Australia’s High Quality Halal Meat

Dabbagh Trading

Dabbagh Trading exports quality skins and specialty meat from Australian raised lambs, sheep, and goats. “My father and his brother came in 1996 and created the company to supply Australian skins to our Turkish manufacturers,” explains Operations Manager Basel Dabbagh. “When my father saw the country and the lifestyle we decided to move as a family.” Seduced by the Aussie way of life, the Dabbaghs have been based here ever since. Their company has enjoyed tremendous success through the use of high quality Australian product, and the family recently expanded the business to include grains and halal meat. Throughout its growth, the company has been committed to remaining a family owned and operated business.

Each family member puts in his share of sweat equity to ensure success and complete customer satisfaction. “[Sometimes we] work 14, 15, 16 hours just to get the orders through,” Mr Dabbagh says. “It requires a lot of time and attention to build a new business.” After developing the original business – Mr Lamb and Sheepskin – the team changed the name to Dabbagh Trading to fit in with a handful of family businesses spread across several countries. The company also expanded into the meat and grain market. “We had built a clientele in the skins industry into China, Russia, Turkey and the Middle East,” Mr Dabbagh explains. “So we decided to expand into other avenues that relate to the skins industry.” The new venture has paid off and the company is experiencing tremendous success in its new market.

The company’s lamb, sheep, and goat skins are sold directly to tanneries to be manufactured into clothing articles, from leather jackets to UGG boots. The team carefully selects each skin to meet the specifications of each client. “We supply the product according to their orders,” Mr Dabbagh explains. “The Russian clients have a different spec from the Turkish and the Chinese, and the Russians and the Chinese have different specs from the Turks. We attract clients and we build a name [by giving them] what they want.” On average, the company processes over 1.5 million skins a year and exports between 400 and 500 containers during that same time period.

While the team is still dedicated to supplying quality skins, the company’s main focus has shifted to lamb, sheep, and goat meat. “You can always sell food,” Mr Basel explains. “The consumer has to eat rather than has to wear a leather jacket. Sheepskins or leather are more a luxury item than a necessity item to most people.” As such, Dabbagh Trading supplies meat to a variety of clientele, including wholesalers, government contractors, and supermarkets.

Dabbagh Trading is one of the largest Australian exporters of meat by airfreight and sends an average of 250 to 300 tons of product by cargo plane every week. The company ships “52 weeks, 365 days of the year to supply all the clients seven days a week,” Mr Dabbagh explains. “We are one of the only companies in Australia that supplies seven days airfreight and we occupy enough space that at times airfreight companies can’t carry any more cargo. It has been an eye opener for a lot people in our industry.” The company exports to 15 countries, mainly in the Middle East and Gulf region, and countless hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets throughout those areas rely on Dabbagh Trading’s meats every day to supply their customer’s needs.

The company also ships meat via cargo boat. However, meat sent by sea must be frozen and lacks the inherent freshness of meat sent by air. “For example, we slaughter a sheep on a Monday, deliver it to the airport on a Tuesday, and it is supplied to the client on a Wednesday. The product costs more but the product is fresh delivered to the client. A frozen container would take 40 days to arrive.” Mr Dabbagh says that shipping either refrigerated or frozen meat, however, is a much better alternative to shipping live animals by sea. “The animals have had problems on the live boats,” he explains. The journey is stressful, and adapting to a foreign climate often sickens livestock after arrival. He believes that slaughtering the animal in Australia prevents needless suffering and allows the product to be processed at the highest standard.

“We have built a lot of relationships with bigger clients that used to do the live boats,” Mr Dabbagh says of customers who have recently switched to fresh airfreight product. For clients who choose to continue using live boats, Dabbagh Trading supplies the grain to feed the animals on board and after arrival. Dabbagh grain has also become popular with Australian farmers.

Dabbagh Trading only supplies 100 per cent halal meat. “[It is] the way we slaughter the lamb or the sheep,” Mr Dabbagh explains. “The lamb has to be slaughtered to Islamic Sharia. There is a halal program that is set to meet those requirements.” The company strictly follows all the Muslim rules for slaughter, which include humane treatment of the animal, a recitation to God, and draining of the blood. Mr Dabbagh says that even though the company is fully accredited as a halal meat supplier, convincing the customer that sharia law has been met in Australia is sometimes difficult. Dabbagh Trading organises tours of their facilities for customers with lingering doubts. “To give them that peace of mind,” clients are invited to witness the process themselves and speak with the men who slaughter the animals.

The company stands out by only offering the highest quality meat. Mr Dabbagh explains that the company’s overseas competition simply can’t compete with the high standards Australia requires. “That is why we invite the customer to come here and see the meatworks and the process… What we are trying to do is educate people about our Australian product. The product is better quality, with better standards.” The company adheres to Aus-Meat standards and won’t export “anything that won’t meet the client’s requirements.” In fact, the team goes to great lengths to ensure that each and every customer receives just the right product. “We follow the lamb from the slaughter until it is delivered to the client,” Mr Dabbagh explains. “We have set up the offices overseas so if there is anything wrong with the lamb or sheep we follow up with the quality. We make sure the lambs are selected one by one for the client and we maintain the quality of the lamb. For us it is quality over quantity and we make sure that the right lamb is bought and sent to the right clients.”

Even though a high level of labour goes into each order, Dabbagh Trading meats are not prohibitively expensive. “We send a higher end product that the consumer is happy to buy at a very similar price to a cheaper product,” Mr Dabbagh says. “And that’s what makes us stand out.” Mr Dabbagh concedes that meat from other countries, such as Kenya or Pakistan, who often supply the halal market may be marginally less expensive. “However, the quality isn’t there like ours. Sometimes consumers are price driven rather than quality driven but when we give them a good quality at a reasonable price we make them think twice.”

To the Dabbaghs, providing a superior product isn’t just about earning profits. “To us, the business as a family name is more important than the money that we make,” Mr Dabbagh explains, and a key element of this is establishing long term relationships. Mr Dabbagh says that many clients have been doing business with the family for years because they know they can trust both the product and the company. “I’ll work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day answering phone calls and trying to explain the product and making sure that’s what they want. [There is a] relationship that we’ve built with the client as a family and not just a straight business.” The team takes the time to advise clients on which product is most appropriate for their market and will even “help a client with the payment terms.” The fact that the Dabbaghs are fluent in the same language as most of their Middle Eastern customers also helps foster communication and closer relationships.

The company’s commitment to building strong relationships can be seen in its history with the Frew Group of Companies (please see sidebar for further details). The Frew Group owns and operate a large lamb, sheep, and goat processing facility in central Victoria, “the best region in Australia,” Mr Dabbagh says, “from which to draw quality stock all year round.” The relationship between the two groups has grown over many years, beginning with Basel’s father Marwan Dabbagh and the late Arch Frew in skins supply in the mid 1990s.

Although Dabbagh trading is already a major supplier of halal meat to the Middle East and Gulf region, the team would like to expand even further. “We have built a good team,” Mr Dabbagh remarks. “There is no order too big or too small for us to handle.” Last year the company had a turnover of over $30 million. This year, the figure jumped to over $70 million and the family hopes to pass the $100 million mark during the next financial year. Immediate plans focus on growing the business into Europe and Asia. “The demand for the Australian meat industry has grown,” Mr Dabbagh explains. And, with over 40 years combined experience, Dabbagh Trading is ready to meet that demand.

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November 21, 2018, 3:43 AM AEDT