Admiring Jordanian Brands In The Face Of Foreign Competition

This has been a post brewing in my mind for some time and I think blogger Razan Khatib beat me to the punch a few days ago by writing briefly about the topic, so you should definitely give hers’ a read.

One of the side effects from the market liberalization that’s taken place these past few years has been the entry of various international players with well recognized logos and products. Increasingly we’re seeing new places that sell 4JD cups of coffee, including Starbucks, Costa, Seattle’s Best Coffee, JavaU, all of which have popped up in less than 2 years. Other chains coming into the country, particularly in the fast food and casual dining category, have included everything from Hardees and Subway to Fuddruckers, Applebees and TGIF’s; again, all in the past 2 years. It makes me wonder: what has happened in the past 24 months or so, that has made Jordan such a lucrative place for these places? They are, for the most part, seem to be working out well. There are customers; there is apparently a market. It could be due to the increase in Gulf tourists who find these international brands familiar. Displaced Iraqis may have something to do with it as well. I’m not sure it’s just one reason.

At the same time, I’ve noticed a unique trend: many Jordanians are sticking with local brands in the midst of this international influx. Some are doing it because they are more affordable, others are doing it out of loyalty; an economic protectionist policy on the social level (if you will). It’s pretty grassroots and it’s not always subtle. Cups & Kilos has bumper stickers that read “I Get My Coffee At Cups & Kilos”, which I admit, I have plasters on my old laptop that I carry just about everywhere. And while abroad, people ask me “What the heck is Cups & Kilos?” and so I start telling them about the place and how it started, and in fact, describing this entire post to them, which eventually makes them regret asking in the first place.

While in Toronto I noticed a similar thing. However, for Canadians, the local identity is much more important and thus Canadians are more likely to be more protective than us. This is mainly due to three important factors: 1) many Canadian brands are historical institutions by now, 2) many Canadians define themselves as the non-Americans, hence will do anything different from America just to preserve that identity, and finally 3) most Canadians can afford it. Tim Hortons, a huge Canadian chain specializing in donuts and coffee, is probably the best example of the above scenario and even though its been sold to an American company (Wendy’s, if I’m not mistaken) it is recognized as a Canadian brand. The commercials they run are somewhat nationalistic and the same can be said of Canadian beer brands, which I find to be extremely nationalistic, one of which inspired a whole new phenomenon in the country. Other companies, such as the clothing brand Roots, which did remarkably better in the American markets for a very long time, have returned to Canada to rebrand themselves as exclusively Canadian – or to use their cliche, having “roots” in Canada. This situation, if you want to call it that, has only really been noticeable the past decade or so in Canada, post-NAFTA, where many American brands have been trying to take advantage of the new market setup and break in to the Canadian market.

This is where I find similarities with Jordan and its signing of the FTA and ascension to the WTO (along with general economic policies).

Some of our brands are not as popular nor as widespread or even institutionalized, and some, such as Hashem, have no fear of ever losing ground to an international conglomerate (although I’m told the Japanese make a killer falafal).

Brands do have a sense of nationalistic identity to them. For instance, there is a great deal of annoyance, especially in Palestine, over the Israeli takeover of nationalistic foods and marketing them as Israeli inventions, such as the falafal sandwich, humus and “pita” bread, which we locally refer to as “Arabian” bread.

The whole loyalty scenario gets a jolt every few years whenever we see mass scale boycotting of foreign goods, but I haven’t seen anything on such a level since the 2002 Jenin massacre that saw a surge in popularity for Jordanian and Syrian imported colas, and a widespread boycott of Pepsi and Coke, as shawarmeh and local fast food places began franchising to meet the market demands who were busy boycotting McDonalds, Burger King (hence Day3a, Reem and Hashem all finding new territory to grow). It was around this time many international restaurants went bankrupt or withdrew from the market, including Fuddruckers and Subway (both of which have returned). In this category, Chili House is by far considered a national treasure for the age group of 17-30; a perception that seemed to emerge largely post second-intifada in 2000 that was followed so closely by the Jenin massacre in 2002.

There are many other examples, but you get the point.

I tend to wonder the extent to which these local brands can survive with the onslaught of international conglomerates that have massive backing and funding arriving on the scene every year. Especially when considering that some of these places, such as Cups & Kilos for example, have not been around long enough to be firmly considered as a Jordanian institution, and especially since these types of places do not play on the “Jordanian” theme similar to, for instance, the Canadian example cited above which has given way to the red maple leaf plastered on nearly every imaginable product (cups, coffee, beer, clothes, etc).

Moreover, prices have been going up rapidly. Many of the local brands can no longer afford to keep their prices cheap, which was one of main reasons they had so many customers. The conglomerates can mass produce and economies of scale help keep their prices relatively cheaper, or at the very least on par with the prices of local brands.

Another problem is that local brands are hard to identify sometimes. They look like they might as well be foreign.

This only begs my second question: should these franchises start playing the nationalistic card and drum up some local loyalty that way?


