From Sports to Food Marketing: A Journey of Growth and Innovation

February 14, 2024

By Roy Nasrallah, Vice President of marketing

From a passion for sports to leading marketing at GMG, the journey is a testament to growth, innovation, and resilience. Starting with Nike in 2002, the narrative shifted from sports to food marketing, building brands like Farm Fresh. As Gulfood 2024 approaches, the vision is to reshape the event into a dynamic ecosystem, reflecting a relentless pursuit of personal and professional growth. Vice President of Marketing, Roy Nasrallah, shares his insights on this remarkable journey at GMG.

What inspired the beginning of your career journey?

I have always been a builder at heart, whether it be building brands, products, teams, or shaping my own path. My journey began on the football field, where the team spirit and the thrill of the game were my constant companions. Football was more than just a hobby; it was a way of life. The rhythm of a bouncing ball was the highlight of my day, where teamwork and adrenaline merged, fueling a drive that would define a career. This passion for sports translated into a remarkable journey of building brands, businesses, products, and, most importantly, communities.

This led me to start my career with Nike in Beirut back in 2002. Working with such a global brand, surrounded by the inspiration of global athletes, and the famous motto “If you have a Body, you are an Athlete” resonated with my beliefs and pushed me to embrace a growth mindset, always striving to achieve the “never been done before”, igniting my ambition to venture. The connection with Nike went beyond work; it was a shared philosophy of growth and innovation.

How did you embark on your journey in GMG?

In 2008, I took a significant step by moving to GMG. After serving in various roles, I had the opportunity to establish and lead the Marketing Division for Nike. It was there that I initiated the running movement in a city where running wasn't a cultural norm. The impact was immense, not just on the tracks but in the hearts of a community witnessing a cultural shift, Dubai transformed into a running hub, active all year round. But perhaps what I'm most proud of is empowering Middle Eastern women to lead a healthy lifestyle through the launch of the Nike Pro Hijab. It was a groundbreaking moment, offering women a product that enabled them to perform their best, redefine possibilities and provide women the gear to excel with confidence.

This was more than a job; it was a period of immense growth. I learned that with the right team and mindset, there are no limits to what we can achieve. Years of building a community of athletes across various sports ended in a deep realization: growth knows no bounds, and success is tied to the right organization, team and mindset. Years of community building with athletes across diverse sports lead to a realization: growth is limitless, and success is tied to the right organization, team, and mindset.

How does one go from sports marketing to food marketing?

I moved to Canada in 2017, but in mid-2022, my urge to grow led me back to Dubai to lead the marketing for Everyday Goods - Food division at GMG. This was more than a career move; it was about being part of a culture, a family that prides itself on innovation and doing things differently, and an opportunity to channel two decades of adrenaline from sports into the creativity and community of food. The focus was on building GMG's own brands and private labels, leading the efforts with Farm Fresh, one of the leading food brands in the UAE, and learning that the essence of the building is not confined to a single field but is a journey of continuous growth and inspiration.

Transitioning from sports to the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector was fueled by my drive to build and innovate, coupled with a strong belief in brands' ability to serve consumers. It's a fresh platform to apply my passion for purpose-driven brand building, aiming to disrupt the food industry by avoiding the conventional.

What approach do you deploy for food marketing?

As a marketer, storyteller, digital innovator, and community builder, I'm dedicated to driving change through innovative and empathetic leadership. Building a diverse team from various backgrounds enhances our approach, enabling fresh thinking and innovation in competitive markets.

Throughout my career journey, the consumer was always first. I have applied the same methodology in every brand strategy to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of the consumer, knowing that it isn't just about gathering data; it's about diving deep into their lifestyles, preferences, behavior, and needs. This approach ensures that we're not just selling products but creating meaningful experiences that resonate deeply with our audience. Two years into this role, I've had the privilege of launching six homegrown brands in the UAE, with an eye towards regional expansion and a specific focus on Farm Fresh.

At the core of our strategy is the recognition that to build a long-term successful brand, it must resonate with a young audience by tapping into their culture… music, art, gaming & fashion. A prime example is the transformation of our Farm Fresh brand from frozen foods to a vibrant, playful product catering to health-conscious snackers. Our consumer insights drove this repositioning, opening up new market opportunities rather than just capturing existing share. We’ve launched the “Up Your Snack Game” campaign to engage our audience during Ramadan and Gulfood.

Can you shed light on any on-ground activations that you have undertaken?

Recognizing the importance of a global presence, we’ve leveraged platforms like Gulfood, the world’s largest food exhibition, to showcase our brands to a global audience. Our strategy at Gulfood is centered around innovation; by creating immersive brand experiences that allow attendees to engage and connect with our brands on a deeper level through a robust space with strong brand and product communication. A B2C experience in a B2B environment to make our potential partners experience how the brand will come to life in the consumers' eyes. We build this strategy through extensive research and visits to food expos around the world and observing their approach over the years.

With Gulfood around the corner – how do you foresee the food scene changing?

Gulfood isn't just an event; it's a platform where cultures converge, ideas flourish, and innovations take center stage. Drawing from my background in building brands and fostering communities, I see an opportunity to reimagine Gulfood as more than just a trade show but as a dynamic ecosystem where industry leaders come together to not only showcase their products but to collaborate, innovate, and shape the future of food.

Food is an exciting category, it gives you the liberty to explore. This year, we are going bigger and bolder by taking a novel approach and introducing Farm Fresh in a Maison-style concept, not only connecting ambient to frozen but also building on the Farm Fresh strategy around the snacking category. For spices and herbs, we are connecting the brands to the spice route from east to west. Our unique philosophy focuses on the youth, which led us to partner with the American University in Dubai (AUD) School of Architecture and Design. We connected with the students enabling them to design a stand that reflects growth and innovation of UAE and of our brands.

My journey embodies the Nike ethos “there is no finish line” as well as aligns perfectly with the GMG mantra "keep evolving, emphasizing that growth requires stepping out of comfort zones and embracing change. My path isn't just about career progression; it's about aligning personal values and aspirations, showcasing that growth transcends professional success to encompass personal fulfilment.

My narrative exemplifies relentless pursuit, demonstrating that with vision, drive, and a willingness to evolve, there are no limits to achievement.