Lebanese products to China

Lebanese products: a new pathway to China

Lebanese products to China

As customer behavior shift to a virtual lifestyle due to the global pandemic, new and exciting opportunities arise making internationalization more accessible to customers worldwide. As such, and in its mission to support export and internationalization of Lebanese products, QOOT Cluster, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and Trade, organized an informative session with Mr. Joseph Tannous, economic Attaché of the Lebanese Embassy in Beijing. Attendees learned of the launch of an online boutique for Lebanese products on a Chinese platform, thus helping Lebanese agri-food companies easily access the Chinese market.

During the session, Mr. Tannous stressed on the importance of collaboration as well as clustering for Lebanese SMEs to be more competitive and enter the Chinese market, “Together we can access China!”

He gave an overview of Lebanon-China trade, showing that 75% of what Lebanon exports to China are low value-added products, while China is Lebanon’s number one trade partner. He proceeded by showing the main challenges Lebanese companies are facing to enter the Chinese market, such as:

  • Very high tariffs and very high VAT on imported products
  • Complicated custom clearance procedures especially for first time exporters
  • Legal difficulties to set up shop in China for foreigners
  • Chinese labeling and CIQ approvals for the foreign product before entering China
  • Most Lebanese companies are SMEs with limited financial resources and production capacity compared to the Chinese market

However, through the launch of the online boutique in China, many advantages will arise to overcome some of these challenges since the Chinese government allows certain online platforms to sell foreign products directly, in other words, allowing Lebanese products to enter the Chinese market with:

  • Lower tariffs and VAT
  • Faster custom clearance
  • The ability to find a Chinese distributor without having to register a company in China
  • Products directly sold from the producer to the consumer
  • Ease regulations regarding the Chinese label

Such cross-border trade platforms and online shops will allow Lebanese products to travel all the way to China at a relatively low-cost and through a quick process, thus promoting Lebanese tourism, cuisine and culture in China.

For further information and for inquiries about the platform, please contact Mr. Joseph Tannous: ea.josephtannous@gmail.com 

This initiative is supported by the Ministry of Economic and Trade in Lebanon and launched by the Lebanese Embassy in China.


SMLC and Balamand

Academia works with Industry to test packaging materials

SMLC and Balamand

As Lebanon’s first agri-food innovation cluster, QOOT Cluster is working hard to foster collaboration, strengthen linkages and increase opportunities for the country’s food sector, promoting it to a new level of innovation and global recognition.

As a proponent of collaborative innovation, QOOT Cluster recognizes the value of cross-sector partnerships in the agri-food industry. Connecting Société Moderne Libanaise pour le Commerce (SMLC) to the University of Balamand (UOB) was one of the first success stories in bridging the gap between academia and industry within its framework.

The collaboration project between UOB and SMLC was established with the aim of focusing mutual efforts on comparing the life cycle environmental impacts of two different packaging materials (polyethylene terephthalate and glass) for carbonated beverages. The project was conducted by a UOB Chemical Engineering Master’s student, Ms. Marleine Boutros, and was co-supervised by Dr. Rima Manneh, Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Chemical Engineering Department at the Faculty of Engineering at UOB, and Dr. Sabine Saba, Assistant Professor at the Issam Fares Faculty of Technology at UOB. Dr. Shady Khoury, Director of Operations at SMLC provided all necessary data needed for the modeling. Ms. Boutros successfully defended her thesis on the 14th of December 2020 and is currently finalizing an article to be submitted for publication in a peer-review scientific journal.

SMLC – Société Moderne Libanaise pour le Commerce- is the first Pepsi franchisee and bottler in the Levant. The company started its operation in the Hazmieh plant and over the years, the company grew its line of products to include Mirinda, 7up and a number of other brands; The company has known considerable success and has grown significantly in over 60 years of operation. In 2001, SMLC made a strategic alliance with PepsiCo. This joint venture proved very successful since SMLC grew considerably as a company; and has expanded both in its portfolio of products and geographically. Since then, a number of brands were gradually added to SMLC’s portfolio, these include: Tropicana, Mr. Juicy, Lipton Ice Tea, Gatorade, AMP, H2Oh!, and Aquafina mineral water.

As a socially responsible company, SMLC is committed to protect the employees, the environment and the community where it operates. To stay true to this commitment, SMLC embarked on a journey to protect earth’s natural resources through more efficient use of water, energy and packaging materials. One of its major business is the returnable glass bottles which, in its nature, reduce the number of glass bottles used by washing and reusing them several times. Moreover, the company uses as well plastic and can packages which are fully recyclable.

