A week ago, I received a call from a guy speaking in Arabic. Since I couldn’t understand Arabic, the only word that I understood from what he was saying was “Almarai”. And I’m like, “What Almarai?” I mean, of course I know Almarai (who in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East doesn’t?) but I’m not sure what the call was about. The guy kept on repeating Almarai, Almarai and when he uttered the word “tour” that’s when it clicked. OMG, the Almarai trip I booked almost a year ago is finally here! Yes, I waited a year to visit Almarai. I went through the normal channel in booking our trip, which meant booking through their website and not using any wasta, lol. The schedule to visit Almarai is always full so when I visited the booking site last March 26, 2016, the earliest date that was free which I can get was for their Al Kharj factory tour was February 6, 2017. And that’s a weekday. If I chose the weekend (Saturday), I would have probably waited for two or three more years.
So anyway, I told myself I’ll book anyway not knowing where I’ll be on February 6, 2017. Ces’t la vie! See, it turned out I’m still here in Riyadh on that day and receiving the call from the Almarai representative on February 5, 2017 sent me to panic mode because I said in the form when I booked that there will be 15 persons who’ll be in my group. Now, wait, where are those 15 persons?!? Lol. The Almarai representative asked me how many persons will come and I asked him if I can call him back an hour after to confirm. Actually, that meant scrambling for people to join me and Reina on this trip in such short notice. “Hi, would you like to go to Almarai with us?” ‘When?” “Uh, tomorrow at 7:30 AM.” WOW. Good thing, our husbands are supportive so they said yes. Our intern Kim and her niece Alex also said yes. And our friend Jennie and her two kids Jezzli and Jana were also on board! Yey, at least we have nine persons on the trip! Woohooo! The guy asked us to call the driver of the bus that will take us to Almarai so we can tell him where to pick us up. Since most of our companions live in the Al Maather area, we asked the driver to pick us up from the Panda Takhasussi. He said the call time is 7:30 in the morning. Suuuuure!
My husband and I were already in Panda Takhasussi at around 7 in the morning which gave us enough time to grab cups of coffee in Starbucks. It was a freezing morning and we can’t wait to board the vehicle and go on this trip which I waited, apparently, for a year for. At 7:20 AM, the driver of the bus was already calling and he said he’s in the vicinity but he can’t enter the parking area of Panda. I asked him why and he said, “bus”. Bus?! I went out of Starbucks and I saw this huge, red SAPTCO bus circling the corner. It’s not our bus is it? We’re only 9 persons! Turned out it is and we were all laughing about it. There’s a huge ass buss with only 9 passengers, 10 including the driver, traveling to Al-Kharj to tour Almarai. How is that for a fun day?! Haha! The Almarai SAPTCO bus can accommodate up to 49 persons (the maximum of visitors to the Almarai Tour at a time) and it also has a restroom inside.
The bus was comfortable and the driver was driving at a slow pace. We are thankful for him because he kept us safe throughout. At first, my husband was using the speaker phone to act as our “tour guide” but when it became apparent that the drive will take a long time (like two hours mga bes!), he let go of the microphone and slept. The journey was long and quite far. If you have kids with you, make sure they have a lot of toys or gadgets that will keep them pre-occupied. After two hours on the road, we finally reached the Almarai Central Processing Plant in Al Kharj. As you know, we already went to the Al Safi Dairy Farm tour and Al Safi is located on the same stretch of road that Almarai is (so is Nadec) so I have an overview of what this tour might be like. But I had high hopes and a bigger expectation for this Almarai Tour because the waiting list is so long and schedules are so packed. So it must be good right? Hmn.
Disclaimer: If you want to be surprised and don’t want to know what goes on an Almarai Tour, then stop reading here and don’t go any further because this entry will tell it all and will probably ruin the experience for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, folks!
The bus dropped us off in one of their buildings. There was a staff who met us and brought us to an auditorium where a film about Almarai was shown. I guess we were more excited on the prospect of watching something in a movie house atmosphere. I love Almarai products. What’s a household without Almarai right? My favorite is their Mixed Apple and Mixed Orange juices, Calcium Milk (the one with a pink label), L’usine Loaf Bread (especially the Milk Bread) and most of their 7Days baked products. I’m really interested into how Almarai came to be and how it became one of the largest companies in the world. The video answered most of the questions in my mind. I like how clear and colorful the video is. I appreciate the production that went into it. The video is available in English and Arabic.
After the video, all of us ladies and the kids we were with went to the restroom first. We left my husband and Reina’s husband on the second floor to wait for the staff in charge of the tour. When we got back up, they said that the guy just told them that we need to enter a door which said “Your Journey Starts Here” and just go. Ermn what? So is this a DIY tour or something? Haha. We entered the door and discovered the length of the walkway ourselves. The hallways were not all lit so we had to make do with the lights that were turned on. We had fun taking photos of the kids in life-sized Almarai product bottles that are placed on the sides of the long, wide hallways. There were text and paintings in the walls that tell us basically what Almarai is.
Some interesting insights we learned from the walls:
Almarai has different brands under it. The company has varied ranges of food and beverages from milk to juices to yogurt to cheeses to baked goods. Under the Almarai company umbrella are other brands. Alyoum, which means “today” is Almarai’s brand for poultry including whole chicken and cut-up portions packed in well-sealed packs. Alyoum also has marinated chicken in various flavors. It’s one of the most popular brands of chicken in Saudi Arabia. L’usine, on the other hand, is Almarai’s brand of baked products like breads, pastries and other baked confectionaries. 7Days is also a brand of baked goods but they’re produced by Almarai following a joint venture with Chipita, the parent company of 7Days. Products include croissants, cake bars, swiss rolls, and wafer sticks. Nuralac is Almarai’s formula brand which contains 37 important nutrients that are good for the first 3 years of a baby’s growth.
