— How old is your business?
— In 1947 two Frenchmen, Chales and Adrien Cartier, founded their enterprise in Marrakesh, which in my view is the most beautiful city in Morocco. That was when the first fruit jam packing workshops appeared. And since 1948, Cartier Saada has been specializing in preserved fruit and vegetables (olives, apricots etc.) That was also the year our company was born. Now we produce over 10,000 tons of olives and apricots a year.
— Could you describe how you collect and process olives and fruit?
— We pick our apricots at the beginning of June and send them to our factories. To preserve their freshness and organoleptic properties, they are processed on the same day. They are washed and cut by hand before being laid in jars in perfect circles. This style of laying creates a particular external view of the contents. The apricots are stored in syrup or in their own juice in jars of various kinds, both for the industrial manufacture of confectionery articles, and for domestic baking.
The olive harvesting season is at the beginning of autumn. At this time the fruit loses its bitter taste, They are also washed, rinsed thoroughly and pickled in brine. Thanks to this treatment, they acquire the necessary colour and texture ( green and shiny or sun-dried black), and also preserve their exquisite taste. The olives are then packed in jars of different capacities, depending on their size and whether or not they contain stones.
— Are you a big enterprise by your country’s standards?
— Cartier Saada holds first place in Morocco for the production of preserved apricots, and second for olives. It is a big company, and can afford to support several social and sponsorship projects. For example, we teach and employ poorly-sighted and blind people and integrate them into normal life under the “Reading for All” programme. We finance the Kavkab Marrakesh football club. We are the sponsor of Bahia Mouhtassine, who is the leading tennis player of the Arab world, and reached the final of the Roland Garros tournament.
— What does the management structure look like in your company?
— We are quoted on the stock exchange, we are a joint stock company, all decisions are taken by the Board of Directors, of which I am a member. I am also Managing Director, President and a shareholder in the company.
— There have always been wide-ranging economic links between Morocco and the USSR, and later Russia. How long ago did your company enter the Russian market?
— We began looking for a partner in Russia 10 years ago.
You have to understand that our production is intended mainly for export. We sell 95% of it abroad, only five per cent goes to the internal market. We make deliveries to 26 countries in North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We are now entering the market in South-East Asia. Our trading operations in Moscow began in 2008. And in 2014, we managed to increase sales in Russia considerably.
— Rachid El Aarabi is your official representative. What can you says about his work?
— He is the driving force behind all our business processes in Moscow, our Russian “mover and shaker”.
— How much of your produce are you now delivering to Moscow?
— When we began, it was only two container loads a month, but sales have now been markedly increased and are still growing. We send our goods from Morocco initially by sea and then by rail. By far the greater part consists of olives of various kinds. But we are constantly expanding our range. We are already also delivering preserved apricots, capers, lemons, Moroccan salads, antipasti and artichokes.
— Where exactly do your products go?
Rachid El Aarabi:
— In Moscow we work with big chain stores, such as X5, Perekrestok, Globus Gourmet and Bahetle. We also deliver our products to well-known restaurants in the capital with Eastern cuisine, and to delicatessens supplying authentic goods from various countries, as well as small national-cuisine cafeterias and cafés. Moscow is the main consumer of our products. Butwe also sell our products in St. Petersburg. And lastly, we are trying to arrange deliveries to other regions of Russia too.
— How many staff do you have in your office in the Russian capital?
— There are 10 people in Moscow just to deal with olives. They work with the retail networks. And we also have two warehouses nearby in the Moscow area.
— Today, Russia is being subjected to sanctions. But nevertheless, the Kingdom of Morocco is more and more active in doing business with the RF. And not without help from the state authorities of both countries, I believe?
— Most of what Morocco sends Russia is agricultural produce: fruit and vegetables. Morocco also delivers fish to Russia. There are regular meetings between the Ministers of Agriculture of our countries. Moroccan businessmen are in very close contact with Rosselkhoznadzor. There is an ongoing dialogue about increasing our quotas for exports to the Russian market. And the situation is changing for the better. As you probably know, preparations are in hand for King Muhammed VI of Morocco to visit Russia. And if the King comes here, he will discuss the whole spectrum of interstate questions, including economics, politics and culture.
— How often do you visit Moscow?
