Kamel Belkhiria Owner & CEO
La Rose Blanche Group, Tunisia
IAOM MEA: How did La Rose Blanche Group start? What got you in the food business? When did you get involved in the family business? What is the best lesson that you learned from your father? How soon do you plan to train your children to run the business?
My late father, Ibrahim Belkhiria, was a native of the city of Djemmel. He was born in 1919 into a family of very active entrepreneurs and traders in the agricultural and industrial sectors, specifically in grains.
His first business ventures were with his father, Mohamed Taieb Belkhiria, one of the leading Tunisian producers and exporters of olive oil and quarry products (gypsum and its byproducts). From a young age, he was responsible for seed and grain harvesting.
In addition to his pioneering role in the distillation of essential oils for export (Rosemary, Mirth, wormwood, and mint Pouliot) for the pharmaceutical and perfume industries, he also forged close ties with the first wheat processing facilities that appeared in 1901 in the city of Sousse.
These activities with cereals and grains were the basis for his acquisition in 1970 of one of the oldest mills in Tunisia, which was founded in 1901.
Because of the central role of cereals and especially wheat in the Tunisian diet, my late father, Ibrahim Belkhiria, saw great potential for development in this sector and shared this vision with me. I spent the next several years working with him and discovered that I had a special passion for this industry. When I was 16, I started working in the mill next to my father on my school holidays.
When he passed away in 1992, he had imparted to me his approach for sustainable business development and a business model that was based on integrated tasks. The love of the field and my endless passion for milling has allowed me to develop and build the White Rose Group into a leader in the cereals sector in Tunisia.
This tradition will be passed on to my children with all of the love and care that I can offer them so the Group will be in the best possible condition when they take over. They have had a comprehensive education to prepare them for this (education, social responsibility, advice, training).
IAOM MEA: What are the biggest achievements or developments of La Rose Blanche Group under your leadership?
When I took over management of the Group, we had a 200 MT/day durum mill, and a 150 MT/day soft wheat mill. Today, the Group is comprised of 26 companies, including 4 mills with a total capacity of 2,000 MT/day (durum) and 1,000 MT/day (soft wheat). We have developed upstream and downstream industries throughout the entire food grain sector that covers 45% of the market of semolina and flour, pasta and couscous. The byproducts are used for a livestock industry that has also developed upstream and downstream components (feed, livestock, slaughter and sales).
IAOM MEA: How does La Rose Blanche Group adapt to the socio-political changes in Tunisia and the region?
The socio-political changes experienced by Tunisia have not affected the White Rose Group, which was able to unite its leadership after the revolution. Our Group has always played a role as an economic actor with no political goals. While staying away from political movements, we strongly believe in specializing in food – specifically cereals and byproducts.
First, all of our investments focus exclusively on the cereal sector without getting involved in politics. This has enabled our Group to steer clear of any political issues. Secondly, the Group has put a lot of effort into maintaining an environment which brings stability for its personnel and development. This approach has prevented any internal social problems that were experienced by the country after the 2011 revolution. Since then the Group has not departed from its policy to maintain its investment program and increase its relative investments to improve the productivity of all of the Group’s companies.
IAOM MEA: What are your expansion plans (operation, production, exporting) in the coming years?
The White Rose Group’s dedication to the food industry has enabled it to consolidate its experience in this field and compete on a global level. Because of this experience and resulting reputation, the Group is ready to expand beyond Tunisia, and is open to partnerships with target countries.
IAOM MEA: What are the biggest challenges faced by Tunisian millers?
The biggest difficulties facing Tunisian millers are a very competitive market and overproduction nationwide. In addition, wheat is purchased by the state, which prevents the miller from controlling the quality of wheat. The Group’s expertise allows us to make adjustments in the mill in order to ensure a uniform product, regardless of the wheat quality.
IAOM MEA: How can Tunisia’s grain and milling industry improve?
In order for Tunisia’s milling industry to evolve, subsidies must be removed to allow for actual market prices.
IAOM MEA: How does Tunisia train its local millers? Is there enough technical training offered in schools or institutes?
The state allocates funds for training, and professionals are responsible for training their staff at milling schools in or outside of Tunisia (France, Morocco, etc.), and through individual training courses in the United States or from equipment manufacturers and other industry suppliers.
IAOM MEA: What steps could be taken to encourage and train future millers? How can the government be involved?
There is currently a milling school in Morocco which we think meets the needs for millers in all Maghreb countries. The unions and mills in each country should take advantage of this school and the opportunities it presents for training.
IAOM MEA: What advice could you give to aspiring millers and entrepreneurs?
It’s necessary to continue the tradition of milling in the family by not only providing adequate training to the next generation, but also by passing on your love of the profession to bring a human element along with the financial aspect to the business.
The secret of success is the love you put into it.