The UAE is home to pioneers, innovators, and visionaries. This young nation has been built on the very initiative of these intrepid individuals and disruptors. One such visionary, Abdul Aziz Baker, saw and grabbed the opportunity to set up a food business to meet the needs of a growing expatriate population in the UAE in the late 60s and early 70s. The rest, as they say, is history. Baker’s business acumen and farsightedness laid the foundation for the inception of GMG, a homegrown brand, which over the decades has transformed and evolved into one of the region’s most dynamic retail behemoths. Today, the company has a growing presence in diverse sectors, including food, sports, everyday goods, wellbeing, and logistics.
The driving force behind the continuing success and expansion of the brand can be credited to the young and dynamic CEO of the group, Mohammad A Baker.
Baker, who has inherited his father’s ambition and business perspicacity, has nurtured and navigated the brand’s expansion admirably. He credits his success to his father’s guidance and the company’s ability to withstand challenges while adapting to the changing times.
Baker says: “Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable business lessons, some of which have been shaped by the wisdom of my father, who is the heart and soul of GMG. These lessons continue to guide me on our journey of innovation and excellence.
“As a CEO, keeping a finger on the pulse of the market has been vital to our success. I believe we must never be afraid to challenge the status quo and push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. The last few years have brought unique trials and tribulations to the world, but as the CEO, it was essential to be resilient and keep the company’s purpose as our guiding beacon.”
In addition to its resilience, consistent growth and success have been the key hallmarks of the group’s remarkable journey. Expanding well beyond the borders of the UAE, the group today operates across the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia; it has introduced more than 120 brands into these diverse markets.
Baker attributes the growth journey and diversification to bold steps, immense dedication and strategic thinking. “GMG is fundamentally a growth company with long-term global ambitions. Our new strategy involves setting a new purpose-centric vision for GMG to inspire people to win in ways that make the world better.
“Our expansion strategy is not limited to physical presence. We’ve established offices in key regions, such as Asia and North Africa, to improve customer service and expand our brands. We understand the value of proximity and customer-centricity, and this strategic move allows us to serve local markets better.
“When we reflect on our journey, what sets GMG apart from competitors in the industry is our rich legacy, which forms the very foundation of our success.
“Over nearly half a century, with the unwavering support of my dedicated team, we’ve transformed GMG into a global wellbeing company that touches the lives of millions worldwide,” he says.
“The most critical aspect that sets us apart is our mindset. Despite our current size and success, we remain open to change. We embrace new ideas and aren’t afraid of making mistakes. In many ways, our mentality is more akin to that of a startup, fostering an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship,” he emphasises.
GMG: A diversified portfolio
Accepting new ideas and adopting a future-forward vision has seen GMG’s investments span five key verticals: GMG Sports, GMG Everyday Goods, GMG Health and Beauty, GMG Properties, and GMG Logistics.
“What sets us apart is our unparalleled portfolio of esteemed brands, covering sports, food, and health. In these high-demand segments, GMG has not just thrived, but soared to new heights of success,” Baker emphasises.
The company’s most successful brands include well-known homegrown concepts such as Sun & Sand Sports (SSS), which was launched in 1979.
Its retail partnerships with Nike, Columbia, Converse, Timberland and Vans have also been the cornerstone of its success. “GMG’s Sports division has been bolstered by amazing partnerships that stay true to the company’s core principle: the commitment to keep evolving,” Baker says.
“This year, we took Sun & Sand Sports, our flagship brand and the Middle East’s largest sports retailer, to Singapore. Our brand expansion efforts continue with partnerships like our exclusive Columbia distributor partnership in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the opening of the Columbia store in Jewel Changi airport.
“As part of our plans, we aim to open 100 stores across Southeast Asia by 2025. The expansion of our retail footprint also extends to Egypt, where we intend to launch 100 sports stores, says Baker about the company’s growing sports retail network,” the CEO states.
This year, GMG also signed a franchise agreement with JD Sports, the world’s leading sports fashion retailer. This agreement sets the stage for GMG to open around 50 stores by 2028, covering the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt.
Baker says, “We’ve also embraced the digital era with open arms. This year, we successfully launched nike.ae and nike.sa for regional customers. Within the first week, these websites garnered over one million sessions, reaffirming our commitment to reaching customers where they are.
“Our approach to our sports division isn’t limited to acquiring new international brands. We also develop homegrown concepts and continue to enter new markets. In doing so, we remain guided by our core principle to keep evolving.
Our diverse portfolio of homegrown concepts and international brands has significantly contributed to our dynamic growth,” says Baker.
Some of the group’s in-house brands within the sport, wellbeing, and food retail portfolio include Dropkick, Supercare Pharmacy, Farm Fresh, Klassic, Sapora, Noor Al Islami, RUH, Chef’s Choice, and Quality 1st Choice.
In the food retail segment, GMG holds exclusive rights to expand well-known supermarket brands across most of the Middle East region. These include Géant, Franprix, Monoprix, and monop, which belong to the French retailing giant Groupe Casino as well as its recent acquisition aswaaq, which added 22 supermarkets to the group’s rapidly growing retail network.
Baker says: “We aim to cover the entire consumer journey, from creating concepts and brands to retailing our homegrown and international partners’ brands, all under the overarching commitment to improving people’s lives through active living, nutritious food, and good health. This core approach has played a pivotal role in forging global partnerships and ensuring our continued success.”
