INTERVIEW
Dated: 23-12-2019

Union Coop is one of the largest consumer cooperatives in the UAE. With its main activities being to establish hypermarkets and manage cooperatives within the country, it today operates 17 branches and two malls (Al Barsha Mall, Etihad Mall). Union Coop has also launched two grocery chains: Mini Coop and Coop, making it the first consumer cooperative to include a smart shopping concept in many of its branches in the MENA region. Striving for the ultimate shopping experience of consumer goods, the growing popularity of Union Coop is undeniable. But how does the fast growing chain, deal with thousands of footfalls everyday? What challenges do they face in maintaining cleaning and hygiene round the clock and how do they overcome them? Harib Mohammed Bin Thani, Director of Operations, Union Coop speaks to Clean Middle East.

With thousands of people pouring into your stores every day, how do you ensure cleanliness and hygiene?

Cleanliness and hygiene in all of our branches is maintained by an in-house cleaning team and third-party contractors who ensure the premises (building glasses, AC ducts etc.) remain clean for consumers to enjoy a wonderful shopping experience. The third-party contractors are assigned for external area cleaning like glass walls, drainage lines, kitchen exhaust systems, and ducts, etc., as well.

How is the cleaning staff trained before they set out to work? How often are they trained?

Our business strategy and corporate development department – ‘Training Division’ specialises in organising timely training sessions for new as well as existing staff at frequent intervals. The training modules cover all necessary aspects to ensure staff is well-versed with latest machine operations and chemical safety standards of cleaning.

The training sessions regarding new cleaning chemicals, procedures or equipment are offered by reputed agencies who specialise in the respective area. Moreover, our training division arranges training sessions in food safety standards and hygiene practices as per the predefined schedules, considering the importance of cleaning and hygiene in food handling areas.

What are the latest products and technologies that you use?

We use different types of cleaning chemicals and professional floor scrubbing equipment, vacuum machines, etc. Food-grade cleaning chemicals are used in fresh food counters based on a deep cleaning programme, which covers what to clean, how to clean, who cleans and cleaning schedule and who monitors and verifies the effectiveness of cleaning procedures.

What are the biggest hygiene challenges you face in maintenance? How do you monitor the cleaning regime?

Maintenance of cleaning standards during promotions and weekends is a challenge for retail markets, but with the use of advanced cleaning equipment and competent housekeeping and technical team, we try to overcome the challenge.

The hygiene and cleaning standards of high rise areas of the building, ducts and display units is also in our consideration to ensure that those areas are free from dust and mold, etc. Apart from routine inspection from our trained staff, we have third-party contractors who are assigned to do random sampling of food contact surfaces for microbiology analysis to verify the cleaning standards. These laboratory analysis reports are shared and actions are taken if required.

How do you ensure indoor air quality?

We maintain perfect air temperature in our branches through a well-established BMS (Building Management System), whereas in some branches we have a ‘digital thermostat’. In order to ensure healthy air quality, the air filters are cleaned on a timely basis (monthly and quarterly). For air-conditioner maintenance, we have contractors who inspect and perform routine maintenance activities. Besides that, we have an in-house maintenance staff who conduct periodically services for the same. Documentation regarding maintenance checks and schedule is maintained for all Union Coop branches.

Have you considered automation in cleaning and FM? If so, how?

‘Automation’ is something, which will be not be practical for us at the moment, considering the dynamic nature of our business. For instance, if we were to install robots in our branches to automate the cleaning process, then it would require appropriate programming considering the footfall in our branches and timely maintenance as well. It will hamper the consumer experience ultimately.

What out-of-the-box cleaning solutions or practices should we expect from you in the coming years?

Our secret has always been to keep things consumer-centric, logical with what is sustained in human capital plus fixtures. Our experienced professionals are working continuously behind the scenes tracking consumer behavior, maintaining regular communication to improvise cleanliness standards and establish a sustainable cycle, which is as per the standards dictated by Dubai Municipality.