Xin­jiang food group look­ing to ex­pand across the coun­try

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By MAOWEIHUA in Urumqi and LIN SHUJUAN in Bei­jing

In the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Ar­man is syn­ony­mous with halal food.

As the lead­ing man­u­fac­turer of halal food, a di­etary re­quire­ment for Mus­lims, the com­pany has sev­eral food-pro­cess­ing plants and nearly 4,000 small mar­kets scat­tered across the re­gion— even in the re­motest vil­lages in themid­dleof theTak­li­makan Desert.

A food-pro­cess­ing cen­ter in the re­gion’s cap­i­tal, known as the cen­tral kitchen, de­liv­ers around 300,000 half-pro­cessed meals to the group’s retail out­lets ev­ery day. The num­ber is ex­pected to rise to 500,000 meals by the end of the year, ac­cord­ing to Radil Abla, founderand­di­rec­tor ofAr­manMus­lim Foods In­dus­trial Group.

This means that by 2017, one in seven of Urumqi’s more than 3.4 mil­lion res­i­dents will be eat­ing Ar­man’s fast-food at least once a day, on av­er­age. Andby 2020, Abla hopes to have ex­panded the group’s op­er­a­tions na­tion­wide.

“I hope by that time, when peo­ple men­tion halal food, they im­me­di­ately think of Ar­man,” the 48-yearold en­tre­pre­neur said.

The com­pany was founded in 1995 when Abla, a univer­sity grad­u­ate who ma­jored in bi­ol­ogy, quit his job as a re­search as­sis­tant at a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion.

He ven­tured into the pri­vate sec­tor search­ing for a bet­ter life. He named his busi­ness Ar­man, which means “hope” in Uygur. In the first two years, be­fore find­ing the fo­cus of his busi­ness, he tried his hand at wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy and the sale of im­ported elec­tron­ics.

Then, he hit on the idea of open­ing a small su­per­mar­ket — the first was no big­ger than 10 square me­ters.

“I dis­cov­ered that su­per­mar­kets rarely car­ried halal food, and re­al­ized the mar­ket po­ten­tial,” said Abla. “It was then I de­cided to fo­cus my busi­ness on halal foods. From there, I be­gan to open fac­to­ries. And be­fore I knew it, my busi­ness was ex­pand­ing and pros­per­ing like never be­fore.”

Look­ing back, the busi­ness­man said stan­dard­iza­tion was the key to his com­pany’s suc­cess.

“We have al­ways been ded­i­cated to the stan­dard­iza­tion of halal food. We use in­dus­trial pro­cesses and stan­dards to make our food halal,” said Abla, in a re­cent in­ter­viewwith China Ra­dio In­ter­na­tional.

When Ar­man first ex­panded into fast-food in 2010, it faced a chal­lenge: how best to de­liver tra­di­tional sta­ples such as noo­dles, pi­laf and naan bread to cus­tomers within a few min­utes of their or­der, while still en­sur­ing fresh­ness and fla­vor?

Tri­als started in the com­pany’s em­ployee can­teen, Abla said.

Ay­inur, an eth­nic Uygur, has been the can­teen’s chief cook since 2000, shortly af­ter be­ing laid off from a spin­ning fac­tory. She re­called nu­mer­ous tri­als and tribu­la­tions that the kitchen faced be­fore a stan­dard­ized cook­book was fi­nally put in place.

Now, as deputy man­ager of Ar­man’s first cen­tral kitchen in Urumqi, Ay­inur uses this book as a man­ual to train new em­ploy­ees and guide the kitchen’s op­er­a­tions, de­liv­er­ing pro­cessed foods to the group’s retail out­lets.

“This al­lows our stores to quickly pro­vide cus­tomers with won­der­ful food, which is also safe and af­ford­able,” Abla said, adding that he be­lieves the halal food sec­tor still has huge mar­ket po­ten­tial, given that Mus­lims make up more than half the pop­u­la­tion of Xin­jiang.

Ar­man now runs 72 fast-food out­lets across the re­gion, which Abla hopes to in­crease to 100 by next year.

Within five years, the en­tre­pre­neur en­vis­ages 20 cen­tral kitchens and 10,000 fran­chise out­lets across the coun­try.

For Abla, Ar­man is more than a busi­ness, it still rep­re­sents hope — just as it did when he first founded the com­pany all those years ago.

“I placed my hope in Ar­man to bring a bet­ter life for my fam­ily when I first set out in the pri­vate sec­tor,” he said. “And I still placemy hope in Ar­man to bring a bet­ter life for more peo­ple— es­pe­cially eth­nic peo­ple from poverty-stricken ar­eas.”

Ac­cord­ing to Abla’s cal­cu­la­tions, one typ­i­cal Ar­man fast-food out­let in Urumqi con­trib­utes about 36 mil­lion yuan ($5.5 mil­lion) to the re­gion’s GDP. Each out­let em­ploys 120 peo­ple, so if Ar­man opens 1,000 such out­lets na­tion­wide, it will mean 120,000 jobs and close to 40 bil­lion yuan to GDP.

“For me, that means a bet­ter life for many, many peo­ple; that’s my hope for Ar­man,” he said.

Radil Abla, founder of Ar­man Mus­lim Foods In­dus­trial Group

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