The research project in the field of LCA by comparing returnable glass and plastic bottles came as a common objective between SMLC and UOB within the framework of QOOT Cluster collaborative environment.

The University of Balamand is a leading academic institution pioneering in the field of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in Lebanon. LCA is a tool that can help identify the environmental impacts of a product, process, or service throughout its life cycle, i.e. from the raw material extraction to the end-of-life. This research project was the first of its kind in Lebanon. No other LCA studies were previously performed for carbonated beverages packaging in Lebanon, and only a few LCA studies exist for the Lebanese agri-food sector.

Dr. Manneh, a leading scholar in LCA and one of the very few LCA researchers who have instigated LCA in Lebanon, is very enthused by this project's outcomes. She strongly believes that LCA will help in further bridging the gap between academia and industry, which in turn can only help the community and the environment. QOOT Cluster will hopefully remain a key partner and facilitator of such activities.

Professor Rami Abboud, Vice President for Internationalization and Engagement and Dean of Faculty of Engineering stated: “I was sold the idea of LCA by Dr. Manneh from the minute I arrived to UOB in July 2019. Dr Manneh’s passion to LCA is immeasurable and her persistence to establish the first LCA Centre in Lebanon and the MENA region will be launched soon at the Faculty of Engineering. The SMLC project will be one of many other future projects that I am sure will be as successful fulfilling our moto from Lab to Society”.

Dr. Elie Karam, Acting Dean of the Issam Fares Faculty of Technology mentioned: “QOOT Cluster's project in joining partners from two faculties of the University of Balamand with SMLC is a real success story. In addition to its substance and academic collaboration values, the project symbolizes the real value of sustainable development by developing strong and tangible working relations exploiting science fundamentals and research methods in the industrial production sectors capitalizing on sustainable economic concepts with direct impact on human life. Facing the current international and national traumatic conditions, I believe that genuine collaborations like this one can keep our hope alive that things can be improved and that small countries like Lebanon can be developed.”

This collaboration through QOOT Cluster is reducing the gap between Academia and the industry to push the agri-food sector forward.

Blog Hill Skaff

The 2021 survival kit for export readiness

Blog Hill Skaff

In its mission to help Lebanese agri-food innovators thrive, the QOOT Cluster seeks to create the ideal environment for agri-food businesses to strengthen their expertise, fuel their ideas, build fruitful partnerships, and establish themselves in new markets.

In a recent virtual workshop titled “Export Readiness for SMEs in the Agri-Food Sector”, QOOT hosted Hill Skaff - Business and Food Development Specialist, who presented her tips on the 2021 survival kit for export readiness for agri-food companies.

2021 Survival Kit top Tips

  1. Conduct market research: Understanding market demand and requirements is key to identify the right product to sell. Know your market: stability, trends, competition, regulations, trade barriers and others.
  2. Produce what you can sell: Always start with the market demand, focus on market trends and needs, production capacity, product shelf life, packaging, competitors and reinforce your unique point to stand out against the competition.
  3. Build confidence with the customer: In order to effectively market a product, it is important that the customer have confidence in the company producing the product. It is important to provide background information on the company owners, product, and food safety systems, ensure management commitment and transparency.
  4. Use a suitable promotional tool: Be present on social media and define your brand purpose, it is what connects it to the customer. Know what e-commerce platform to be on.
  5. Trade Show Essentials: Identify the right show to catch the right customer, prepare in advance by promoting your presence, train your team, and make a list of the companies you want to see. It’s crucial to do study tours in the market and to evaluate your product vs. competitors, attend social gatherings to increase your social network. Ensure proper follow up post trade show.
  6. Export Key requirements: Exporting requires planning and preparation, securing deals might take up to 1 year. Ensure you have the right product, appropriate package, required quality/safety certifications, unique selling point and most importantly financial capability to negotiate offers and payment terms.

About the Trainer

Hill Skaff is a Food Production and Business Development Professional with more than 15 years of experience in long-term positions and in short-term consultancies. Her experience includes six years of progressive leadership in project development, strengthening the agriculture and agro-processing sectors and supporting Lebanese products to become more competitive in both domestic and international markets. In addition, she’s a short-term consultant, both inside and outside Lebanon, including Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, for programs funded by USAID, UNDP, and private sectors. Mrs. Semaan is specialized in access to markets (local and export), market strategies, and product development.



field- ARE

Agriculture and Rural Empowerment Opportunity

field- AREQOOT Cluster organized an informative session with the Agriculture and Rural Empowerment (ARE) team, a USAID funded activity, to present the program to QOOT Cluster members and support them in the application process as well as receive answers to any eligibility criteria.

