Morne Fourie, General Manager Marketing & Innovation at Spinneys, explains the importance of cycling to the supermarket and outlines future plans for community sport.

It is 7am on a Friday at Al Qudra and though the sun has just crept over the horizon, the cycling track is a hive of activity. While many in Dubai are enjoying a weekend lie-in, a legion of lycra-clad warriors – men, women and children alike – are getting their weekly cycling fix.

A decade ago, such scenes would have been unthinkable due to the lack of infrastructure but the cycling landscape has changed dramatically. The current crop of UAE cyclists has grassroots campaigners and, more unusually, a supermarket to thank for the improvement in facilities.

Since 2010, the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge has been an annual congregation of the UAE’s cycling community, with the most recent edition taking place on November 29. Its inception and subsequent growth demonstrated to the government that a genuine appetite for cycling existed; soon the prayers of the peloton were answered with the provision of more places for cycling enthusiasts to pursue their passion.

While the UAE is still a long way off being a truly ‘cycling friendly’ destination, there is no question that the experience of cyclists has been dramatically enhanced. And for Spinneys, title sponsors of Dubai’s leading amateur cycling event for the past 10 years, involvement in cycling has been about more than just brand awareness.  

“The essence of Spinneys is the philosophy ‘Eat well, live well’,” Morne Fourie, General Manager Marketing & Innovation at Spinneys, explains to Sport Industry Insider. “We know that we can feed our customers beautiful food but if they don’t couple that with exercise and a healthy lifestyle then we have not done our job fully.

Morne Fourie of Spinneys

“This is why we initially got involved with cycling – we wanted people to see that we really care about helping them live healthier lives. Over time we have become synonymous with health and fitness as a brand and this is fantastic as we really believe it is also our responsibility, as a key presence in communities, to create opportunities for participation.

“It has been so rewarding for us to see how it has the Cycle Challenge has taken off and within the company it is incredible to see how many of the store managers or senior management are part of the Spinneys Cycling Club. Now after 10 years, cycling is part of the very fibre of Spinneys.”

What began as a title sponsorship of the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge has now evolved into joint-ownership of the event, which was the brainchild of Promoseven Sports CEO Donal Kilalea and Revolution Cycles managing partner Stewart Howison.

Earlier this year Spinneys bought a 51 percent controlling stake in the Cycle Challenge, further demonstrating its long-term commitment to cycling in the UAE.

“That 51 percent stake shows our belief in the event and what it stands for,” Fourie says. “We’ve seen the cycle challenge grow from around 160 people in the first year to 2,500 this year. But we still feel as though there is a lot more room for expansion. We believe there are around 20,000 cyclists in the UAE so we’re still just scratching the surface.

“There is no reason this could not grow into a global player in terms of mass participation cycling events. We have been looking at events like the Cape Argus in South Africa and Prudential RideLondon and I think our ambition should be to operate in this space. I’d love to see 10,000 people taking part in the Spinneys 92 Cycle Challenge and genuinely believe it can happen.”

In order to facilitate such growth, Fourie admits it will be necessary to seek out more partnerships and sponsors. While the Spinneys title sponsorship will remain in perpetuity as part of the ownership agreement, there is plenty of scope for other arrangements.

“Skoda came on board for the first time this year in a multi-year partnership and Fitness First are with us on a long-term basis. We are also having very interesting conversations with some banks who are interested in becoming ongoing partners in the cycling space. Then there are other short-term deals with retailers, who use our event as an opportunity to promote their products.”

“Ideally we want to build a package of events that is more attractive to partners. Going forward the idea is that the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge will still be the headline event but we will introduce more small build up events through the year, with more of an emphasis on community cycling and social cycling.

“We want to be the leading brand associated with cycling in the Middle East going forward, focused firmly on amateur cycling – for us it is all about increasing participation and access.”

The Cycle Challenge has proved to be part marketing tool, part-CSR initiative for Spinneys and the company has been endeavouring to engage communities in Dubai beyond its flagship event.

“Our junior ride was launched in in 2011, which includes a 2.5k, 13k and 30k race that takes place the night before the Cycle Challenge at the Dubai Autodrome and we started a schools’ programme at the same time. We’ve worked with 22 schools this year, doing cycling proficiency activations and giving some kids who had never cycled before the chance to try it out.

“I think we have definitely done a good job of highlighting the opportunities in cycling over the past decade; the moment you put the spotlight on any sport and it improves awareness, that iss a great thing.”

Despite its success in promoting cycling, Spinneys’ sporting ambition extends still further. Plans are afoot to create other grassroots initiatives in 2020 and Fourie believes expanding Spinneys’ portfolio of events will be beneficial for both the brand

“We recognise that cycling in the Middle East is not the cheapest or most accessible sport to get into and that is why we are now looking at other opportunities with mass participation properties,” Fourie says. “Obviously running is something under consideration, maybe a Park Run style concept, because all you need is a pair of trainers and you are away. We have also talked about social team sports and female-focused events.

“Definitely in 2020 we want to introduce new Spinneys events – it’s a case of sooner rather than later but of course we have to find the right partnerships and the right event. We’ve had numerous discussions with Dubai Sports Council and are now talking to Abu Dhabi Sports Council too – it’s a long process to get things right but we’re very hopeful.”