Noor Ali – World Foods Manager Interview


Interview with Morrisons World Food Manager

What’s the big plan for world foods? The potential?

I want to establish Morrisons as being famous providing the most diverse offering; tailored to communities across the UK. My goal is to establish it as being renowned as the most outstanding UK retailer amongst ethnic shoppers. There is undoubtedly huge potential amongst this category; nearly a fifth of the UK population comes from an ethnic background, spending £25bn on groceries, including £1bn on World Foods.Not only this, but as an example, recent research suggests that Halal meat accounts for up to 15% of meat sales in the UK. This year the Halal food festival in London’s Excel Centre drew 20,000 paying visitors, it just proves that the demand is there. The potential is huge.

What makes the Morrisons offer unique?

We have drawn on the latest available customer data to review our customers’ needs on a store-by-store basis and re-planned over 200 stores to ensure the right ranges were available for customers in the right locations. 

We’ve doubled the size of the World Foods team and brought in industry experts such as Paul Lei (Ethnic Buyer) as well as myself, to bring further knowledge to the category, which means the customer experience truly is tailored by people who really understand it.

Communication with our customers is imperative for us. For example, at Ramadan, we developed a partnership with the Zakat Foundation (a charity targeting poverty); whilst at Rosh Hashanah we developed a kosher wine section to help our customers celebrate the Jewish New Year. 

Generally sales across the category are up, what are the reasons, is it new ethnic customers, bigger baskets existing customers, foodies, increased availability/number of lines?

Perhaps all of the above! We have invested a great deal in ensuring we have the widest selection available to the customer.

In the last year we have added three new cuisines (African, Far Eastern and Halal) broadening the appeal to a more diverse customer base. Adding three new categories (Non-Food, Bakery and Meat), strengthening Ambient and step-changing Chilled and Frozen has provided customers with a truly complete World Foods shopping solution in Morrisons. This has involved the addition of 850 new lines, and 40 new suppliers, it’s a massive focus for us. As a result, our sales in this category have increased by 146% year-on-year since 2012. 

How important are non-ethnic consumers in this aisle? What and why do they buy?

Current trends show that many customers are now actively seeking out different foods – there is a genuine appetite for the variety of brands we offer.  Our aim is to help our customers to try out a whole range of tastes and flavours. Often this can lead to whole households embracing foods that they never would have envisaged enjoying.

Demand for Halal from a non-muslims, what is the potential here?

The fact that customers are now open to trying new foods means that there is an opportunity for retailers to market their products to a wider market. If we can communicate the brand attributes and benefits of products like this, there is the opportunity to resonate with non-Muslims as well – those who love food and are passionate about embracing new tastes and approaches to food. 

Has working in a male dominated environment stunted your success, being a female Muslim?

Initially there were challenges from a cultural perspective, because when I started out the World Foods sector was predominantly male – females just didn’t tend to work in this area.

However, my career at Morrisons has given me the chance to work with many fantastic people who can see the passion and knowledge I have to impart. I feel I was always destined for the business world; an entrepreneurial spirit is definitely in the blood! My father ran a successful manufacturing clothing business, and my brother and I then ran an independent supermarket in Bradford. My family has also been very supportive and has encouraged me to aim high.

Describe your passion for working in the retail industry. How do you want to make a change to the way shoppers respond to world foods?

I started my retail career as a checkout operator, so I have worked my way up from the bottom, if that isn’t passion I don’t know what is! I love helping smaller businesses succeed through the work I do with Morrisons; being able to give them the chance to grow by working alongside us is a fantastic feeling. 

Being on the checkout was hard work but it allowed me to view first-hand the way customers are always changing in terms of their shopping demands. Meanwhile, being personally involved in this market sector for years has given me the insight to ensure that we adapt our ranges according to our customer need.

I want World Foods shoppers to know that they can expect the very best in choice and availability when it comes to the foods that they love. I would also like to see more customers exploring this category. As a nation we are evolving in terms of the food we cook and eat, it is my job to encourage our shoppers to be open to trying the new ingredients we offer. 

What drawbacks did you face getting to the position you are in today?

I would say a key obstacle that I was always aware of was not having been to university. I came from a strict Muslim household, so my parents didn’t want me to go, although they did allow me to do work experience, which set me on this path in the first place. Having good managers that encouraged me to go for my dreams also really helped, which is why I try to do the same in my role at Morrisons.

How do you identify what the ‘right product’ is, for shoppers?

At Morrisons we place a huge amount of importance on listening; to our customers and to our suppliers. Given that the World Foods category is still in its infancy as a whole, we find that taking on board this feedback really helps us to ensure that we cater for the needs of our customers. We also analyse who is buying what, the current trends and the deals that have really engaged shoppers.

What advice would you give to south Asian women who want to be as successful as you?

South Asian females are just as capable of conducting business and delivering outstanding results as anyone. In fact it could be argued that any group that faces challenges in establishing themselves will work twice as hard to do so, equipping them for any hurdles that may lie ahead. 

I’d advise them to keep their families close. I worked hard at maintaining their trust when I started going out to work, but as a result they believed in me and supported me all the way. Find a mentor, someone who you can confide in, believe in yourself and stay focused, then the opportunities are innumerable.


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