More than 30 members from the QOOT Cluster joined the session and showed interest in applying to the program.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Agriculture and Rural Empowerment (ARE) program, designed to support several industries in Lebanon for the development of rural economies in Lebanon by helping the agri-food industry increase domestic and export sales, increase access to financial resources, and improve the productivity of MSMEs.

ARE utilizes a facilitative approach, based on the theory of market systems development, to incentivize value chain stakeholders in prioritized value chains and sub-sectors to take advantage of new and emerging opportunities to increase their potential to grow sales both internationally and domestically.

The prioritized agriculture and non-agriculture value chains that ARE targets include: fresh and processed produce, dairy and fodder, stone fruits, table grapes, wine and arak, and tourism.

ARE also invests in strategic interventions in the agricultural sector that respond to urgent needs and opportunities identified during implementation. Through these interventions, the team identifies and addresses cross-cutting challenges in order to generate impact at the broader sectoral level. Illustrative strategic interventions may include but are not limited to the development of industry-led quality seal programs, sector level association capacity building, industry/sector branding, and investment in emerging, high-potential value chains that are not included in the prioritized list above. Other interventions may include innovative grant interventions to promote innovation and technology upgrading on-farm, support to start-up ecosystems, and other similar themes.

For more information on USAID’s Agriculture and Rural Empowerment activity, please contact info@lebanonare.org.

Danielle Mol Blog

10 tips to improve the odds of listing your agri-food products in retail

Danielle Mol BlogIn its mission to help Lebanese agri-food innovators thrive, the QOOT Cluster seeks to create the ideal environment for agri-food businesses to strengthen their expertise, fuel their ideas, build fruitful partnerships, and establish themselves in new markets.

In a recent virtual workshop titled “Export Readiness for SMEs in the Agri-Food Sector”, QOOT hosted Danielle Mol - founder of GreenUp Consulting, who took the participants through the different strategies to increase their chances of having their products listed in retails spaces such as supermarkets and specialty shops.

Top Tips

In this blog post, Danielle Mol shares with us her top ten tips to improve the odds of listing agri-food products in retail:

  1. Know the trends and challenges in the category that you want to enter: your customer usually has the responsibility to manage many different categories. You should be the expert of the category that you are active in.
  2. Have a good overview of the competitive market: make sure you know all the players in the market and what their strengths and weaknesses are. What are your strength and weaknesses and where do you fit in? What is your positioning?
  3. Make sure your story is credible and realistic: the data you use should be correct and coming from trustworthy sources. Make sure that you perform a good analysis and that it’s credible. Optimistic is always good but keep it realistic!
  4. USP’s, USP’s USP’s: it all comes down to having added value. What makes you stand out in the crowd? And most importantly: does this meet consumer needs?
  5. Contribute to the targets of the retailer: read their strategy plans (can often be found online) and talk to those responsible in stores. How are they struggling to achieve those targets? How can you help them achieve those targets?
  6. Make sure you have removed any barrier: figure out the requirements of the category. What is the minimum sales number that you must achieve to stay on the shelves? Is there a minimum on margin? Is your shelf-life long enough? Are the sustainability goals in order? This is all dependant on the category that your products fit in.
  7. Make it concrete: do not put too many sheets and text in a presentation. Always ask yourself if the information adds value to the presentation. You can always put extra information in the attachments. Managers in retail are busy…
  8. Always keep in mind ’what’s in it for them’: why should the retailer put your product on the shelves? Try to look at the presentation from the perspective of the customer. How do you make it so that they can only say yes?
  9. End your presentation in a one-pager: in one overview it should become apparent what your added value is to your customer (margin, revenue and other factors).
  10.  Practice makes perfect: if you do not have a lot of experience, hire the help of an expert, or at least practice your presentation with other relevant people before you go to an important customer. You only have one chance to make a first impression!


About the Trainer

Danielle Mol is the founder of GreenUp Consulting with more than 12 years of food industry experience as a consultant for retailers and industry players. She worked in several commercial role at several suppliers to large retailers, led the development and product launch strategy of many successful innovations. In addition, she’s an expert in market analysis and discovering growth opportunities and improvement projects (profit increase, transition to more sustainable protein, etc.).



The Resilience Of Ecosystems: An Ode To Berytech And QOOT

This inspiring blog is written by Berytech longtime supporter and friend Roger van Hoesel – Founder of the Food Mountain. Roger is the former board member of the Agrytech Innovation Hub, where he played an important role in advising the Berytech team on the accelerator program and the establishment of the QOOT Agri-Food Innovation Cluster.

