The Kuwait Flour Mills & Bakeries logo is found in every household, and yet many of us know little about the devoted efforts behind this indispensable entity in Kuwait; and so together we learn more about the company, how it started, its history, all the wayto its products reaching our homes;and who better to tell the story than Mr. Mutlaq Al-Zayed, Deputy Managing Director of Kuwait Flour Mills & Bakeries Co., a humble and inspiring character who sat in every chair in this company for nearly 25 years. And today,he celebrates the golden jubilee of the company as he tells us how it all happened.
The dialogue started with Mr. Mutlaq Al-Zayed narrating the awe-inspiring story of how Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries Co. was born, with its birth taking place during the reign of the Late HH Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a man renown for his humbleness and care for the common people; as one day, while he was walking through the local alleys and commingling with the common folk, his sight fell upon a long queue at one of the local bakeries. That’s when he realized and decided something needs to be done to guarantee food security for the people of Kuwait, so he gathered a group of Kuwait’s leading men at the time and requested the establishmentof a company that would cover and guarantee food security and eliminate the need of having to wait in long lines for a loaf of bread.
During those times, Kuwait was dependent on imports for wheat and other essential food products, which were subject to high costs, instability in price changes, and lots of wastage due to the nature of such food products; and so the timing for the establishment of such a company couldn’t have been any better. At first, the Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries Co. was established as a publicly traded company, headed by the late Mr. Ali Al-Bahar, and then Kuwait Bakeries Co. was established to provide flour, secure bread, and at the same time guarantee the stability of prices as it was deemed essential that the price of the main food product for the people remains constant. And then the company was transformed from a public company to a government-owned organization, and in 1994 it was accompanied by Kuwait Supply Co., which was responsible for the purchase, import, and storage of the nation’s strategic needs of essential food products. Ultimately, the establishment was comprised of three important entities: Kuwait Flour Mills Co., Kuwait Bakeries Co., and Kuwait Supply Co., with the principal objective and mission being food security for the people of Kuwait.
Can you tell us about the size of your daily operations and how the quantity produced is measured?
Since our customers are practically the whole population of Kuwait, including expats, the quantity to be produced is determined according to the population, which has now reached 3 million people. And the Flour Mills and Bakeries Co. is proud that its products can be found in every household and are available to people of all income levels-the wealthy, the poor, and the middle class. Our daily production rate is 4 million petta bread and 100 tons of European bread; as for the flour, macaroni, and biscuits, we are talking about hundreds of tons of produce, however, they are not produced daily due to the storage capacity of such products.
Are the company’s products local only or have they transcended the borders of Kuwait?
We have regional presence in the GCC countries and it is something not many people know about. Some of our products sell in large quantities outside of Kuwait. We export flour, biscuits, and macaroni due to their convenient storage characteristics and praise be to God they usually get sold very quickly.
How are quality standards evaluated and sustained?
We’re one of the few companies that have quality assurance at the top of its priorities. We evaluateand measure quality according to several benchmarks.We have numerous labs that are specially equipped to ensure the best bakeries, mills, and oils in addition to supply,making us successful in sustaining our reputation over the years. Despite our few advertisements, our sales have always been high, based on high customer satisfaction levels and high demand for our products, which led to our belief in quality being the basis for strong customer relations, whom we consider as the heart of our treasure and the secret to our success.
How are the new products chosen and how are they transformed to life?
At Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries Co. we accept and listen to ideas from every corner, whether emanating from the labor force at the bakeries, the employees at the labs, all the way to the general manager. If a good idea arises, we design a timetable to test it, starting from taste sampling to quality assurance to health inspection for a period not less than 3 months, accompanied with internal evaluation from inside our labs through the experts in taste and ingredients that take the product to completion, as well as externally from consumers through our presence in exhibitions and supermarkets. At the end, some of these products see the light while some others are sent to the backburner.
How do you deal with competition, if any?
In truth, we do need competition to be livelier and more productive, but unfortunately there is no competition, especially against the bakeries’ products. There are some small companies that produce bread, but they offer completely different products, so we can’t really call them competitors for several reasons: their prices are higher compared to our own, and their production rate approximates to 500 loafs daily against our 25000 loafs, and at the end of the day, we are the ones who supply the flour to all these companies. So it’s sound to let them operate while we operate in parallel, as our mission is not entirely focused on making profit, although of course we do seek profit but our main objective and mission is guaranteeing and safeguarding food security in Kuwait under a health-criteria umbrella. Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries Co. has all the credentials to provide the people a diverse variety of products full of starch, and while the demand is guaranteed, our main focus is on health and nutrition for the Kuwaitipublic, as you may have noticed the presence of nutrition instructions and information behind all our products.
Has the company achieved its mission and goals, that of “the accomplishment of food security for the community”?
They say experience is the best testimony. The Kuwait Flour Mills and Bakeries has been tested several times, with the most significant being the invasion of 1990, and Praise be to God the people and expats of Kuwait at that time have proved that the Flour Mills Co. is indeed a food security entity, as during those dark and difficult seven months there was no single person who could not get a loaf of bread, for despite all the difficulties and challenges,our plants have continued operating and the expatriate labor were replaced with Kuwaitis. Of course, it is no hidden secret that many of our plants were destroyed and damaged, but we didn’t stop. After the liberation, praise be to God we were able to maintain and repair all our factories and we’ve tried to rescue what has survived.
What challenges does the company face?
One of the most important and biggest challenges is the rise in population and how to meet and accommodate the resulting ascent in demand and needs. During the past few years, the population had increased at a significant rate, and we have to meet every surge in population with an increase in production from our side to sustain our mission and continue guaranteeing food security for the state of Kuwait, which may seem like an easy task, but in truth, maintaining our position is not easy at all. In the end, I can say that our biggest challenge is our continuation in accomplishing our mission.
Mr. Mutlaq was nominated to represent Kuwait in a food security and stability program held in the United States, which started 60 years ago where every year they choose the elite in every country to take a 20 day trip that starts in Washington and ends in Salt Lake city in which the purpose for is how to look at international products from American eyes and how its linked somehow with politics.
First published in Men's Passion issue #27 December-January 2010-11