Saudi Arabia’s coffee industry has global aspirations

Global Insights
18 October 2023 Riyadh, KSA
  • Saudi Coffee Company is reimagining an industry and diversifying the national economy
  • PIF-launched company intends to invest $320 million over 10 years
  • Coffee-farming tradition in southwestern Jazan region dates back centuries

Coffee is a symbol of generosity and hospitality in Saudi Arabia, one that is inextricably linked to national identity. No visit to family or friends begins without the ritual roasting of beans in front of guests, with sweet Coffee Arabica – believed to be the first species ever cultivated back in the 12th century – served to the group from a traditional dallah.

Each bean plucked on the nation’s 2,500 plantations – most of them located on the steep hillsides of the southwestern Jazan region – is an extension of this centuries-old tradition. And with PIF’s formation of the Saudi Coffee Company​ in spring 2022, this local heritage is poised to rise to global prominence.

“Part of our mandate is to celebrate Saudi coffee,” explains Fahad Alnuhait, Chairman of the Saudi Coffee Company. “We want to share it with coffee lovers globally and put it on the map of best coffee that can be served anywhere on the planet.”

SCC’s vision for reimagining a local industry, and for helping to diversify the national economy, begins in the hillsides of Jazan. Here, much of SCC’s $320 million investment, which will be spread out over the coming decade, will be dedicated to bolstering tried, true and traditional coffee-growing methods with the latest techniques and technologies.

The process handed down over generations, for example, includes farmers de-pulping their coffee cherries between two large stones to access the beans – a system that exists nowhere else in the world but doesn’t scream of efficiency.

“We don’t want to forget the past. At the same time, we don’t want to live in the past,” says Mohammed Zainy, Marketing Director of the Saudi Coffee Company. “We would like to keep and celebrate it, but our role is to introduce new technology to help them get the best product efficiently.”

With that in mind, the Saudi coffee industry will be developed to prioritize productivity and sustainability, be it by improving irrigation in Jazan, giving farmers access to organic fertilizers and compost, and even a scientific reimagining of the bean itself to be more resistant to drought and climate change.

“Our sights are set on developing stronger, more resilient seedlings in high-tech nurseries that will accelerate the early life of the coffee tree,” says Danah Al-Drees, a Research and Development Specialist at the Saudi Coffee Company.

“In terms of processing, we have plans to introduce cutting-edge centrifugal roasters. These machines can measure every molecular variable to adjust and enhance flavor. We are also exploring using AI technology to optimize the packing processes, and robotics systems to handle the finished product without requiring heavy human intervention.”

The end result is expected to yield the highest quality coffee beans in the world, but this investment won’t stay confined to the farm. SCC is also creating academies to train people along the entire value chain, from the baristas who will be preparing coffee in the country’s bustling shops, to the entrepreneurs who will develop this industry (and related ones) for years to come.

This focus on direct and indirect human capital development will help to build not just a single sector but a full ecosystem that will create thousands of jobs. Likewise, it is expected to have knock-on effects that touch other sectors of the Saudi economy, from logistics and distribution to marketing and packaging. It is all part of the same vision: creating jobs and diversifying the Saudi Arabian economy.

“As a portfolio company of PIF, our goal is to enable the private sector, not compete with the private sector,” adds SCC’s Alnuhait. “Saudi Coffee Company is here to inject capital, ideas, technology and techniques to support the growth of the private sector in Saudi Arabia.”

Content produced in partnership with Bloomberg