Early 2020 I was invited to give a lecture at the American University of Beirut. This time it was not about innovations in agri-food, but about the question of what cluster organizations can contribute in times of economic crisis. In itself a very understandable subject. After all, the situation in Lebanon was not very flourishing at the time: sky-high inflation, gigantic unemployment and, not surprisingly, fierce protests against the incumbent authorities in the country. The unprecedented refugee problem had been considered a given for many years.

I must confess that the subject of the lecture made me quite insecure: who was I, coming from the stable, prosperous Netherlands, to share wisdom about crisis management in front of this audience?

At that time, it was not yet clear that shortly afterwards Covid-19 would bring an important part of the global economy to a standstill and since then has been holding us in its grip in all sorts of ways. In Lebanon, as we know, another blow has been dealt since then: the huge explosion in Beirut on August 4, which caused major damage to the port and destroyed a large part of the city center. In the preceding months, the Lebanese pound had already fallen into free fall, which further exacerbated the economic situation in the heavily import-dependent country. For many Lebanese, who are trained like no other in dealing with setbacks (‘we always adapt’), the explosion seemed like a kind of knockout: one blow too many.

Still, I think the country will rise again from its ashes. About three years ago the Netherlands decided to support a very special program in Lebanon, called Agrytech. The aim of the initiative was to stimulate activity in the agri-food sector by supporting start-ups and by uniting the existing innovative business community. Both components proved to be a great success.

Although Lebanon has well-trained engineers at its disposal, there was no culture to use this knowledge to set up new companies in the agri-food sector. In a very short period of time, the organization Berytech developed a flourishing startup ecosystem in this very important domain. Very targeted actions towards young talent, formulating the most important challenges together with the business community and universities, organizing countless hackathons and other meetings, combined with professional guidance within the Agrytech programme have ensured that Lebanese agri-food startups have now won international awards.

The same has happened with the creation of a platform for the existing business community. In 2019, Berytech set up one of the first food clusters in the Middle East, called QOOT. QOOT now has about 50 members who, each in their own way, are innovative and underline the importance of collaboration. New collaborations are being forged and attempts are being made in all kinds of ways to strengthen the export of the countless beautiful products.

Despite the many challenges in the country, I have seldomly seen such a bundling of entrepreneurship, social commitment, determination, talent and energy. This applies both to the entrepreneurs themselves and to the cluster organization running the program. Even in this seemingly hopeless situation, new initiatives are rapidly being launched to keep the economy running somewhat and to build a better future for the country. We in Western Europe can hope that we will be able to show the same resilience in the face of so much headwind. Hence my ode to Qoot and Berytech, inspiring examples in times of crisis.

Source: https://foodmountain.nl/en/the-resilience-of-ecosystems-an-ode-to-berytech-and-qoot/


The Ultimate Gift Guide for Christmas 2020

It’s that time of the year again to make the list and check it twice!

As goes the tradition, Berytech's gift guide list celebrates the innovators in their community including gifts from QOOT Cluster members with all the innovations they have to offer us, giving you hints on what to eat, drink and shop for.

Needless to say, shopping locally has a whole new meaning and purpose this year. So, without further ado here’s a glimpse of Berytech’s Ultimate Gift Guide for Christmas 2020.

Lebanese Food & Drinks

Since French cheese and wine already taste like an old memory, the disappearance of Mr. Franklin could be a blessing in disguise for your palate. We’re here to help you build your bar, buffet or gift basket with some fine local food and drinks.

Starting with the drinks, the Three Brothers promise you Lebanese gin that is ‘super smooth, and without any of the nasties that can give you a sore and sorry head’ we’re taking their word for it, although we did google “what’s bathtub gin?”

Next on the menu is Cave des Ours with their innovative apple arak from 100% apple juice and green anise, distilled three times to obtain the pure, authentic and traditional Lebanese drink we all love.

Colonel Beer remains your one-stop-shop for locally made artisanal beer, arak, gin, and vodka. Our inside tip is that if you take your empty bottles for a refill you get a cut on the price. Hats off for putting that circular economy in motion!

If you’re not too excited about going out shopping with your double mask and sanitizer tank, we’re more than happy to remind you of the most reliable way of shopping: online! 209 Lebanese Wine is where you can find an expanded offering of Lebanese-made wine and spirits.

Moving on to food, the root of all happiness, we’d like to start with an all-time favorite, king of Lebanese cuisine: zaatar, with non-other than The Good Thymes and their constant innovations with this ultimate crowd-pleaser.

Coming close after that is the mother of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all sandwiches in between, Labneh. For this particular occasion, we’ve chosen the spiced Labneh balls in oil from Go Baladi. Our strategy? Stick them on toothpicks and call them hors d’oeuvres.

