been leading the way through this period is UAE-based grocery delivery service Kibsons. Originally founded in 1980 by Chairman Hussain Ismail Khatri with the vision to provide fresh, meat, fruit and vegetables sourced directly from farms to businesses and consumers in the UAE.
Today under the leadership of Jamal Hussain, the present Managing Director and his wife Halima Jumani Kibsons has branched out internationally to a full range of products partnering with over 600 direct suppliers around the world. The real growth of Kibsons came when it launched its online business. Halima Jumani, Co-Founder and Director of Kibsons online home delivery service had the vision to take the Kibsons concept online, providing fresh produce directly from farms, straight to the home of consumers. Cutting out the hassle of visiting a supermarket and ensuring the freshest goods, delivered in the fastest time frame. The concept was a no-brainer and has allowed the company to move with consumer demands, particularly during the COVID-19 period. We find out more about how Kibsons has functioned as a company during this time and to what Hussain attributes the success of the business.
This year has been a strange year for all – tell us a little about how Kibsons has operated during the COVID-19 period?
In one word – it was “manic!” No one in the Kibsons home delivery operations team took a single day off! We worked relentlessly around the clock for weeks. To be honest, we were grateful for showers and a good night’s sleep. Sometimes I believe, that the tight routine kept us safe, as we had limited access to only safe and clean premises such as our cold stores and staff accommodation. Such a strong show of unity and support is only possible when people come together as a team but feel like a family and are united in their values of goodness, empathy, responsibility, and community service. We are proud to have a business based on such a powerful culture.
Kibsons home delivery was born with the ethos of “adding value” to the UAE community and making healthy eating practical, affordable and convenient for UAE households. But the COVID-19 period took our team’s commitment and dedication to a whole new level. Thankfully, we had a strong infrastructure and business model (since we grew so organically and sustainably over the last three years) that was put to test, and thrived well, during the COVID period. The fact that we had a 360-degree wing-to-wing operation from “port to door” meant that we had the option and freedom to expand and respond to the COVID situation independently and swiftly.
Our priority was to expand our health and safety team, equip our staff with the required resources (hand sanitizers, gloves, masks) and focus on extra hygiene and sanitisation of our premises, vans, jackets and even our staff accommodations. We worked hard on training and educating our staff, especially our drivers, regarding health and safety measures and even restricted purchase payments by online card only to protect our delivery team from unnecessary cash or card transactions on delivery. Fortunately, we were able to plan and hire more temperature-controlled vans and operations staff quickly to scale the operations and bring us to our “same-day delivery promise” within almost 6 weeks of the initial COVID-19 delayed delivery period. But most importantly, our procurement department did a fantastic job by making sure that all essential grocery needs at Kibsons were extremely well planned and sourced to avoid absolutely any food shortages and inconvenience to the UAE residents during this very difficult and unpredictable situation.
We would like to thank all the customers who supported us, trusted us, refrained from panic buying, and were patient with us during our occasional late deliveries and delayed responses to customer care calls and emails. A big thank you as well to the UAE government departments for working hard to keep the food cargo operations in the country as consistent as ever and the RTA/Dubai police for supporting the Kibsons delivery vans during strict lockdown procedures on roads.
Have you changed anything within the business moving forward?
Post-COVID, it is evident that the UAE economy is now more aware and receptive to the e-commerce segment for their regular shopping needs. Correspondingly, we are now more committed and dedicated than ever to expand the Kibsons range of offering to categories beyond fruits, vegetables, meat and pantry to baby care, pet care, home care, school supplies, personal care, beauty, wellbeing and so much more.
Take us back to the beginning – why did you feel it was important to offer home deliveries at Kibsons?
The Kibsons family internally enjoyed a healthy lifestyle with the most premium quality fresh produce at the most unbeatable prices in town. One day, just like that, when I was indulging in my 4 punnets of blueberries, treating them as popcorn on a movie night, a simple conversation with my husband led to a realisation that we were in a fortunate position where we could share our privilege of premium quality and wholesale prices with other families and friends in the UAE – who would often pay extortionate prices to access premium nutrition for their kids. We started literally on an excel spreadsheet that we spread amongst friends of friends, and just like, that a beautiful e-commerce baby was born! In short, we genuinely wanted healthy eating to become practical, affordable and convenient to those who valued nutrition, health and wellbeing for their loved ones.
What was the main goal you wanted to achieve with the concept?
Our goal was to make healthy eating affordable and convenient to the UAE community and add positive value to the lives of as many families as possible.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced along the way and how did you overcome them?
