How brands can win in Saudi Arabia

Global brands need to immerse themselves in local values, says Pizza Hut’s Beverley D’Cruz

Image Credit: Pizza Hut

Last summer I visited Riyadh for the first time in a long time and I would be remiss to deny that I felt a certain anxiousness. My last trip to the Kingdom had been 10 years ago and I was told the country had changed. How does a country make so much change in a short 10 years?

It’s the desire to have its economy grow at the same rate or faster than the neighbouring countries across its borders. Here are some trends that spring out for me:

Women’s rights: Saudi Arabia has had a complex history when it comes to women’s rights. Women were not allowed to drive, work, be freely educated or travel alone. Since 2018 the driving ban has been lifted for women, and the country has taken steps to increase women’s participation in the workforce, including setting targets for the percentage of women in certain industries.

The country has invested heavily in growing girls’ access to education. The desire of the government to promise economic growth and modernisation is the main cause of the progress made here. The impact of social media cannot be ignored here either.

As a food brand that runs a large number of stores in the country, we are now having women join our workforce. While this is a huge feat it also comes with a new set of challenges. I couldn’t be prouder of the women that are navigating this space and defining what it will look like for generations to come. More recently while in KSA for International Women’s Day, I had the opportunity to have breakfast with these amazing women and understand their journeys as they navigate this space.

On the same trip, I was a speaker on a panel discussion in Saudi Arabia titled #NowToNext which was all about redefining the customer experience for Saudis. Speaking publicly at an event would have been unheard of a few years ago. Standing alongside other women leading inspiring projects like Saudi Vision 2030 felt like a huge step forward.

Tourism: The country has recently opened its borders to international tourism and there has been a lot of interest in the country’s rich culture and history. Tourism brings millions of dollars into the economy of other Middle Eastern countries and Saudi Arabia does not want to be left behind.

Technology: The country has invested heavily in tech infrastructure and startups. In our business, we have seen an increase in e-commerce proliferation. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to buying things online, from the comfort of their homes.

They have also become comfortable paying for these online with the proliferation of Apple Pay etc. Social media platforms have become an integral part of consumer lives.

“The country has been embracing modern food trends such as gourmet burgers and sushi”

Food: The cuisine is rooted in tradition with dishes like shawarma, falafel and hummus.

However, in recent years the country has also been embracing modern food trends such as gourmet burgers and sushi. This has led to a fusion of traditional and modern cuisine with many restaurants offering a mix of both.

With all this modernity and progress the country continues to maintain its values of tradition and pride in all things local. As global brands come into the country the speed of change could throw you off your game.

What I have learned is that Saudis hold their values and tradition close to their hearts. If you can find a way as a global brand to celebrate and immerse yourself in these local values, you will find a path to success. Brands that win in Saudi celebrate local culture, spend time ensuring they are sourcing and using local ingredients and truly understand the Saudi consumer.

I call this being ‘glocal’ – a marriage of global and local. While respecting the traditional cultural heritage you also tap into opportunities and challenges that come with modernisation.

Some examples of great glocal work that brands I have worked on and other brands have done are:

  • Tapping into local music trends to leverage global music and local flair. Recently as Pizza Hut relaunched in the region we leverage a local rap band to create a music video in Arabic to show how the brand belongs in their lives. We are also exploring local menu options such as a shawarma pizza to drive more relevance.
  • KFC, another of Yum’s brands, drives the fact that it uses local Saudi chicken which is highly valued by consumers and has helped drive brand loyalty.
  • Starbucks and Nestle have both introduced local coffee blends to appeal to local consumers while maintaining their global branding and personas. The stores have taken on some cultural cues to win consumers’ hearts and minds in Saudi Arabia.

To win in Saudi Arabia you need to go deep into the traditions of the country and yet understand its love and move to modernity. Then success will come.


By Beverley D’Cruz, General Manager, Pizza Hut, Middle East and Pakistan