There were windows that open up to the factory below which showed us how they’re packing the juices. I can see some bottles of Mixed Fruits going down the production line. There were a few staff milling about and some of them look up to wave but most of them are focused on their tasks. At the end of the hallway, the tour guide finally appeared and answered some of our questions. He showed us the area where they process the juices in tera packs and the cheeses. We couldn’t really see the products up close and we couldn’t see the entire process as it looked like a slow day. Most of the machineries were not working and some areas were devoid of action.
We went back the same way we came in and the guide ushered us outside back to the bus. He said we’re done with the factory tour and will go on the bakery tour next.
It was a few minutes drive from the first plant. We went to a somewhat similar huge compound and went out of the bus. The first thing we noticed was the smell of freshly-baked bread. Oh my gahd it was heavenly! The place was like a huge bakery (which technically it was) where bread was baked by thousands of batches. I mean for the air outside the building to smell like bread fresh out of the oven… yummy! All of us felt our stomach growl. Haha!
We entered the building and was greeted by a staff that seemed to be waiting for a lot of visitors, haha. We had to disappoint him when we said there was only nine of us. He showed us inside and asked us to climb the stairs to the second floor. We entered another hallway to glass windows where we can see the bakery operations below. The area is for loaves of bread of their brand L’usine. This is a pro for me because like I told you, I’m actually a fan of their loaf bread. We watched the bread move in a straight line into the big ovens. We went to another window and saw the bread coming out of the oven. They were all browned and for sure, hot. Too bad we couldn’t smell the glorious scent of fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves from where we were standing.
The staff who was explaining some things to us left us for a few minutes to take pictures. They have an area called the L’usine Village, just beside the viewing hall. There are booths designed after their popular baked goodies like the 7Days croissants, L’usine muffins and loaves, wafers, cupcakes, maamoul, etc. Each booth has an activity where kids can play. Of course, photo-taking is a must even though in their door is a sign that says photography is not allowed. A bit ironic isn’t it?
After our time at the L’usine Village, we went back to the reception area where one of the staff took out a box filled with Almarai baked products. We had a fun time choosing our favorites (I went for the 7Days chocolate croissant, of course). He gave us all the contents of the box and we were done with the building.
We went out and boarded our bus again which took us back to the first plant. He dropped us off in another building beside the factory’s mosque. It’s lunch time! Because the cooks were expecting a full bus, there were so many food for us to devour. Haha! We really like the food they served from the hummus to the eggplant dish (which I don’t know the name of), kebabs and seasoned fish fillets. They were delicious! In our tables were Almarai juices, milk, yogurt, and custard. There’s something to eating and drinking food on the place where they are produced; they taste better! Haha!
Anyway, we thought there’s another trip to somewhere because up until this time, we still haven’t seen the cows, which most of us were here for (lol). I mean this is Almarai and they have one of the biggest dairy farm in the world. There must be a way to see the Holstein cows that give them their fresh milk right? Also, it’s said to be the highlight of an Almarai visit. We were surprised though when the staff already gave us our goodie bag (which contains a Rubik’s cube, pencil case for the kids, and a DVD of their National Geographic feature). I asked the guy if the trip is over and he said yes. I asked him about the cows and he said it’s under maintenance. Awwww we were disappointed. Was it just our luck or they deem our group too small to be toured in the milking area? (Because after a week, we saw another group in their photos that they were toured at the dairy farm complete with a guide!)
I urge you to manage your expectations people. While it’s not like I really waited for a year (because honestly, I completely forgot that I booked this a year ago), it’s still a bit disappointing to hear such rave reviews about the Almarai Tour and realize that it’s just this. What made this so popular? It might have been more interesting and fun before. The staff looked like they have been doing this for quite a long time and they themselves have lost interest in doing this. Most of the guys that walked us through the factory were okay but won’t elaborate unless we ask for more questions and clarifications. They weren’t upbeat about it and it looked like we basically DIYed the whole thing ourselves. Remember that it takes four hours to travel to and fro the factory and to just have this kind of meh itinerary in the tour is disappointing. It might also be possible that we were treated that way because of the number of persons in our group. Haha. We are thankful though that at least, they still go through with their tours and that it’s FREE.
To book, visit this link. There are two places to visit: the Almarai Factory in Al Kharj or the Almarai Alyoum Farm in Hail. Of course, since you’re in Riyadh, you have to check the booking for Al Kharj (unless you have plans to go to Hail). Tours are done every day except Friday. The tours are free. Almarai also provides the bus for the tour. Once you click on the “Book” button, a calendar will show in the page. Dates that are highlighted in orange means that that day is fully booked for both Al Kharj and Hail. A green highlight means one or both tours are free. It’s difficult to get a Saturday schedule and it’s more difficult to get a schedule for Al Kharj than Hail. While writing this post, I was also checking the schedule and the first free schedule I can see for Al Kharj is on March 4, 2018. YUP, 2018, folks! If I were you, just book! Who knows where you are at that day but at least, you have that option to go when that day comes. Corporate/company schedules might have a different booking process.
Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia