How Dubai resident is changing breakfast norms with healthy oatmeal options

23-year-old entrepreneur Yara Mersi talks about oatmeal as a delicious and healthy breakfast option for all


Mazhar Farooqui

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Photos by Shihab
Photos by Shihab

Published: Thu 18 Jan 2024, 5:42 PM

Yara Mersi, 23, cultivated a habit of enjoying overnight oats for breakfast from her early years—a routine that persisted through high school and extended to her time at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. There, she not only began each day with a brisk run but also took on the role of captain for the basketball team.

“Our coach emphasised the importance of fuelling up, and my go-to was my homemade oat mix, enriched with over 20 grams of protein, superfoods, and fibre. Intrigued, my teachers and classmates often inquired, eventually developing a fondness for it themselves.”

Today, Yara's personal concoction is disrupting the breakfast industry in the UAE, captivating the taste buds of thousands who swear by Oatful. The Dubai-based Lebanese-American entrepreneur proudly touts it as the region's first high-protein, pre-made overnight oats.

However, Yara perceives her brainchild, conceived during the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, not merely as a consumer-packaged goods (CPG) enterprise. “We embody a community with a heart and soul, reintroducing joy into eating and pioneering the world's inaugural nutritionally complete oatmeal. Our aim is to bring back the excitement to the most important meal of the day and bridge the gap between health and convenience.”

There are eight flavours available, including dark chocolate, cereal milk, vanilla beans, salted caramel, and choco peanut butter, banana, chocolate brownie, carrot cake and strawberry accompanied by two vegan options. Currently available at 15 Spinneys stores, these products will soon be found at Enoc, Zoom and Adnoc stores as well.

Introducing a cutting-edge technology known as High Pressure Processing (HPP), Yara Mersi has revolutionised the preservation of her ready-to-eat products. This innovative method eradicates food spoilage microorganisms, ensuring a 30-day shelf life without compromising nutrition or taste.

“We are a health-focused company, so there is no heat, no pasteurisation, no preservatives, no artificial flavours, or colours," she explained while demonstrating the process at a state-of-the-art facility in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

Tracing her journey, Yara recalled, "Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated by nutrition. I was amazed at how you could alter the way you felt through the foods you ate. I was obsessed with oats. However, the make-it-yourself version required too much time to prepare. At the supermarket, almost every oatmeal in the aisle is stuck in that old paradigm of empty carbs, sugars, and cheap ingredients, all with the same bland flavours.”

As her understanding of the food industry and nutrition deepened, Yara grew disheartened by society’s approach to food. “The food industry has been manipulating the masses, and the global perception of nutrition had been distorted—becoming an unhealthy obsession. This compelled me to prove that delicious food and healthy food do not have to be mutually exclusive. So, at 16, I gave a TED talk about my thoughts on the importance of food and the influence of the food industry."

Determined to go beyond words, Yara translated her beliefs into action by launching a product that embodied her way of thinking. Initially, she started selling her mix (prepared at night and ready in the morning) at ripe markets in Dubai during her college breaks. Encouraged by the positive response, she took the plunge and established her own company, launching a website to sell her products online. The offerings combine organic gluten-free oats, chia seeds and flax seeds with grass fed whey protein or pea protein. Flavours include cereal milk packaged in single-serve packets, the products are prepared with the addition of milk or a dairy-free alternative.

Yara has proudly bootstrapped her company since its inception as she embarks on the next phase of her innovative enterprise by giving it a wider market reach. Last year marked a significant milestone for her as she became the youngest person to apply and win the Spinneys Local Business Incubator Programme, which aims to expedite the journey of innovative businesses by facilitating their inclusion in supermarket listings.

"Today, I am dedicated to fostering a paradigm shift in the realm of healthy food, redefining breakfast through Oatful,” says Yara. “My goal is to reintroduce the joy we once experienced as kids, making breakfast something people eagerly anticipate each morning. There's something truly significant about starting your day right."


More news from Business