  • Interesting perspecive Nas. We moved from Louisiana and they have a STRONG affinity for local products. Even such staples of Americana as Starbucks have a hard time penetrating the market. One local mini-mart area manger nearly got run out of town on a rail (and did see his sales plummet) for removing the local brand of coffee from the shelves. They had 5 rows of Community Coffee and a tiny section with 5 cans each of Maxwell House, Folgers, and other big name brands… One challenge for may of the local brands is that they’ve taken non-local foods and done odd things to them. As a result, it’s a taste that maye only a local could love… Don’t get me started on Caesar salad dressings in Amman… 🙂

  • My sense is that as long as they continue to have competitive prices and offer good products in decent facilities there will always be a demand for local goods and services.

  • The brand will be respected more if it gains strength from being a better brand not playing the nationalistic card. Playing the nationalistic card limits future growth to one country.
    The starbucks caramel machiato i once had in Amman tasted nothing like it should. Cups & kilos caramel drink tasted great…the most important thing about carrying brands internationally is the consistency.

    I plan on boycotting all American chain restaurants when i go to Jordan and substitute with shawerma and falafel …it’s not so much of a boycott but more of 7 years on ..7 years off

  • Salaam ‘Alaikum

    //should these franchises start playing the nationalistic card and drum up some local loyalty that way?//

    They should play the quality card first. Make a better product, and provide better service. While a few of the Chili House outlets are good, some of them are absolutely disgusting. I’d rather pay my 3.50 at Mc Donald’s in this case. Show me I’m getting better for my money. You go into some local Western-style joints and the guy behind the counter’s chatting with his girlfriend on the phone, his buddies at the counter, watching the football game on TV and ignoring you. Lebnani Snack routinely messes up our work lunch orders, whereas if Burger King does, they have always gone out of their way to make it right.

    When I find a locally made brand that offers me quality and price, or a store / restaurant, I always make sure to patronize them.

  • I echo you Umm Zaid. I have tried out lots of restaurants in this town and I have decided to stick mostly with the foreign ones because of service and quality. The new Chili House in Khalda is awful and I gave them a second try and they blew it again. Don’t get me started about their chili, which shouldn’t even be called chili in the first place. Ugh. The only Arabic restaurant chain that always delivers quality/service is Khalha. If only they made something other than fried food…but then if they diversified they would loose their quality/service. I am getting pretty grossed out on take out food.

    And while I am at it, has anyone noticed that all the big foreign restaurants and stores have gone towards hiring foreign workers from the Philapines and other places??? Why is this you ask? I had a long talk with a manager at Fuddruckers and the skinny of the situation is that local workers refuse to keep up with the quality and customer service standards that are expected for foreign stores. I find this very sad. One, because locals really need the jobs. Two, we might find ourselves looking like Dubai in the near future (looking like Dubai would be a good thing if it transfered to the roads and infrustructures but I am talking about the population invasion of non-Arabs and the disintegration of the Arabic language.) And three, because CUSTOMER SERVICE SHOULD NOT BE A FOREIGN IDEA!!!!

    I think this is a good topic for you to consider Nas. InshAllah.

  • Wow, you beat me to it. Alhamdulillah. Good interview, but at the same time I think there is something underlying missing. It sounded like the interviewee was blaming the job sector for Jordanians/Palestinians not wanting to work in these sectors because of the lack of incentives or benefits. It doesn’t seem to me that that is the issue (from the outside of course). Because if you go into just about any store in Jordan and ask questions about the products etc you will get very little help or information. The customer service gene is just missing. Companies don’t want to hang on to employees who fail to deliver. They can bring in outsiders for cheaper and get better results. I think it is the mentality in the population that needs to change. There are those folks who have lived in Kuwait, Europe, the US, etc who do possess the qualities needed. They were forced to learn those traits because the market demanded it and they learned abroad. Until the market forces it and the consumer population demands more quality, I don’t see anyone doing any changing. We the buying public need to constantly demand better service and make our needs known to the managers and owners–that is at the managerial level. What can be done to educate the average Ahmed to perform, that is a larger ball of wax. And I would love to see an answer to that one. In my mind it goes back to what is learned in the home: manners, etiquette, respect, etc. Until this is acheived, things will go from bad to worse. My piasters for today…

  • “Think Global Eat Local” is what keen governments are promoting in some other places. That should accompany big campaigns- local food can be an extra selling point for any money generating initiatives as well, because I don’t think that tourists would go all the way to Jordan to try Starbucks coffee or McDonald’s burgers!!

  • Very interesting thoughts, but i bet you didnt know that Chili House originated from the states FROM 4 Jordanian Brother! The acctual chili recipe was acheived in 1965 in Cincinnati Ohio and is called Gold Star Chili . It has over 110 locations. It was later brought to Amman in 1985. Also as of 2004 Chili House has spread to Syria Egypt and Bahrain. I just got back from Jordan yesterday and was shocked to see how many new places had opened. I Had the opportunity to speak with Sami Tueimeh the CEO for Chili House and he was kind enough to discuss some of these matters with me. Also what a lot of people dont realize is that when you go to Chili House you sit down and you get table service compared to other fast food places that just hand you the food in plastic. Also all the food is made fresh per order. I have vistied Gold Star Chili in the states and even though the chili is different the burgers, chx philly, and even the new menu items such as the Teriyake Chx are all outstanding at Chili House. Over and above that Chili House has done remodeling to a lot of their stores which i think look great. It raises it out of the fast food segment and into the fast casual segment. All in all it makes me happy to see a Jordanian run family business kicking ass in the face of all the international GIANTS!!

Your Two Piasters: