Behind the Emirati start-up bringing reasonably priced wholesome meals to the UAE
For an Emirati entrepreneur, the coronavirus was a turning point when she realized how fragile life is and decided to give back to her community by starting a company that brings affordable and natural products to the UAE.
Tahany Taher, who is also a senior vice president of an Emirati bank, saw parents with children with food allergies struggling to meet their nutritional needs during the pandemic when many salaries were cut.
In response, she launched Hayawiia, an online platform and shop (in Dubai’s Al Quoz) selling healthy and natural products that Taher sources from small women-owned businesses in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Vietnam. A month after its launch, Hayawiia, Arabic for vitality, has 25 exclusive brands and 1,000 long-life products.
In an extensive interview with Arabian Business, Taher outlined her business model and growth plans, including the launch of a mobile app and regional expansion.
Tahany Taher, co-founder of Hayawiia
How did the concept of Hayawiia come about?
Before the pandemic, I was quite busy with my work as I was out on business and with my family 10 days a month.
As a banker, I meet a lot of customers and had many opportunities to start my own business, but that wasn’t my calling at the time. The coronavirus hit pretty quickly. I spent the whole year at home and lost friends young and old to the virus. My husband and I also know many people who lost their jobs or received wage cuts during the pandemic.
This experience made us realize that life is fickle and we had to do something in our own little way to help.
I have many family members and friends with children who have various food allergies and the cuts in salaries have made it difficult for them to continue to meet these nutritional requirements. We saw an opportunity to find an alternative to expensive health food.
What is Hayawiia’s competitive advantage?
Before starting a business, the banker in me had to check the numbers, so we hired a company to conduct a survey of 180 families in Dubai from different nationalities and economic levels. I already knew the answer, but received the confirmation I needed regarding chemical free foods in the UAE.
So we created Hayawiia to provide quality chemical-free food at an affordable price – these are the two cornerstones of our business.
What’s your business model?
The groceries that come here are usually imported from the west and therefore have high taxes and shipping costs as well as the currency difference that adds up.
I get the majority of my products from the east, very close to the UAE, from countries like India and Sri Lanka, and also from Vietnam and Thailand.
Plus, grocery isn’t my main line of business so I don’t add a 150 percent margin on bringing in the products, which is the norm in any supermarket or restaurant. My margins are very low which makes it very affordable for the end user.
It was clear to me that in the end this had to be a viable and self-sustaining project, but it was not about achieving large margins. Our margins are between 30 and 40 percent and our business model is more volume-oriented than margin-oriented.
Who do you get your products from?
I’m very interested in helping SMEs and women entrepreneurs, so most of the people we work with meet these criteria. Because I help them, I deliver amazing products to our consumers in Dubai at affordable prices.
The people we source in India and Sri Lanka are entrepreneurs who run small businesses and could not afford a presence in Dubai without Hayawiia. I’m not dealing with big boys and I feel like I am helping these communities in developing countries recover from Covid-19 by buying from them.
What are your expansion plans?
We will be launching our mobile app in a week and are currently on El Grocer and Instashop with plans to be present at noon soon.
We have also been approached by distributors from the UAE looking to take over some of our brands so hopefully you will see us on a lot more shelves across the country.
We’ll consider serving the F&B industry through vegan or ketogenic restaurants and hosting companies that offer monthly meal plans, but this is an entirely different industry that requires special attention. At this point, my focus is on promoting the brand and focusing on B2C (Business to Consumer) before moving on to B2B (Business to Business) and then regional expansion.
For me, the UAE is a proof of concept and I really wanted to start here and then report on the GCC. Since my margins are so small, I need to scale up and to achieve that I have to move into other countries.
After the United Arab Emirates, I’ll start with the smaller GCC countries like Bahrain and Kuwait next year before finally taking over Saudi Arabia, which requires a bigger investment.
Is the company bootstrapping and are you planning to raise capital from investors?
The initial funding came entirely from our savings, me and my husband Akram. There was no loan or loan during the setup or introductory phase.
Fundraising is definitely on the agenda for the future, as I cannot grow without it. However, I want to have a year of decent finances first.
For me, it’s not about burning money, it’s about building a profitable sustainable business that also helps the community.
What advice would you give to Emirati entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
The United Arab Emirates is our country where all of our dreams can come true. The ecosystem here is extremely supportive for entrepreneurs and as a woman I feel privileged to be able to start a business here and serve the community.
My advice to fellow entrepreneurs would be to believe in yourself and your idea, to take the plunge when you are clear about your target market, audience and business strategy. You also need to have a thorough understanding of your competition so that you can clearly define what sets you apart from others.