Tareq Alshaikh, co-founder and CEO of Kuwait-based Pinnacle Group, discusses his entrepreneurial journey to bring Toby’s Estate to the Middle East and the brand’s tremendous potential in the region – and beyond
Toby’s Estate at the Dubai Hills Mall, UAE (left) and Pinnacle Group CEO Tareq Alshaikh (right) | Photo credit: Pinnacle Group
Founded in Australia by Toby Smith in the late 1990s, Toby’s Estate is a highly respected and pioneering global specialty coffee shop group and roastery. In 2015, Pinnacle Group partnered with Toby’s Estate to franchise the brand in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and now operates 20 outlets across Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
What inspired Pinnacle Group to invest in the coffee industry?
I always dreamed of starting my own business – it just took me longer than expected. I grew up in a family of successful entrepreneurs. My grandfather was trader and retailer in spices, fabrics, pearls and food products between the Middle East, Persia and India. My mother is a renowned scholar and inventor who helped shape the environmental, geological and energy narrative in the region.
They instilled in me the entrepreneurial curiosity that led me to coffee – particularly Australian specialty coffee culture.
So-called ‘second wave’ coffee brands dominated the Middle East for decades. While they were very successful, there were shortfalls in their approach to coffee quality and customer experience. This is why Pinnacle decided to invest in coffee – and particularly an Australian brand. Australia redefined coffee as a nuanced and artisanal product, akin to wine or craft beer, with an emphasis on quality, origin, and the intricate details of the brewing process – and we wanted to import the best and strongest brands to the Middle East.
What attracted you to invest in the Toby’s Estate brand?
Investing in Toby’s Estate for Middle East expansion was a strategic decision rooted in the brand’s exceptional reputation for quality and commitment to sustainability. Having witnessed the brand’s success in Australia and its global acclaim, we were drawn to the idea of introducing Middle Eastern coffee enthusiasts to Toby’s Estate’s diverse and meticulously curated coffees. The Middle East’s burgeoning coffee culture presented an opportune market for Toby’s Estate’s dedication to sourcing high quality beans from around the world, fostering direct relationships with coffee farmers and commitment to ethical and sustainable business – which all strongly resonate with a growing number of Middle Eastern consumers.
What have been your key learnings from building the Toby’s Estate brand in the Middle East?
First and foremost, understanding and respecting the local coffee culture has been paramount. Adapting the Toby’s Estate experience to complement, rather than replace, existing preferences has proven essential in fostering acceptance and loyalty among our consumers.
Another crucial lesson has been the significance of personalised customer engagement. In a region where hospitality is highly valued, training staff to provide both excellent coffee and genuine warmth has greatly contributed to the positive reception of the brand.
Navigating the complexities of distribution and supply chains in the Middle East has also underscored the importance of building strong local partnerships. Establishing relationships with local suppliers, understanding regulatory frameworks, and ensuring a consistent supply of high-quality coffee are critical to the brand’s integrity.
Additionally, the Middle East’s diverse demographics require a nuanced marketing approach. Tailoring our messaging to resonate with various cultural preferences and demographics has been instrumental in building a broad and inclusive customer base. Embracing the digital landscape has proven effective, leveraging social media platforms and online channels to connect with tech-savvy audiences and showcase the brand’s story.
“The ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences and trends is vital for sustained growth”
Sustainability and corporate social responsibility have also played significant roles in building loyalty among Middle Eastern consumers. Demonstrating a commitment to ethical sourcing, community engagement, and environmental stewardship has resonated positively in a market where conscious consumerism is on the rise.
Building the Toby’s Estate brand in the Middle East has been a multifaceted learning experience. Adaptability, cultural sensitivity, personalised service, strong local partnerships and a commitment to sustainability have emerged as key pillars in navigating and thriving in this vibrant and diverse market.
What are the key aspects of Pinnacle Group’s accelerated growth model for Toby’s Estate?
Toby’s Estate is known for blending Australian coffee culture with a focus on quality, hospitality and healthy lifestyles. While our business model and growth strategy have evolved, our core strategy has remained intact since we opened our first store in Sharq, Kuwait, back in 2016.
Strong emphasis on coffee quality, providing excellent customer service, a bespoke wellbeing-focused menu, beautifully designed spaces, selecting strategic locations and building a community around our cafés across the Middle East are key aspects of Pinnacle Group’s business model and the potential for accelerated Toby’s Estate outlet growth in the region.
Innovation always sits at the heart of that strategy. The ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences and trends is vital for sustained growth. Menu innovation, sustainability and operational efficiency all contribute to long-term success. The newly launched Toby’s Estate App has been one of the many successes of our innovation hub. Keeping pace with technological trends, we leverage our digital platforms for ordering, loyalty, and engaging with customers. Embracing technology has also enhanced efficiency and convenience for both the business and its patrons.
The interior of Pinnacle Group’s Toby’s Estate flagship store in Jumeirah, Dubai | Photo credit: Pinnacle Group
What market factors will drive Toby’s Estate’s strategy in the future?
There are a plethora of factors driving our strategy – from consumer preferences and trends to partnerships, collaboration and global expansion – the possibilities are endless. However, Toby’s Estate’s strategic foray into the Ready-to-Drink (RTD) coffee segment is pivotal for our growth strategy. Recognising the evolving preferences of on-the-go consumers and the burgeoning demand for convenient coffee options, Toby’s Estate has extended its commitment to quality and craftsmanship to the RTD category.
The RTD range features meticulously crafted cold brews, including black and sparkling Sprotonic, alongside dairy and plant-based iced coffees, which encapsulate the distinct flavours for which Toby’s Estate is renowned. Expansion into the RTD market both caters to increasing demand for convenience and presents new avenues for brand visibility, consumer engagement and sustained growth.
We are currently building our state-of-the-art roasting and manufacturing facility in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The massive site will roast the entire Toby’s Estate coffee portfolio (single origins and blends) as well as ranges inspired by the Arabian Gulf region. It will also manufacture our growing RTD range, including cold brew, espresso-based and dairy, alongside housing our ISO compliant Central Kitchen.
Toby’s Estate holds immense potential and we are genuinely excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. With a steadfast commitment to quality, sustainability and innovation, we look forward to expanding our presence in both current and new markets around the world. The journey ahead is not just about building a coffee brand – it’s about cultivating a global community that shares our passion for exceptional coffee experiences. As Toby’s Estate continues to explore new horizons, we are eager to connect with coffee enthusiasts worldwide and create moments of delight that transcend borders, solidifying our position as a truly global and extraordinary coffee brand.
This article was first published in Issue 17 of 5THWAVE magazine.
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