Half way through the colorful 3000 year history of Indian Ocean jewel Sri Lanka, the island was known by another name – Serendib. More than a thousand years later, the name passed into the English language when an 18th century author used it to form an entirely new word: Serendipity.
The meaning of the word derives from an ancient Persian fairy tale, ‘The Three Princes of Serendib’, whose travels were peppered by many instances of good fortune which were neither planned nor expected. Today’s modern translation simply means ‘making happy discoveries by accident’.
Certainly the 20 million citizens of Sri Lanka neither planned nor expected two instances of good fortune which occurred in 2008/9. One was the ending of a 30-year civil war. The other was the breaking of a commercial monopoly which had deprived them of affordable flour for more than three decades.
An overseas competitor dared to enter this uncertain political landscape and set up a new Flour Milling facility to combat the profiteering which had held Sri Lankans to ransom – adding to the woes of war by denying them a food staple unless they paid exorbitant prices. The competitor was Al Ghurair Foods. And the new Flour Mills were called Serendib!
Today, only five years later, “the nation of smiling people” is smiling again. Not only has Peace held, but Serendib Flour Mills have brought consumers quality flour at competitive prices – heralding the return of many traditional dishes to the dinner table. Hefty year-on-year price hikes are a thing of the past.
As of 2013, Serendib Flour Mills represent more than 22% of the Sri Lankan market, an astonishing achievement in such a short span of time. More importantly, ordinary families have a variety of flours to choose from – at prices they can afford. Indeed, Serendib Flour Mills are now market leaders in the Retail Segment.
But this alone does not tell the full story of Serendib Flour Mills and their impact on Sri Lanka. For the Mills are part of a parent group whose commitment for half a century has been to enhance lives in the communities it serves. Al Ghurair not only provides the people with flour – but with training, jobs and development as well.
Every year two graduates from the Universities of Engineering and Agriculture in Sri Lanka are sent to CFTRI – the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore – for a one-year course in Flour Milling. Once complete, they are appointed by Serendib Flour Mills as trainee millers and ‘trained up’ to the eventual post of Chief Miller. To date, a dozen graduates have joined the 240 staff given a rewarding career and new life by Serendib Flour Mills.
This specialized training often takes them to the parent group headquarters in Dubai and ‘on the job’ experience at Al Ghurair’s own National Flour Mills Company – the pioneer of flour milling in the UAE and wider Arabian Gulf. In a sense, they are ‘coming home’. For Serendib has its origins in Arabic – and the ancient folklore that gave Sri Lanka its original name.
The ‘Three Princes of Serendib’ may be a Fairy Tale. But Serendib Flour Mills in Sri Lanka – the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ – provide living, breathing proof of one irrefutable fact: That sometimes, just sometimes – by accident, by good fortune, by Serendipity – Fairy Tales do indeed come true.