More than just retail
This is just the tip of the iceberg, GMG’s journey of innovation and excellence goes beyond retail.
“GMG’s Everyday Goods division now includes our food manufacturing capabilities, food retail and the food distribution arm. In the coming years, we intend to cover the entire food consumption chain from farm to fork,” says Baker.
Positioning itself as one of the world’s major food manufacturers, GMG has launched four state-of-the-art food manufacturing factories in the UAE over the past two years, taking the number to a total of six factories.
The company has ventured into manufacturing with six product lines spanning meat, seafood, Himalayan pink salt, herbs and spices, sausages and cold cuts, and butchery and marination.
“With our best-in-class machinery and a focus on building a more sustainable manufacturing future, GMG is on course to become one of the world’s major food manufacturers. We’re deeply committed to nurturing local communities through innovative initiatives, with a focus on enhancing surrounding communities through our community mall concept.
“The acquisition of aswaaq has significantly strengthened our position in food manufacturing and retail. This is a cornerstone of our comprehensive farm-to-fork strategy, reflecting our commitment to local and international food security,” adds Baker.
How GMG is supporting UAE’s Food Security Strategy
GMG’s comprehensive coverage of the entire food consumption chain, from farm to fork, aligns seamlessly with the UAE’s ambitious food security strategy.
“As a responsible corporate entity, we’ve taken significant steps to support the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051 and the ‘Make in the Emirates’ initiative.
“Our goal is to reach international markets across four continents over the next five years through our farm-to-fork model. This comprehensive approach mirrors the UAE’s vision for food security and food production, making us a crucial contributor to this national objective,” says Baker.
He adds that the company’s commitment to food security doesn’t end with just these initiatives, as GMG is actively collaborating with other stakeholders in the country’s food value chain, bridging gaps in its farm-to-fork vision.
“Our strategic partnership with local producers, such as Bustanica, the world’s largest hydroponic farm, exemplifies our collective responsibility towards innovation and excellence in food production and retail.”
Firmly focused on sustainability
As it is with food security, the company is also forging ahead on its sustainability path.
“Sustainability is more than just a buzzword; it’s our duty to the world and the communities we serve. We take this responsibility seriously. In August 2022, we defined our sustainable strategy framework for the next two years, ‘Make a Difference’. This strategy is not just a response to global trends but a commitment to creating transformative change across the region and beyond.”
The company’s sustainability strategy aligns with three strategic pillars: Planet Forward, Inspire People, and Own Change.
“Our efforts aren’t limited to words on paper. Our strategic pillars guide our actions and underline our commitment to sustainability. Last year, we formed strategic partnerships with industry leaders, such as Emirates Crop One’s Bustanica and Silal, enabling us to support up to 1,100 UAE farms in accessing the local retail market through Géant. This collaboration not only fosters sustainability but also strengthens the local agricultural landscape.
“Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the boardroom. Our employees came together last year to plant over 1,000 Ghaf trees at our solar-powered Trilogi Mega Distribution Centre in JAFZA. These actions signify our commitment to a greener future,” says Baker.
GMG has also embarked on a significant partnership with the Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) to establish a water station in Al Qudra as a pivotal contribution to the ‘Dubai Can’ initiative.
“This initiative is dear to our hearts, and we actively work towards the goal of implementing water stations in all of our aswaaq community malls,” the CEO says.
To further drive wellbeing initiatives in local communities, GMG is gearing up to launch ‘GMG Cares’, an extensive CSR programme revolving around three key pillars – targetting the planet, community, and its employees.
“Our goal is to sponsor young athletes, foster healthy habits amongst youngsters, and educate and nourish the younger generation on how collectively we can lead better lives.
“I also believe that it’s important to nurture our ecosystem and communities. A business cannot thrive in isolation. Collaboration and nurturing relationships with our ecosystem of partners, principals, public entities, institutions, and the communities we operate are paramount. By forming meaningful connections and moving forth with purpose-led intentions, we can grow and prosper together,” says Baker.
Building on partnerships and purpose
Speaking of the company’s plans for the future, GMG’s CEO says, “Our vision is bold, our goals are ambitious, and we intend to continue to push ourselves to deliver the best products and experiences to our consumers. We have forged strong international partnerships and introduced new brands and concepts to the markets we serve.
“We want to be at the forefront of inspiring people to lead better lives. The vision we set for 2024 is not just a blueprint; it’s a testament to our commitment to well-being, growth, and innovation,” says Baker.
One key goal that Baker has often spoken about is the plan to double GMG’s global workforce by 2025, which he says is on target. People are the key to the success of the business, says Baker.
“As a family-owned business, we live by our core principle of ‘One Family’. More than 10,000 of our employees spread across 12 countries are united with one purpose: we play to win, and we win together. At GMG, we imbibe our value of winning as one family, and we believe in the power of investing in and nurturing our talent.”
The company’s commitment to sustainability and local communities is further reflected in its goal to source 30 per cent of fresh food locally.
“As I look ahead, I see GMG continuing its journey of growing and evolving. Our goal is to be present in all leading global markets. This ambition is fuelled by our ongoing journey to expand our portfolio globally. We will continue to seize opportunities, push the boundaries of innovation, and be the trusted partner that the world needs.
“Our mission is not just to be successful but to make the world better, one step at a time. We will continue to set new standards, challenge the status quo, and shape a better future.