In Egypt, no agricultural commodity holds greater significance than wheat. With a per capita wheat consumption rate of 150 kg per year, the most populous nation in North Africa boasts one of the highest rates globally. Remarkably, despite its leading position in wheat production in Africa, Egypt remains the largest wheat importer on the entire continent.

Within this wheat-centric landscape, companies operating in the sector hold a special place, and among these distinguished entities, Egyptian Swiss stands out. Established as a family-owned business in 1995, Egyptian Swiss has become a symbol of innovation and ambition in the industry. While many of its peers focus solely on meeting the dietary needs of Egypt’s population, which recently surpassed 109 million, Egyptian Swiss has set its sights far beyond the country’s borders.

This is where Ahmed El-Sebaie, the Group General Manager of Egyptian Swiss, becomes instrumental. With a background in Mechanical Engineering, he’s no stranger to the world of corporate governance. Ahmed’s journey is a whirlwind of diverse experiences, spanning industries from petrochemicals to ceramics and electronics assembly. But it was at Savola Foods, a multinational foods company from Saudi Arabia, that he truly honed his skills in the wheat supply chain. For nearly a decade, he was the mastermind behind the pasta business supply chain, orchestrating operations that spanned the Black Sea region to the Middle East and North Africa. As a subsidiary of the larger Saudi Arabian industrial conglomerate Savola Group, Savola Foods also compounded his expertise in corporate governance, rightfully preparing him for his new role at Egyptian Swiss.

At Egyptian Swiss, he has been tasked to reshape the company’s destiny from a local family business into a global powerhouse. He notes, “I joined Egyptian Swiss to lead the company’s transformation from a local family business into a robust corporate entity supported by sound governance structures and a renewed global focus. It’s been approximately three years now, and we’ve achieved significant milestones. We find ourselves in a much different place compared to our humble beginnings.”

In a nutshell, El-Sebaie sums up the company’s mission as follows: “Our mission is to make a difference in the world every day by enriching our customers’ lives with convenient, high-quality, safe, and innovative products.”

Egyptian heritage, Swiss-style operations

In Egypt, the Egyptian Swiss shines as a 100% Egyptian family-owned company. While the name may evoke images of the Swiss Alps, Ahmed El-Sebaie is quick to clarify that “the ‘Swiss’ in our name pays homage to our operational standards, which are modeled to match Swiss levels of excellence.”

The journey of Egyptian Swiss began as a grain trader, mainly involved in the importation and trading of wheat. Processing operations gained momentum in 2003 with the establishment of the company’s first wheat flour mills in Assiut, Upper Egypt. Today, the company boasts not one, but two state-of-the-art milling facilities. The first is a 17,000-ton-per-month (TPM) mill located on the 10th of Ramadan City. The second, situated in Borg El Arab, processes 14,000 tons per month, showcasing the company’s dedication to expanding its reach and capabilities.

Although Egyptian Swiss has shifted its focus towards wheat flour milling and pasta processing, grain trading continues to play a vital supporting role for its facilities. Over time, the scale of this arm has grown, with Egyptian Swiss for Grain Trading emerging as a leading trader in Egypt, importing over 1,000,000 tons of wheat and corn annually.

What sets Egyptian Swiss apart is its commitment to resourcefulness. Any surplus, not intended for sale, is directed to the grain milling division where it is processed into various wheat flour products, including Semolina flour, All-purpose wheat flour for home use, and specialized flours for pizza, cake, biscuits, tortillas, noodles, and pasta. Moreover, the company formulates flours tailored to various types of bread, such as baguettes, pitas, toast, and butter bread.

Egyptian Swiss leads the way in advanced pasta processing

In addition to milling, Egyptian Swiss is a trailblazer in pasta processing. The company’s state-of-the-art, fully automated, lab-monitored Pasta Factory features three Italian production lines with integrated packaging systems, allowing for a variety of packaging techniques and sizes. Two of the lines, one with a 3-ton-per-hour capacity and the other with 6 tons per hour, specialize in the production of short pasta varieties, including fusilli, penne, and rice pasta. The third line is dedicated to producing long pasta products such as spaghetti and linguine.

This factory, located on the 10th of Ramadan City, has the capability to produce over 10 different pasta shapes and boasts a total production capacity of 7,000 tons per month. A significant portion of this volume is exported to various countries across Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. ElSebaie proudly declares, “Currently, we export over 100,000 tons of products. In addition to offering private labels, our own export brand, Martino, has gained exceptional traction in markets, particularly in Kenya and Somalia.”

Speaking with ElSebaie, we discover that a substantial portion of Egypt’s pasta exports make their way to the East African market, with Kenya emerging as a prominent destination. The figures are a testament to this trend – in 2021, Kenya imported pasta products worth US$15.18 million from Egypt, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.

What’s even more intriguing is the projection for Kenya’s pasta market. It is projected that Kenya’s pasta market will reach US$98 million by 2030. Egyptian Swiss is determined to seize the opportunity presented by this growing demand in Kenya. As evidence of their commitment, ElSebaie references his visit to Kenya in September of this year, where the company sought to establish new trade partnerships to increase their share of exports to the country.

Diversifying beyond pasta

Apart from pasta, Egyptian Swiss also operates a flourishing concentrate business that primarily produces tomato paste and jams. “We have two fully automated, lab-monitored Italian concentrate lines located in 10th of Ramadan that produce our renowned Tomato Paste, Jam, and Juice,” ElSebaie reveals. Unlike wheat, tomatoes and fresh fruits can be sourced locally, reducing the exposure to volatile international markets and allowing the company to select the finest fruit available.