Providing fresh produce through an e-commerce platform is an extremely operationally demanding business model with a sea of continuous challenges and we could probably write a book on how to navigate your way to achieve a LEAN e-commerce operations set up! The fact that we had nearly four decades of knowledge, experience and most importantly, relationships within the fresh produce industry helped us to secure the most premium quality at the best prices directly from the source.
Moreover, our desire to be ethical, transparent, and super quick with our quality feedback to suppliers over the years guided us to develop the right infrastructure, operational procedures and IT systems which allowed us to respond to business needs efficiently. This became a strong foundation that helped us mitigate the e-commerce operation challenges one step at a time. But the most important factor was that we grew so naturally and organically over the last three years, without any financial greed or ROI pressure, that we were able to build our business model deeply and sustainably, one challenge at a time.
Who is the Kibsons customer today?
The Kibsons customer is a health conscious, educated, busy, value-seeking individual who wants to bring the very best produce to the family. A Kibsons customer values nutrition, the safety of their family and environment, supports sustainability and is looking for convenience without compromising quality or price.
Tell us a little about the logistics – what is the journey from farm to household and how do you ensure the freshness of goods?
We are extremely particular about temperature control every step of the way in the logistics process flow. Given that we procure directly from farms locally and internationally, we have our own in-house logistics department who are responsible for transporting the produce using a temperature-controlled fleet. Our inbound warehouse team is well-equipped to receive fresh produce in a state-of-the-art temperature-controlled warehouse and perform quality checks to ensure that we accept only the very best produce for our home delivery operations.
Products are then segregated based on different temperature requirements and stored accordingly in various cold store chambers. Once the picking and packing are completed, the boxes are loaded in temperature controlled vans for delivery and delivery drivers are well trained to observe and verify the temperatures even during transit up to the final delivery.
How important is sustainability at Kibsons and what are you doing to ensure it is at the forefront of the brand?
Sustainability is a huge topic of discussion at Kibsons. We believe that our point of difference is ethical, sustainable and responsible sourcing. We strive to bring healthier, safer, clean-label and more eco-friendly products to the community and aspire to build a brand that prides itself on quality, transparency, sustainability and giving back to the community.
Tell us how you work with local farms and factories to source produce from the region?
Our CEO, Jamal Hussain, has spent over two decades travelling around the world and developing relationships with farmers, pack houses and export firms, making sure that we source responsibly, ethically and fairly, giving farmers transparent information and above-average returns. Kibsons is proud and grateful to enjoy an unprecedented reputation in the agriculture industry around the globe that is a result of trust that we have built over years of fair transaction and trade.
This issue is about success – how would you define success?
Success is knowing that you did your very best with everything you had. Being at peace with yourself and knowing that you “gave” more than you “took”.
What would you still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
We would love to expand Kibsons within the GCC countries and take this beautiful business model for many more thousands of families to enjoy and benefit from even beyond the UAE.
How do you manage your time and have a good work/life balance?
I think it’s all about planning, prioritising and strategizing. I spend my time thinking clearly about and planning my “goals/tasks” for each hat that I wear and then it’s all about prioritising to get through the list one at a time. It’s the small things that I focus on accomplishing. The big things follow. Not the other way around. But the key is to value time, use it well, and maintain an element of speed in execution.
If you could look back, what is something that you would tell your younger self?
Be more patient. Be aware that things we often regard as problems are often so necessary that they form the basis of the ‘change’ or ‘direction’ we really need in our lives. Change is our ticket to growth and being a better version of ourselves. Also, I wish I knew that so often great things unexpectedly come out of what we sometimes call ‘misfortune’. I would ask myself to continue to remain resilient and remember that happiness is what we create inside us and not what others can create for us.
What would you say to anyone at the beginning of his or her business journey?
Try to remain in a “just do it” mode, I call it “Nike” mode. Don’t overthink and make plans that are too big. Just go for it in the most simple, practical way you possibly can. You will feel great and the positive flow will lead you on to bigger wins. Remember it’s the small things you need to accomplish. The big things will follow. Not the other way around.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Always consider those less fortunate than you instead of looking up envying those better than you. Its keeps you grateful, grounded, humble, makes your blessings look bigger and your problems look smaller. Not the other way around.
What is the life motto you live by?
Use whatever talent, position and capacity you have to add value to others’ lives to the best of your ability.
What or who inspires you?
Goodness inspires me. I believe in good, the power of love, positivity, humanity and empathy.