Dr Ata Atmar, CEO and Managing Director of Bateel, tells Ruchika Vyas how he transformed a date company into a leading luxury commodity brand
Shortly after Dr Ata Atmar’s arrival in Saudi Arabia back in 1983, Bateel’s owner, Ziad Al Sudairi asked him to help build Bateel and develop a strategy to effectively market dates—a standard commodity in supermarkets at the time—as a premium product. He agreed, initiating the start of a lifelong partnership and association with the high value brand Bateel has become today.
Atmar was simultaneously pursuing other ventures at the time, but eventually gave them all up to focus on the expanding the Bateel empire. “I realised Bateel’s potential around 10 years ago. It was an admired home-grown brand, with growing international acclaim, which everybody could relate to, so I slowly gave up my other jobs. Now, I am fully devoted to this one,” he shares. But transforming a business that was merely about selling the humble date to a luxury brand with diverse verticals was no mean feat. At that time, dates were being sold as a commodity in supermarkets and souks. Bateel essentially introduced and developed a new concept, which didn’t exist before. “We had a vision and decided that we wanted to market dates like premium Swiss chocolates,” says Atmar making it seem so simple.
The story began at Bateel’s farms. Situated in Al Ghat, 250km north of Riyadh in the historic green valleys of the Tuwayq Mountains, their farms are home to over 50,000 date trees and grow a selection of over 20 of the finest date varieties. “We elevated date quality to new heights by introducing innovation in farming and processing techniques. Vertical integration of farming, processing and manufacturing has given us total control over the supply chain; allowing Bateel to offer products at a consistently high quality. We took an agricultural product and turned it into a luxury food item creating an entire new industry in the process.”
They established their first Bateel boutique in Riyadh. Soon after, recognising the importance of branching out, they moved into other gourmet categories such as premium quality chocolates, pastries, and fine foods and opened boutique outlets around the world, from Jakarta to London. He recounts, “We knew we couldn’t survive on dates alone, so we extended the Bateel experience by offering a new concept in casual dining. We wanted to introduce a warm and sophisticated ambiance where guests could enjoy extraordinary gourmet cuisine. In 2007, we opened our first café in Dubai.” Café Bateel offers a blend of Mediterranean cuisine and Arabian heritage. They opened their first flagship store last year at Dubai’s The Walk at JBR; the first to bring three Bateel elements together under one roof: the boutique, bakery and café.
But success doesn’t come without challenges. It wasn’t easy to convince sophisticated consumers to buy gourmet confectionery items from a company producing dates. However, Atmar’s academic background as an economist came in handy when tackling problems of such stature. “Studying economics allows you to develop an analytical framework that can be applied to identifying, analysing and solving strategic and operational areas of business problems. So it greatly helped to have a better understanding of the subject,” he confesses.
Bateel’s pursuit of excellence doesn’t end here. “We are looking to almost double in size by opening new boutiques and cafés across the GCC region. In addition, guests can look forward to several new product introductions in the boutique this year, including a line of wrapped chocolates and a gourmet tea range.” Clearly, this is only the beginning of a future brimming with promise. bateel.com