May 28, 2024
Business Food & Beverage Interviews

Here’s why the Middle East relishes the taste of ATI

American brands, quality, and unique flavours are a sell-out

Established in 1995 and headquartered in Los Angeles, California, American Trading International (ATI) is a premier food & beverage company specialising in facilitating seamless import and export transactions for American and international companies.

Exporting from the US to 81+ countries – including 14 in the Middle East – the company navigates complex global markets and creates opportunities for food product enterprises to thrive and expand.

The company is the exclusive exporter of Bragg products, including the US brand’s best-selling apple cider vinegar range.

ATI exhibited its wide range of top Made-in-America food brands and private-label products at Gulfood (February 19-23, 2024) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Seth Merrick Wilen, CEO of ATI, elaborated on the company’s position in the dynamic Middle East market, its position as an ambassador for Brand USA and more.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the key highlights of ATI at Gulfood 2024?

At Gulfood 2024, we proudly showcase a diverse array of #1 American brands alongside private-label products crafted for major Middle Eastern retailers. Our extensive portfolio includes well-recognised American brands and tailored store brands for supermarkets.

What aspects of the Middle East food market appeal to you?

The Middle East food market’s dynamic growth, especially in certain regions, and the consistent global demand for American food and beverage products make it an appealing market for us. We are committed to delivering an authentic taste of America to consumers worldwide.

Seth Merrick Wilen: ATI has been at home in the Middle East for the past 20+ years. Image: Arnold Pinto

How does ATI deal with the diverse food tastes of the Middle East region?

While promoting American tastes and flavours, we understand the importance of customisation in meeting specific market demands. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, we have a private-label brand comprising over 700 items from 45 different US manufacturers, with customised packaging, flavour profiles, and products tailored to the local market.

Why is the Middle East region crucial to your revenue generation?

The Middle East holds a significant position for ATI, being our largest region for American food and beverage products. Over the past 20 years, we have nurtured invaluable relationships and positioned ourselves as a key player in the region, a testament to the region’s importance in our overall revenue generation.

What makes ATI so successful in the Middle East?

Timing played a pivotal role in our success. Joining the Gulfood show 20-odd years ago was a strategic move, tapping into a burgeoning interest in American products. Our commitment is evident through our multilingual team based out of the US and 20 years of cultivating relationships, making the Middle East a particular region for us.

What are ATI’s growth plans in the region for the next five years?

We aim to scale our business in the Middle East aggressively, targeting a doubling or tripling of our current growth rate. Over the next five years, we foresee substantial expansion, building on our consistent growth of 10-15% in the region.

What challenges does ATI encounter in the Middle East region?

Language requirements, distinct labelling norms, and differing date stamp regulations pose significant challenges. Our solution involves extensive private-label branding to ensure compliance with regional packaging and language requirements.

What factors drive the growth of ATI’s product lines in the Middle East?

Our focus on innovation, exporting foods and beverages, and the American lifestyle contributes to our success. Representing brands like Bragg, we tap into trends starting in the US, particularly those aligned with the growing demand for healthier products in the Middle East.

How do ATI’s product lines appeal to the Middle East’s increasing preference for healthy foods?

Based in California, we bring a portfolio of products capitalising on health trends like organic, gluten-free, and protein-rich offerings, aligning with the region’s evolving consumer preferences.

Bragg apple cider vinegar is relished across the Middle East. Image: Bragg

How do ATI’s product lines specifically appeal to the Arabic (khaleeji) taste?

Our products have evolved from catering primarily to expats to now having more than 50% local consumers. This shift aligns with globalisation trends, indicating a broader appeal of American tastes to the Arabic palate.

Why is there a need to exhibit at an in-person platform such as Gulfood?

Face-to-face interactions are crucial in international business. Gulfood provides a unique opportunity to meet our customers in person, fostering relationships integral to our success over the past two decades.

How are the ongoing and persistent Red Sea attacks disrupting ATI’s global supply chain lines?

Global supply chain challenges persist, exacerbated by the Red Sea attacks. While we navigate these issues, our primary concern is the consolidation of shipping lines, limiting options for freight and presenting a considerable challenge for businesses in the Middle East.

How does ATI stay ahead of the competition?

Our focus on promoting American brands, quality, and unique flavours sets us apart. While competitors may offer cheaper alternatives, we specialise in delivering the authentic American experience.

ATI is an ambassador for Brand USA. Your thoughts?

We take pride in being ambassadors for Brand USA, exporting American foods and beverages for almost 30 years, and showcasing the diversity, quality, and distinct flavours that define American products.

What message do you have for your end-consumers in the Middle East?

Embracing healthier lifestyles is a global trend, and we are excited to introduce a range of products aligning with these preferences. Our commitment is to deliver quality, innovative, and better-for-you products to the Middle East, reflecting our consumers’ evolving tastes and demands.

Featured image: American Trading International exhibitor booth at Gulfood 2024 in Dubai, UAE. Image: Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto is an award-winning journalist with wide-ranging Middle East and Asia experience in the tech, aerospace, defence, luxury watchmaking, business, automotive, and fashion verticals. He is passionate about conserving endangered native wildlife globally. Arnold enjoys 4x4 off-roading, camping and exploring global destinations off the beaten track.
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