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Fair price, quality food, better business
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Fair price, quality food, better business

Why WFP employs retail experts in Lebanon

In emergencies, the World Food Programme (WFP) is known for delivering food fast. But after the cameras have gone and the emergency settles into a new normal, like in Lebanon, what is WFP’s role?

In Lebanon, WFP is passing decades of globally-acquired experience of ‘doing food’ on to Lebanese shopkeepers. Driven by retail experts from the private sector, this retail programme focuses on improving shopping standards for customers, including the families WFP supports with electronic cardsused to buy food from local shops.

Mireille Makhlouf is one of these experts, who brings years of experience working in procurement, management and supply chains at major international chains. “We have one lofty goal here,” she explains, “to influence our shopkeepers’ customer service standards. We’re doing this by lowering food prices, increasing hygiene and security, and proposing better products.”

WFP’s programme in Lebanon is built around shops. Using shops in Lebanon makes sense because there is enough food on the shelves to feed everyone. The problem is that it is not accessible to the poorest. WFP’s role is to ensure that the most vulnerable communities — regardless of background — receive cash each month which can be spent on that food in its network of 515 contracted shops found in every corner of the country.

High standards

The WFP contract is highly sought after; it is a stepping stone for business transformation and growth. And that WFP sign outside the shop? It is an indication that the shop is top notch and a magnet for business.

Contracts are only awarded to shops that are registered and certified. Their credentials and standards are all verified by WFP staff who conduct background checks and reiterate WFP’s strict guidelines. It is all part of the formal selection process which is widely advertised. They also conduct routine and surprise shop monitoring visits and offer capacity building sessions for struggling shops. Shopkeepers must meet a variety of stringent criteria, including maintaining a constant electricity supply, a wide selection of goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a point-of-sales machine.

That machine automatically feeds transaction data back to WFP where the retail gurus are able to see what is being bought, where, in what quantity and for what price.

“Cross-checking the data on a monthly basis is crucial to ensure that we have the adequate quality shop coverage in Lebanon,” explained Mireille. “We don’t just keep this data for ourselves though. We use it to revert back to shops and tell them that their oil is more expensive than in the shop down the road and they should consider lowering their prices, for example.”

By providing shopkeepers with retail insights, WFP is able to encourage them to elevate their standards and increase their competitive advantage in a busy marketplace.

WFP encourages shopkeepers to price their items competitively, helping them to attract more business. Remember, these shops were not created by WFP. They are local shops that Lebanese families have for decades to buy manakish, labneh and olive oil. The retail experts’ efforts to lower prices and expand availability benefit everyone.

“Since I got the WFP contract, I’ve been able to expand my shop — now I have another room with new products and more customers,” explained Lebanese shopkeeper Omar Al Sheikh in Beirut. “Everyone benefits, including my regular customers, refugees and my brothers who work here now because I had to hire more staff to meet the growing demand.”

WFP aims to make its electronic voucher programme a win-win for everyone in Lebanon. Enhancing retail accountability, transparency and effectiveness certainly helps the vulnerable families WFP supports to get the most bang for their buck, but it also the Lebanese economy, business owners and local farmers. That is why WFP employs retail experts in Lebanon.