The sweet mystery of the Catwalk Cow

The Life: Samia W. Ataya runs a gourmet dessert manufacturing factory in Sharjah. She discusses the challenges of getting started in the emirates.

Samia W Ataya, the founder and managing director of Catwalk Cow. Satish Kumar / The National
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Samia W Ataya runs a gourmet food factory in Sharjah that manufactures mixes for brownies, cupcakes and other desserts. The founder and managing director of Catwalk Cow, which supplies sweets to supermarkets in the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Jordan, discusses the challenges of producing gourmet products and the meaning of her company's name.

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What gap did you see in the market when you started two years ago?

I thought there was a gap in the market [for] healthy, completely junk-free dessert. Everything was filled with so many preservatives and additives. I developed a lot of recipes. The whole concept came up when I was living in the US. I knew I wanted to develop gourmet products in [this] region and create our own - instead of bringing others from outside.

And what does the word "gourmet" mean within your business?

That it's not mass-produced, generally. Everything is extracted by hand. We get real vanilla from Madagascar, and the caviar is hand-scraped. Our sugar comes from a farming co-op in Mauritius, where really good farming practices are used. Our flour is not bleached.

It took two years to turn a profit. What was a challenge in marketing gourmet here?

The concept of gourmet didn't exist in this part of the world. Offering a product that was priced much higher - nobody quite understood it. Still a lot of people are puzzled by what it really means.

How difficult is manufacturing gourmet products in the Emirates?

I was worried about how it would be to get approvals on our food, given that we don't use preservatives and additives. The UAE has a lot of restrictions and requirements for food manufacturing. One of the biggest challenges was to meet every one of those compulsory requirements - in addition to grey areas which are not compulsory.

About what kinds of issues?

Temperature control, for example, is compulsory. Humidity control, in our case, is not mandatory. It might affect product texture but not the food safety.

Where did you come up with your company's name?

The concept is a cow eats very healthy, yet they're very large. The idea is as long as you eat healthy, the size you are is the size you should be. That's the size that should be worthy of strutting on the catwalk.

That seems pretty abstract. Has the name been a hindrance with potential buyers?

Yeah. A lot of times some of our customers say "what does the name mean?" I explain it to them.

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