Top Banner
Apr / May 2012
Berry Good

Writer: Kheiry Sammakieh / Photographer: Georges Khoury

Starting a company on the fringes of the health food and beverage industry, Khaled Yafi chose the path less travelled by deciding to focus on a single ingredient: berries. Six years later and he finds himself reaping the rewards of that choice.


Choosing a juice used to be a simple thing a decade ago. There was orange, apple, pineapple and strawberry. Pomegranate and mango, if you wanted something exotic. Then along came cranberry and the cult of the berry began. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find Goji and Yumberry juice from China, Açai from South America. Rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants, though virtually unheard-of until recently, their arrival has turned juice from a healthy drink into the health drink of choice for the body-conscious generation.

Khaled Yafi had an inkling this might be the case years ago. Long before you or I. But this is no ‘told-you-so’ story for Khaled Yafi was shrewd enough to turn that hunch into a business. Now, we live in his world.

It’s a typically wet and grey London morning, when Khaled Yafi invites me to his apartment for our meeting. Energised, bursting with life and character, he explains how his company works with unusual passion. For those who know him, this is everyday Khaled, for those who don’t, it’s one of the things about him that make him come across as quirky. But these days quirk (much like the berry) is king and its thanks to this that The Berry Company is the company it is today. You see, Yafi is The Berry Company in the same way that Ben & Jerry were their ice cream.

Born in London, he couldn’t be any more Lebanese. Yafi’s grandfather, Abdallah El-Yafi, was famously Prime Minister for a whopping 12 terms. His parents moved to London in the 1970s, along with much of the Diaspora, to get away from the war and when Khaled came along in 1979, they decided to stay.

Like his grandfather, Khaled is a leading figure, albeit in business, not politics. He owns The Berry Company, launched in 2006 and now one of Europe’s leading anti-oxidant juice brands. Beginning with just three flavours, it currently has a boast-worthy range of eight (including two iced teas) and is pursuing a diversification strategy that will take it far beyond mere juice.

It’s already a global brand. Yafi’s juices are available in over 35 countries, from Brazil to Malaysia and can be found on the shelves of major supermarkets in cities as disparate as Reykjavik and Accra. Regionally, he’s sold in the Gulf and Lebanon too but there is scope for further growth, both lateral and vertical. It would seem that the sky is the limit for the 32-year-old.

Curiously, none of this was meant to happen. Like every good Lebanese boy in London, Yafi wanted to be banker. “Oh lord” we hear you say, “not another one.” Fret not. He never made it further than the interview room and while his friends were rolling with the high and mighty of the Arab World - closing deals, snappin’ necks and cashin’ checks, as it were – Yafi went into F&B instead and began working with his father.

“I was never scholastic,” he explains, “and I never took working for my father seriously. So when launching a brand, I had no idea where to start. I was just armed with an idea, in its rawest form.”

The Berry Company launched with a basic nectar juice. Sales went through the roof. Yafi knew he was onto something. Pomegranate juice had just made a big entry into the market; ‘anti-oxidant’ and ‘well-being’ were buzzwords. He decided he was going to ride this wave. Always healthy, perhaps even too healthy at times, he was no stranger to the gym maxim that “if you want it, you need to set goals and work for it”. Buckling down, he applied his regimented health lifestyle to his work.

The research spree that ensued would make even the likes of Stephen Hawking proud. Yafi boned up on the juice market. He quickly realised that berries almost always topped the anti-oxidant fruit juice charts and the idea began to take shape in his head.

Inspired by the Mujis of this world, he went about creating a simple, yet iconic brand. “We worked on it night and day,” he recalls, adding that securing Heart Research UK’s logo for use on his cartons, along with a little blurb about the advantages of berries to heart health, was vitally important. “It’s not there anymore, but it was key to our initial branding exercise.”

In order to grow, Yafi knew he had to create flavours that would be both niche and mainstream and not limited to a single market. The Berry Company is now the largest producer and distributor in continental Europe of their very niche Açai & Goji Berry juices, while the Blueberry and SuperBerry juices have now gone mainstream.

“Once our company grew past a certain point we felt comfortable introducing non-berry products,” he continues, “like Pomegranate and Tea, the same way Tropicana have a grape juice.” You see, Khaled Yafi does not remain idle. He continues to tweak his brand, and noses, on an almost daily basis. A testament to this is his Superberry Red. In taste, it’s almost identical to his Raspberry juice, which didn’t sell well. At least not when it was called Raspberry.

“When I combined it with other red fruits and re-developed it into Superberry Red,” he continues, “it remained a very similar tasting product, but sales multiplied tenfold.” It’s tricks like these that in 2007 earned The Berry Company an award as best new drinks brand of the year and get Yafi invited to give regular talks to MBA students at universities such as Cambridge.

“An irony,” he remarks. “I would have never thought that I’d ever be giving talks to the cream of the crop of the country, when I was never an academic.” He remains humble and still gets a kick out of a record month or any positive feedback he gets, whether from a corner store or a chain. These are all things that motivate him.

The future? Well, that looks like yoghurt. Or rather, frozen yoghurt. Right now frozen yoghurt parlours are growing at an incredible rate. Typically, Yafi is jumping the gun and wants to make a retail version to be sold in supermarkets. It will fittingly be marked through a sub-brand, the Frozen Yoghurt Company, which should roll out by Spring 2012.

Whether it will be the next Berry Company remains to be seen but if Yafi has his way, finding out is going to be fun. “We are,” as he told me at the end of our marvellously hyperbolic chat, “really, really psyched.”

your picks
Decked out in some new Santoni x Wider trainers, we climbed aboard their new 47-metre yacht for a short cruise along the French Riviera. Built entirely in aluminium and powered by a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system, this boat is making all the right waves.
The Floating Seahorse villas are a pod of holiday homes with underwater bedrooms and bathrooms. Anchored off Dubai’s coast within the manmade archipelago The World, it’s the city’s latest real estate project vying to capture your imagination.
Prized by professional athletes and serious collectors alike, Richard Mille timepieces are known for their incomparably distinctive and shock-defying designs. A new collaboration with French street artist Cyril Congo takes graffiti art to a whole new level, proof that traditional watchmaking can keep up with the times.
Right Pane Banner2
Right Pane Banner3
Right Pane Banner4