New duty free business beckons for Al Fakher

By Luke Barras-hill |

Geneva, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol Airports are up next for Al Fakher after the shisha tobacco company recently finalised listing agreements.

The Dubai-based shisha tobacco firm, part of the Advanced Inhalation Rituals (AIR) portfolio, is ramping up its presence in Europe after becoming the first-ever shisha tobacco company to be sold in any duty free store on the continent after debuting in France in 2019.

“We are launching in Geneva and Amsterdam and in Germany soon,” confirmed Ziad Jabre, Regional Director APAC & Global Head of Travel Retail, Al Fakher, speaking to this publication in his first TRBusiness video interview.

As reported in the November/December e-zine, Al Fakher is eyeing Latin America as fertile space for growth, with the region home to the largest Arab diaspora outside of the Middle East. In addition, Al Fakher says it is in talks with some retailers in the US.

Al Fakher’s travel retail business has recovered well since the Covid crisis, capitalising on healthy growth within the shisha category above that of passenger flows.

“Looking back at last year, I’m really proud of the results we delivered with our business partners,” continued Jabre.

In addition to steering the travel retail business, Jabre took on added responsibility – effective 1 January – for the domestic business in Asia Pacific.

“The [shisha] category [in Asia Pacific] is growing, but one cannot say the awareness of shisha tobacco is very strong across Asia. We are working currently in developing and growing this awareness.

There are pockets where the category is more dominant than other places, for example in Indonesia and Malaysia. These are places where the business is quite solid.”

While in China, signs of demand for the shisha category augurs well, Jabre says the company has ‘barely scratched the surface’ in terms of its potential.

“It is something we want to work on, but I think it only makes sense after it has been developed in the domestic business; I don’t personally think it can develop as a brand in travel retail alone.”

In a broad-ranging conversation, Jabre also touched on shifting consumer habits in the shisha/molasses category, including an increase in at-home enjoyment of the products during the Covid crisis, as lounges closed. Indeed, demand for the category in travel retail continues to grow in a post- Covid landscape.

He also discussed the challenges facing the category, including the removal of the tax exemption for tobacco products at airport arrivals seen in recent years in some Middle East countries.

Speaking more generally, he added: “One of the major hurdles is awareness of the shisha category with retailers within travel retail – it is still quite low – and that need to educate the retailer about the opportunity of shisha tobacco and the category.”

Al Fakher also reveals the details of a new brand called Shisha Kartel – billed as an ‘edgier’ alternative for those seeking more complex, mixed flavours as a differentiator from the core Al Fakher brands – into airports.

This interview first featured in the February 2023 e-zine. Click here to view

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