Dubai start-up eyes export opportunities with high-protein ice cream

3 Sep 2021

LightWhey is a Dubai-based start-up that has expanded throughout the Gulf with its healthy, high-protein whey ice cream, and plans to export throughout Asia and Africa.

The company is a family business, co-founded in 2014 and run by three brothers, Mohannad, Mohammed and Ahmed Horani.

Dubai start-up eyes export opportunities with high-protein ice cream

“Back in 2014, […] there were a lot of protein chips, bars, and protein cookies but we realised there was no protein ice cream in all of the GCC. We started doing research, meeting factories, and launched the brand in 2015,” Mohannad Horani, CEO, told The Ingredients Network, adding that the start-up benefitted from this first mover’s advantage.

With a background in business and medicine, the brother’s biggest challenge initially was finding the right ingredient formulation that would allow it to create an indulgent-tasting ice cream that was high in protein, low in sugar and low in fat. After around 18 months of R&D and product development, it was ready to launch the flagship product.

LightWhey uses whey protein, sourced from Europe, to boost the protein content and sweetens its products with xylitol and sucralose, and a 200 ml tub of its ice cream provides around 200 calories, 7 – 8 g of fat, 3 g of sugar, 15 g of carbohydrates and 22 g of protein, equivalent to one scoop protein powder, although this varies depending on the product.

The company positions itself as the Middle East’s first high protein healthy ice cream but, according to Horani, the fact the company is from the UAE is not the company’s biggest selling-point.

“People like home-grown brands but I think people like it mostly because the product is good. It’s a perfect snack, you can have it any time of day even for breakfast, post workout or if you are just someone looking for a healthier snack. The UAE is very hot so it fits the climate, and demand for functional products is increasing a lot so we are seeing growth year by year.”

Recent launch features indulgent inclusions

The brand currently has 15 SKUS (including multipacks) and 11 flavours. Its most recent launch was a range of pint-sized tubs with inclusions, launched several months ago. The range includes the flavours cookies & cream, chocolate brownie, and pistachio, made with sugar-free brownie pieces, sugar-free cookie dough, and real pistachios.

“This is really interesting and for us it’s something new. People were used to plain ice cream and they were impressed with the product because it’s healthy but it has cookies. People don’t like plain ice cream anymore; they prefer things like Ben & Jerry’s with lots of cookies and brownies. So, people were very excited and we launched it successfully with the biggest retailer in the UAE, which is Carrefour.”

Horani added: “What makes us very special is we have lots of sub-categories – cups, tubs, pints, sandwiches, chocolate-coated ice creams. Most of the protein ice cream brands just have cups.”

LightWhey’ initial target consumer base was people interested in health and fitness people but this has gradually grown thanks to a general interest in healthy eating and healthy indulgence.

“Everyone is eating high protein foods and everyone wants low sugar now. It’s not just fitness fans, it’s everyone who is health-conscious form Arabs to Europeans to locals; it’s growing year by year,” Horani said. “The product labels have Arabic on them but the website is in English. Most websites are in English here because Dubai is full of expats and even Arabs speak English to each other. The brand started in Dubai so we didn’t see the need of putting Arabic on but all our product labels are in Arabic and English.”

Plans to expand to bars and beverages

LightWhey is currently reporting around US$2 million in annual company turnover and plans to grow this by expanding to new markets in Africa and Asia – notably Nigeria, Turkey and Singapore. It also has room to grow its presence in other GCC countries, he added.

“We will always be launching new products and new SKUs, that keeps people excited because they get bored and want new flavours year by year. At the same time, we are looking to launch new non-ice cream products, it’s still under feasibility testing, but it would be something like a drink or bar with whey protein to grow the brand even further. Our goal is to become a global brand so we are looking at entering Turkey, Nigeria, Singapore and our ultimate goal would be to sell in the USA.”

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