Another holiday favorite has to be the French style goat cheese from Goutblanc. Besides complementing every possible carbohydrate slice you can think of, we recommend it stuffed in baked chicken breasts with zaatar. Guaranteed to impress the mother-in-law. 😉

While you’re at it you might as well use the Smart Gourmet Hommos paste and call it your own. It’s vacuum-packed and preservative-free. The bags will most definitely find their way into a traveling family member’s luggage too. They travel well. Tried and tested.

For dessert, forget about decadence but still indulge, we’re giving you enough healthy choices to beat the sugar rush, starting with The Dry Company’s dehydrated fruit bags. Honey crisp apple chips anyone?

Eshmoon has added to their naturally sweetened line finger licking good Buche De Noel, vegan ice cream, and chocolate cake made with almond flour. You will find something for every food intolerance on the table.

Check the full gift guide for this year on Berytech’s blog section here.


Matchmaking between Lama Foods and Grapeful

QOOT Cluster has for mission to help Lebanese agri-food innovators thrive by creating the ideal environment for agri-food businesses to strengthen their expertise, fuel their ideas, establish themselves in new markets, and build fruitful partnerships.

A successful example of the above is the case of Lama Foods and Grapeful, both QOOT Cluster members, collaborating together to valorize their uncommercialized products.

Lama Foods has always been investing in vineyards, exporting and selling big sizes and commercialized table grapes, discarding all small-sized, non-internationally standardized grapes. They decided to shift their strategy in valorizing their uncommercialized produce, and started to collect non-industrial grapes (usually not harvested), to offer them to companies, such as Grapeful, that can valorize these by-products and manufacture grape-based goods.

Grapeful, being one of the companies that uses grapes as its main product in its delicious, natural grape molasses and protein bar, has profited from these uncommercialized grapes and has managed to create a value from products that were usually wasted, allowing them to increase their production in a profitable way.

During harvest season, Lama foods managed to collect 4 to 5 tons of uncommercialized grapes, aiming to collect 10 tons next year.

This collaboration between the two QOOT Cluster members created a win-win deal in times of crisis, where by-products are being valorized and used as added value.

Italian Technologies for the Agro-Industry in Lebanon

The “Italian Technologies for the Agro-Industry in Lebanon” webinar took place with the Italian trade agency, in collaboration with QOOT Cluster, Berytech, ALI and IDAL.  The webinar aimed to strengthen and encourage partnerships between the Lebanese Agro-food industry and Italian partners interested in the Lebanese market.

The webinar grouped experts in the agri-food sector to discuss opportunities between Lebanon and Italy, and how Italian companies can contribute to leverage the economy of Lebanese companies. An overview of the sector in Lebanon and its challenges was presented, highlighting the importance of import substitution, considering that Lebanon is one of the rare countries in its soil and climate, that can benefit local production of fresh produces.

In a discussion on technology and innovation within the agri-food sector, Mr. Ramy Boujawdeh, deputy General Manager at Berytech, Mrs. Nadine Khoury, QOOT Cluster board president and COO at Robinson Agri, and Mr. Youssef Rifai, QOOT Cluster vice president, had the opportunity to showcase the latest studies and innovations in the Lebanese ecosystem.

The webinar stressed on the importance of collaborating with the Italian association and sharing knowhow, encouraging opportunities with the Italian trade agency. Such collaboration is important to showcase Lebanon's advantages to the world.

Opportunities between the UK and Lebanon

The Embassy of Lebanon in the United Kingdom, with the support of Berytech and QOOT Cluster, hosted a webinar entitled “The Food and Beverage Industry. Opportunities between the UK and Lebanon”, open to companies who would like to potentially export to the UK and access a new market.

During this webinar, experts from the United Kingdom discussed their experience on market trends, and how companies should focus on building their brands rather than the product. This session highlighted the potential of Lebanese brands in the UK market.

Berytech’s Chairman and CEO, Mr. Maroun N. Chammas, along with Mrs. Nadine Khoury, COO of Robinson Agri and President of QOOT Cluster, presented the different innovations in the agri-food sector in Lebanon, and the importance for companies to shift their strategy to become export-ready.

The webinar also put together a talk on how Lebanese fresh produce is ready to be exported, tackling the competitiveness and sustainability of imports focusing on accessing the UK market.

The webinar was informative and practical, bridging the logistics gap and market between the UK and Lebanon. It is a start on bridging both countries, converging their future interest in the newly established Lebanese F&B Association.

You can watch the full webinar here.