“There has been a rapid growth of so many flour milling machinery & technology suppliers during the past 20 years, however, we prefer to select only the best, for efficiency, quality and long-lasting service in years to come…We are focused on our own region with innovative products. I always try to innovate. Food science is a field where there is absolute room to innovate if one has the passion.”
Dr. Irfan Hashmi
Chief Technical Officer
Essa Al-Ghurair Investment
We have a world-renowned food scientist for Miller Magazine’s Technology Platform section: Dr. Irfan Hashmi, Chief Technical Officer at UAE-based Essa Al-Ghurair Investment. With his over 30 years of working experience in grain processing, Dr. Hashmi is a doyen of the food industry. When he began as a young quality engineer with the Al Ghurair Group, the group had one flour mill. He witnessed the company becoming one of the leading companies in the food industry in the Middle East with the leadership of Mr. Essa Abdulla Al Ghurair. The group has profound experience in flour milling, commissioning & operations, packaging & supply, wheat procurement and trading.
Speaking to Miller Magazine, Dr.Hashmi shares his more than 30 years of experience with us and comments on the future of milling.
Dr. Hashmi, first of all, I want to thank you for accepting our interview request…Could you please tell us about your background? How did you get into the grain industry?
I thank you very much for inviting me for this interview. I was born & educated in Pakistan and came to UAE in 1986 after completing my master's degree in process engineering from the USA to begin my carrier with the first flour mill in this country. Immediately after joining, I was sent to Switzerland, Germany, UK & Australia for further training in flour milling-related fields. Between 1994-1997, I pursued my Ph.D. in bio-processing from Australia while on the payroll of the group in UAE. It was very kind of Mr. Essa Al Ghurair.
You have over 30 years of working experience in the grain/food processing industry. Could you tell us changes in the industry in your long journey?
When I began as a young quality engineer with the Al Ghurair Group, there was only one flour mill of 600MT/day capacity, and then we gradually grew to produce over 4000MT/day flour in many countries in this region. Furthermore, we also built new grain mills (ie. maize, oats, rice, pulses, burghul, animal feed) as well as oilseed crushing/refining, pasta/ noodles and many more.
I was invited by the RACI, USWA, ASA, FFI & IAOM to present technical papers, lectures, training programs, conduct ongoing research & share technical protocols with customers. I have over 30 research articles & technical papers presented at international conferences & published in scientific periodicals.
Dr. Irfan Hashmi is working as Chief Technical Officer with Essa Al-Ghurair Investment. Founded by Mr. Essa Al Ghurair, the company is one of the leading food corporations.
In 2011, when I was group vice president, I decided to relocate to Australia and worked there as a technical advisor for GrainCorp, a multinational giant in grain handling, storage & flour milling, that allowed me to visit many flour mills in different countries as I was responsible for technical customer support, grist management, harvest surveillance and staff/customer training. I also served as a council member of the prestigious Wheat Classification Council of Australia for three years.
In 2016, I was invited again to return to UAE as chief technical officer with the newly established Essa Al Ghurair Investment Group and since then I have been involved in new grain related industries including a flour milling joint venture in Saudi Arabia recently.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the grain/flour milling sectors? How will this pandemic change the future of our industry?
As bread is a staple part of the diet in this region, I didn’t notice any effect on the flour milling industry during the current pandemic.
How will digital technologies affect the food industry?
Very much. I still remember that it was all manual work 3 decades ago and now one can control the whole operation from the cell phone.
Can you please give us information about Essa Al Ghurair Investment and its fields of activity?
In 2014, Mr. Essa Al Ghurair formed a new group where we initially focused on a coffee roasting plant, a gluten-free pasta plant and a gluten-free flour production line, and now more recently we have invested as a partner in the Saudi Arabian flour & feed milling industry (around 5,000MT/day of flour & feed) after the privatization of Saudi mills.
What kind of role and place does Essa Al Ghurair Investment in the milling and food industry in the Middle East?
As I mentioned earlier, Essa Al Ghurair Investment was established in 2014 but we have profound experience in:
• Flour Milling: Pioneers in Flour Milling in this region
• Commissioning & Operations: Commissioned several flour mills in UAE, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Algeria & Oman (with a milling capacity of over 4,000 MT per day including an exclusive durum line)
• Packaging & Supply: Retail (1-10kg), wholesale (25-50kg), Jumbo bags (1MT) & bulk (tankers)
• Wheat Procurement: Key relationships with all major wheat exporting countries including; Australia, Argentina, Baltic States, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Kazakistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey & USA
• Trading: Wheat storage & trading throughout the Middle East along with port/silo operations
• Quality: Perfected formulation for various uses i.e. household, in-house & industrial bakeries, tandoors, biscuit factories, pasta & noodle plants. Implementation of ISO protocols with the establishment of state of art testing facilities including preventive pest control management
• Innovation: Developed health-related flours i.e. for lowering cholesterol, maintaining diabetes & helping celiac patients eating gluten-free flours
• Wide experience in improving the nutrition value of end-products by utilizing & blending other grain flours
• Business Development: Produced, marketed & sold over 40 different types of wheat flours (for almost every use) & 20 bakery premixes for the region & beyond.
Can you give us some information about your milling capacity and the technologies you use? How many mills and plants do you have all over the region and where are they located?
A total of 5,000MT/day capacity in Saudi Arabia with 4 flour mills & 2 feed mills.
Which kind of products do you produce?
Coffee, gluten-free flour & pasta, wheat flour & animal feed.
What are your best-known brands?
Karam Coffee, Flocons (gluten-free flour) & Ajao (gluten-free pasta) in UAE, and a range of Milling Company-1 flours & feeds in Saudi Arabia.
Where do you import wheat for flour?
All wheat in Saudi Arabia is supplied by the government from mixed origin including Saudi wheat, but we have intense experience of handling & milling wheat from all over the globe (details are in my article in your esteemed magazine in the May 2021 issue).
Where do you export your products?
Currently, we are focusing on our region.
Consumers’ attitudes, priorities and behaviors are shifting. Covid-19 pandemic has triggered health and wellness spending. Could you tell us about changing eating habits and food trends in the Middle East?
I have seen a growing trend of either home cooking/baking & increase in online processed food orders due to Covid-19 during the past year and a half.
What are the major challenges for food processors in the region?
This is an open market where we see loads of imported food products (both processed & unprocessed) that are not necessarily the best or cheap.
What are your future targets in your operating market? Which regions and markets do you see as potential?
We are focused on our own region with innovative products.
What are your expectations from the machinery and technology supplier for the milling industry?
There has been a rapid growth of so many flour milling machinery & technology suppliers during the past 20 years, however, we prefer to select only the best, for efficiency, quality and long-lasting service in years to come.
In which areas do you need innovative solutions?
NIR testing is an area that needs to be further simplified as a rapid & innovative solution. I personally feel that a lot can be done in this area.
As a world-renowned food scientist, what advice can you give to the young people who plan to get into the grain industry/business?
I am not too sure if I am a world-renowned food scientist or not, but I always try to INNOVATE, and food science is a field where there is absolute room to innovate if one has the passion.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is challenging to operate in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous) environment while demonstrating cost-saving modules by commercially advantageous recommendations, but it is definitely possible if one believes that the loser is the one who accepts defeat.