ElSebaie explains that diversifying into concentrates was a natural step for Egyptian Swiss. “When developing the pasta business, the founders recognized that tomato paste, as a complementary product, shared the same distribution channel and had a vast unmet demand. Accordingly, we established our own tomato paste and concentrates factory.”

Completed in 2013, the concentrates factory features two fully automated lines with a total monthly capacity of 3,500 tons. Using state-of-the-art technology, the new factory can produce tomato paste in various concentrations and packaging forms, from cans to jars to sachets, tailored to different customer specifications. “We use only the highest quality ingredients in this premium paste to infuse an unmistakably authentic Italian flavor into any dish you create.”

The factory also produces a variety of jams, including strawberry, apricot, and fig. In addition to private labels, Egyptian Swiss takes pride in packaging its own brands, such as Rawaa, Dahsha, and Dandy, which are known internationally for their quality and superior taste.

Egyptian Swiss’s commitment to premium wheat milling

In the wheat milling business, quality is paramount. It all starts with sourcing the right quality of wheat. El-Sebaie emphasizes, “Sourcing the right quality of wheat at a competitive price is crucial, as it enables our products to be globally competitive in terms of both price and quality.”

Curiously, in Egypt, locally farmed wheat cannot be sold to the private sector due to legal restrictions; it all belongs to the government. El-Sebaie clarifies, “All private sector players must rely on imports to meet their processing needs. Fortunately, we have a trading company, Egyptian Swiss for Grains, which possesses extensive expertise in wheat trading and can source quality wheat internationally at competitive prices.”

To ensure that only top-quality wheat is milled, incoming wheat undergoes rigorous testing for mycotoxin content, moisture levels, test weight, falling number, and protein. Interestingly, protein, the last parameter mentioned, actually holds the foremost position in ensuring quality. It determines the level of blending required to achieve the desired end quality.

However, the Russian-Ukrainian war disrupted normal trading activities in Egyptian Swiss’s traditional markets in the Black Sea region. Shedding light on this, El-Sebaie explains, “The war affected our traditional source markets, necessitating a shift to Brazilian, Polish, and French wheat to maintain optimal operations.”

Diverse sourcing led to variations in wheat quality characteristics. El-Sebaie acknowledges this challenge but highlights the capabilities of highly qualified millers in handling wheat of different qualities. “They employ solutions like flour improvers to maintain product consistency despite variations in grain quality,” he says. The good news is that this issue has since been mitigated, as supplies from Russia have resumed, with occasional Ukrainian imports also coming in, although in smaller quantities than before.

Automation also plays a significant role in bolstering quality, with state-of-the-art in-built capabilities making it easier to consistently achieve the desired level of quality. Additionally, automation reduces human interaction with products on the manufacturing line, minimizing the risk of food contamination. Skilled quality assurance officers conduct checks throughout the production process to ensure that the product meets the desired standards.

Notably, Egyptian Swiss is ISO 22000 certified, underscoring the presence of a robust food safety management system. This certification instills confidence that all products emerging from its various factories meet the highest hygiene and quality standards. Additionally, the company holds ISO 9001:2015 certification, emphasizing its commitment to customer satisfaction through the consistent provision of higher-quality products and services. Furthermore, the company is included in Egypt’s National Food Safety Authority’s whitelist and is registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration, consolidating its commitment to providing customers with high-quality pasta and tomato paste products at a fair price.

The remarkable achievements of Egyptian Swiss

El-Sebaie considers Egyptian Swiss’s transformation into a robust corporate entity, supported by sound business structures, as his most significant achievement as General Manager. He points out, “This is unprecedented, as we are the only company in the entire milling industry in Egypt to adopt this new corporate structure. In contrast, all other milling businesses in Egypt are owned and managed by their proprietors.”

Following this, the complete repositioning of the company into an export-focused business with a global reach rank as the second major achievement. El-Sebaie notes, “When we started two years ago, exports accounted for only 20% of our total sales. This figure has since surged to 80%. The bulk of the company’s exports primarily go to African countries, including Madagascar, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire, where we have already established a strong presence.”

Continuing with his global outlook on exports, he explains, “We also make substantial exports to various Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Palestine, and Bahrain. As part of our mission to feed the world, we are also exploring new export markets, with exports reaching as far as Venezuela. In addition, we have begun exporting tomato paste and pasta to Germany, France, and the Netherlands.”

ElSebaie acknowledges the invaluable contributions of his team in making these achievements possible. He emphasizes, “No one can accomplish something like this alone; you need a capable team.” At Egyptian Swiss, this team comprises division managers overseeing the operations of the three distinct businesses within the group and over 600 employees who are the driving force behind the high-quality products that the Group is renowned for.

Innovative adaptation for a secure future

In the face of evolving health trends, Egyptian Swiss remains agile and forward-thinking, adapting to the growing demand for gluten-free products. The company has introduced a range of products that align with these emerging trends. ElSebaie elaborates, “We are working on developing various products, such as rice pasta and corn pasta, to meet this new demand.”

However, the company also recognizes the enduring appeal of wheat-based products, which is expected to further expand with the expanding population, particularly in their primary market, Africa. To meet this anticipated surge in demand, Egyptian Swiss has proactively invested in expanding its capacity. ElSebaie reveals, “We have a new milling line that is ready for commissioning, and we are planning to install a new tomato paste line.”

The only factor currently impeding the Group from proceeding with these projects is the ongoing Ukrainian war, which has disrupted global trade. Once normalcy returns to global markets, Egyptian Swiss will be firing on all cylinders, powering ahead with its mission to feed the world.

This feature appeared in ISSUE 6 of MILLING MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA MAGAZINE. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE