22nd May 2019: And another one, just like the other one doooo! Live Stream. Surprise surprise! The Prime Minister of Bahrain HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa arrived to officially open the new Mall at the same time. The Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa was also present and scheduled to cut the ribbon for the supermarket which is on the upper floor of this spanking new mall. So coincidence or by design; both opened at the same time! Smart move on someone’s part, but Who Does What.tv thinks that only a very privileged few knew that the PM was going to be there. It certainly surprised the crew and other media hacks who never made it as they were still on the road unaware that the PM would be present. For whodoeswhat.tv, we have to say, no issues, which pleased many, nobody hindered our filming or coverage, other than crowd control of course. The PM looks well and was happily chatting away with many of the Mall’s new residents along with those wishing to greet him.
This ‘live stream’; a bit exclusive for www.whodoeswhat.tv as we arrived a few seconds before the Prime Minister and were graciously allowed set up quickly without security issues. Thank you!! Lulu Hypermarket opening – Muharraq Central Market Bahrain (live stream). Well, the cut down version, as the original stream was about 90 minutes and a lot of jostling and crowd rush, which nobody wants to be bothered with.
It is the 171st Lulu hypermarket in the region and beyond and its eighth in little old Bahrain. It is just another hypermarket after all. Well no! There is a lot more to Lulu than quite meets the eye. Their fanfares are simple and they just get on with the job of expanding and suddenly; there it is, another massive new store, another ribbon and another dignitary opening with the country waxing lyrical because of the giant investment and job openings. Lulu must be commended for it.
Do they lose any customers from one hypermarket in the area to another as one suddenly becomes closer? There is absolutely no evidence of that. The footfall is just incredible.
Review: If an Asian from the Sub Continent or even local Arab was writing this column, the perception would surely be completely different as tastes are obviously quite specific from culture to culture. So what is so special about Lulu then? No different to any other hypermarket you might think. Well don’t think in that case, because you are wrong! Lulu is long past being a simple large supermarket, it is definitively a brand and it is growing at lightning pace with a solid base it seems, as opposed to the the wannabe start up with all its glory and then fails. It is Indian through and through and can appear as simply practical but somewhat bland! Yet, it has everything. You hear folk say; ‘Oh my favourite supermarket is……..’ like it was some traditional corner shop made good as it expanded. Lulu isn’t like that, but it has an enormous customer base which just go for their ‘BIG SHOPS’ at Lulu and rarely can you not find what you are looking for, or at least what you want under a different brand.
The Lulu group has some very savvy brains behind it with a great deal of traditional loyalty seemingly built in, especially at management level. For example; Yusif Ali MA is very much worshiped throughout the group not only for his abilities, but his apparent humble beginnings. A pious man by all accounts, he is dynamic, if not rather predictable and pretty nondescript media wise. He is hardly likely to ever appear in ‘The Enquirer or the Daily Mail’ for example. Even if he became the ‘richest man in the world’, you would never get him to answer the question, never mind remotely agree. There is no need to interview him each time he appears, as he will say exactly the same thing as he said last time, just adding new figures as they expand. Would Lulu work without him? Probably as the brand is now ‘Lulu’ and you know exactly what to expect. Unlike a lot of the other supermarkets with local mentality who bring in a line for opportunity, then run out of stock and we never see it again for a year or so – customers can pretty much depend on Lulu to keep shelves very well stocked. [This; ‘suddenly no stock’ syndrome is quite common in Bahrain. Lulu will probably have their own brand anyway. We all have our favourite lines don’t we?]
As local supermarkets go, this new Lulu is huge!!! On just one floor this time, it takes up quite a lot of the newly opened Muharraq (North Island) Central Market site which was knocked down and cleared as recently as just a year or so ago. The streets around are the original narrow affairs and it is just off the main through road, so if you didn’t know where the old Central Market was, then you might not find it first pass.
All in all, you have to hand it to the Lulu Group, they knock spots off the other consortiums (sic). Content of the stores also varies with the community preferences, or so they claim. In Dubai we see a lot of British fare stacking the shelves, along with plenty of rice and curry too. With about 7 million having the former taste, now residing in the UAE, Lulu would be stupid not to. In the traditional Hidd Branch (North of Bahrain), which is considered one of the most religious parts of the Island, with many a beard and short thobe the shopping requirements are somewhat basic, yet you will find Manuka Honey pots at over $50 a pop. Those who can afford that, probably never set foot in a supermarket as they are always too busy out on their yachts. Keeping slow-moving high-end produce is never a happy option for supermarkets is it? So who is buying that?
There is a Gloria Jeans in the Hidd complex, an element of cafe society sophistication, yet you will rarely if ever see anyone partaking in a coffee there. How they survive is anyone’s guess, but you’ll wait 20 minutes to get served at the sharwarma shop across the road. Now Muharraq Central Market. Will the likes of Starbucks reside??? Hmmmm!!! It doesn’t look much like a wiz, young generation cafe community hang out, but days are early.