— I am coming here more and more frequently. And not only to exhibitions. Even my wife has started worrying about it (laughs).Our business in Russia is growing, We have to help Rachid to expand the range of the products he supplies and to solve many questions. Moscow is a remarkable, very lively and beautiful city. I feel very much at home here. And I have others with which to compare it. My area of responsibility covers North America, Europe and Russia. Due to constant business trips, I am more often abroad than in Morocco. You feel safer in Moscow than in other cities around the world.
— Have you managed to go anywhere apart from business meetings?
— I enjoy going round well-known restaurants in Moscow. I recently had lunch at the Tsarskaya Okhota, one of Arkady Novikov’s first ventures. I really enjoyed it! I love trying new dishes, Russian red and black caviar are very tasty of course, but apart from that, you serve quite a lot of splendid snacks. The land in Russia is so rich! Unfortunately, all they know about abroad is caviar.
By the way, the famous restaurateur Arkady Novikov is a partner in our Great Festival of Morocco in Moscow. This year will be the second time we have held this festival. We present the best products of our country. This partnership is very important to us. Celebrities help us to promote our products on the Moscow market. The other day I was discussing with Rachid the possibility of holding a bright culinary show in Moscow, featuring the very famous Moroccan head chef Rachid Agouray. He works in the legendary La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh. I think we’ll bring him to our third Morocco festival.
— Taking part in these festivals and shows requires a lot of expenditure. Who finances these events?
— Various businessmen’s associations are currently discussing the advertising and marketing budget for 2016 with the government. Our country provides very significant state help in promoting agricultural produce in foreign markets. And for us, Russia is a strategic partner. And a market with very good prospects. Russia imports about 80,000 tons of olives a year, mainly from Spain, while our share in this import is quite small. But if we can operate successfully in other countries, why not develop our business in Russia? All the more so since both parties have most favoured business activity status.
— Are there any unusual features about working in the Russian market?
Rachid El Aarabi:
— We have done two years of preparatory work. We have discussed the sorts of olives Russian people might like. As a result, we shall bring classic olives here, but at the same time acquaint Russians with the specifically Moroccan varieties. We are constantly expanding our range. We have begun supplying vacuum-packed olives. We also listen to the wishes of the chain stores and the opinions of specialists. We are adapting to the taste preferences of Russian consumers.
— How long have you been in Russia? Where did you learn Russian?
— I came to the USSR in 1988. I studied in Yerevan, the capital of what was them the Armenian SSR. I obtained higher education in the specialty of “electrical fitter”. Then I started on a doctoral course in Moscow. But the way life turned out, I find myself working in commerce. I live permanently in Moscow. My family is here too. I only have relatives in Morocco.
— What keeps you in Moscow?
— My work, my daily life and that of my family are all here. I have begun to notice that when I arrive in Morocco and start talking to people there, I think of something and go over to Russian to say it. Without even noticing. And the others look at me in surprise, and ask: “What did you say?”
— How do you spend your spare time?
— Time? Like all Muscovites, I spend most of it in traffic jams. (Laughs) In the mornings and evenings. But my favourite way of spending time is with my family.
— You came to our country many years ago. Has Moscow changed much?
— Yes. And I like the way the Moscow squares and parks are changing. They have become much better maintained,clean, bright playgrounds for the children have appeared in them.
— Is it hard to do business in Russia?
— In my view, the problem with Russia is that it covers such a huge territory. I sense this when working with clients in the regions. To conduct deals normally you have to keep in touch all the time. But they are thousands of kilometres away, and it’s still daytime in Moscow but the middle of the night where they are... But we have plans to cooperate even with the remotest regions of Russia. For example, we recently concluded a contract for deliveries to Sakhalin.
— Are there any associations of Moroccan entrepreneurs in Moscow?
— Yes. The association “Moroccan House” has begun work. Its official name is the Centre of Friendship and Culture of the Kingdom of Morocco, and I am its President. I would like to see this association become a full-scale association of Moroccan businessmen in Russia. After all, businessmen play an important role in bringing different countries and peoples together. And with the aid of Moroccans living and working in Russia, we want to create an economic bloc able to help entrepreneurs from Morocco set up their business in Russia, relying on the knowledge and experience of those who are already successfully working here.