Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Cutting down on dates, Saudi food firm seeks long-term relationship with western tastes

From Leone Lakhani, CNN
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 0233 GMT (1033 HKT)
  • Bateel is a Saudi gourmet food company founded in 1992
  • Company started by manufacturing dates but now has numerous food products in its line
  • CEO says aim is to become major international brand

Watch Marketplace Middle East every week on CNN International. Click here for the show times.

(CNN) -- French baguettes and pastries aren't the traditional bread of choice in the Middle East.

But a bakery opened by a one of the region's foremost gourmet food companies is aiming to change that.

Saudi Arabian firm, Bateel, hopes that by providing an international flavor to their offerings they will be able to further entice customers to their branded stores and cafes across the Middle East.

The group has certainly come a long way from its early days as a humble date producer.

Iran's hoteliers cash in on tourism boom
Jordan's youth unemployment problem
How can Jordan create more jobs for young people?
Turkish Airlines soaring

Bateel first started manufacturing gourmet dates in 1992, adding nuts and chocolate to the traditionally popular fruit and selling them in upmarket boutique stores.

"At that time dates were being sold in supermarkets and souks," said Bateel CEO, Ata Atmar. "But we decided that we wanted to market dates like Swiss chocolates."

"We took essentially an agricultural product and turned it into a luxury food item and in the process created an entire new industry."

A little more than 20 years later and Bateel is now operating in 17 countries with Saudi Arabia and the UAE representing its biggest markets.

Drinks, oils and jams have also been added to its product repertoire during this time.

"Surprisingly, dates is not as big of a business for us (any more)," said Atmar. "We are now a very much integrated premium food company. About 25% to 30% of our business comes from dates."

To help market its food products the company launched the Bateel Cafe in 2007, featuring its ingredients on the menu.

It also carried on selling its goods through its shops and other outlets like hotels and airports.

This carefully calculated strategy of diversification has paid dividends.

"We just signed with Qatar, the new terminal, so in a way the airport is an extension of our retail business," Atmar said.

"In the (Dubai Duty Free) we are the number one food market here ... so there is a major presence."

Atmar says Bateel has seen 20% to 30% growth in the past five years. But he said that this is not enough for what he eventually envisions for the company.

"Outside the Middle East, or outside the Gulf, we are going on a franchise business," he said.

"I'd like to see when you go to Beijing, you say it's time to go out and have a cup of coffee and you say 'oh, there's a Bateel here, let's go to Bateel.' Just as you do that in Dubai or Abu Dhabi."

Perhaps this is the next stage of the Bateel story, transforming a homegrown Middle Eastern group into a truly global brand.

Read: Tehran's 'tsunami of tourists'

Read: Is Qatar World Cup an own-goal?

Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Middle East
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A little over 26 years ago, Mohammad Reza Najafi started manufacturing auto parts in Iran.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
Lana Del Rey performs at the Byblos International Festival in 2013.
The ancient town of Byblos in Lebanon has attracted some of the world's biggest music stars.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 0233 GMT (1033 HKT)
French baguettes aren't the traditional bread of choice in the Middle East, but a Saudi firm wants to change that.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1433 GMT (2233 HKT)
Iran has seen a doubling of tourists visiting the country in the last year and hoteliers are rushing to accommodate them.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 0241 GMT (1041 HKT)
In a tiny car repair shop in the Jordanian capital of Amman, one can encounter the latest efforts to solve the country's sky high youth unemployment rate.
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Youth unemployment is not a new subject to make the headlines (see Spain and Greece) but it is has become a particularly acute problem for Jordan.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Bales of tomatoes grown near Mafraq, Jordan.
The war in Syria has wide ranging affects on people in neighboring countries, including farmers in Jordan.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
Cranes rise above the Aqaba Container Terminal in Jordan.
In the port city of Aqaba, southern Jordan, construction works are popping up everywhere.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Can Turkish Airlines continue to soar in the face of competition from Qatar and the UAE?
June 12, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
A guide to the Middle East's oil and gas reserves.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT)
The Middle East's latest airport destination began full operations earlier this week.