As mentioned, although Lulu’s clientele is by and large specific, gravitating to the Asian and dare we say general public of lesser affluence within the Arab communities, don’t be fooled into thinking that their range is any less sophisticated as they will bend over backwards to bring whatever product a customer asks for. Call Juzer! One suspects that Lulu is oblivious to the above observation, convinced they cater for every which way. Bahrain is quite different to say Dubai. The old Spinney’s spin off; Al Osrah and the long time favourite Al Jazira do cater more for the Caucasian Shopper (if you like), but Lulu is no slouch with its product range. It is quite phenomenal actually and far out plays the huge Carrefour French consortium which is sprouting up everywhere too and definitely catering more for the Asian market too. Price wise at Carrefour presents an attraction, but very little else as far as sophistication is concerned and it is franchised by Al Futaim out of Dubai. The old Geant (Casino), now Carrefour did a bit of both, but their product quality was superb. Gone but not forgotten hey?
Of considerable irrelevance, but a morsel of interest for debate. No Pork at Lulu! Not a chance! In Bahrain that is not so much of an issue, plus two major supermarket chains sell it and nobody seems to care. One would imagine in the UAE, with so many of these 7 million expatriates not being Muslim, noses might wander elsewhere if a hypermarket doesn’t cater. Somewhat shockingly, Dubai is experimenting more now with its content of humans from all over the world, trying to appease. This Ramadan (2019) saw restaurants remain open, albeit discrete. Alcohol still being served as it used to be in Bahrain in the 80s. So one might not be so surprised if Supermarkets, just as they do in Europe, suddenly have liquor licences and actually build in a little corner in the stores for it. Unlikely? You cannot imagine it? Pigs might fly? Um…er… Think again. But for sure Lulu with its brand would never go that route as it would be perceived as an insult. However, times change. As for the above mentioned Hidd branch and this new Muharraq facility, just a picture of a bottle or a pig would send the local fraternity into a frenzy and have the entire Lulu compliment put to death. The story would not be the same in other parts of the Island.
An interesting anecdote; until recently there was a very successful chain of supermarkets in Bahrain under the family brand name of Jawad. Good they were too. They always sold pork in the 80s and 90s and had a loyal expatriate customer base which gave them immense prowess and indeed footfall. This led to them taking the Tesco range. As good as the product is, the concept and perception is that Tesco goods are exactly that; good but cheaper than the mainline brands. However, Jawad had them selling at premium prices, ‘well above’ the famous traditional brands on which the Tesco range emulated. It failed! Shoppers are not that stupid. Not to criticize the Jawad modus, it was probably the shipping charges and cost of franchise that dictated the shelf price, who knows? However, one day there was NO PORK! This was as a result of some ‘minority’ activist complaining. Now when it comes to religion, one must be extremely careful of course. The theory; for every one expatriate customer who deserts the store, one thousand locals will now enter. The sort of ‘me too’ syndrome where the world kowtows to one mouthy individual with an ego bigger than Jupiter. By and large, Bahrainis are quite passive and yes, there is a movement to adhere to strict Islamic values, but in general locals are pretty passive compared to the rest of the Gulf. Most couldn’t give a toss what others eat or drink. Well, expatriates certainly deserted the store in droves and since a lot of the Jawad product catered for expatriates, egg face was very evident. Locals did not flock in either. Then the Island’s troubles surfaced once more and the rest is history.
Lulu employ an army of highly respected kitchen gurus too, with cooked food being a sought after go to within the market. Indian/Filipino/a touch of Arab maybe, but fitness for purpose. If Juzer Rupawala could sell pre-packed everything from incredibly high-end perfect ‘Chicken Ala King to Apple and Rhubarb Crumble’ as seen in all major UK department stores such as Marks & Spencer for example, then he would, no question. But spice and local traditions prevail. They sell more food in Marks & Spencer than they do clothes. It has taken a century for Arab taste to accept the jacket potato – and even then. Not until the late 80s was ‘brown bread’ seen in Bahrain. Lulu’s bread making ability thus sadly reflects this somewhat.
As a commercial entity, Lulu also supports the local market in more ways that one. For example, if a newspaper or magazine is looking for revenue, Lulu will place advertising and in the case of whodoeswhat.tv, they still ask for Radio Productions. The video front is another story. This stuff appears to all be done in the UAE and somewhat deluded 3rd World it comes up as, but those who produce it don’t think so being oblivious to their standard. As Lulu expand into more international markets and on-line rules …. the end.. and hopefully this will have to change dramatically and that includes these ego maniacal so-called ‘Creative Directors’ who can’t see the wood for the trees and very much ‘monkey see, monkey do’, believing themselves to be wildly original and ultra creative. Yeah!!!
Then there is the local sponsorship for events. We wouldn’t say that ‘millions’or anything like changes hands, but if one considers that ‘MEDIA REVENUE’ is a dead duck these days due to the iPhone and the like making everyone an expert, then supporting a seriously struggling vocation has to be commended and Lulu has been known to facilitate that. Kudos!