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I’ll take the T-bone: Middle East wants expensive cuts of meat

By Ankush Chibber , 10-Jan-2014
Last updated on 15-Jan-2014 at 09:42 GMT2014-01-15T09:42:07Z

Middle Eastern consumers are seeking out higher quality cuts of meat

Middle Eastern consumers are seeking out higher quality cuts of meat

The Middle East is now increasingly shunning live imports of cattle and sheep and demanding high value cuts of red meat, say exporters from India and Australia.

Arjun Chavan, a Mumbai-based halal meat and frozen foods exporter told FoodNavigator that over the last couple of years, importers from the Middle East have been asking for more high value cuts of beef and lamb than before.

According to Chavan, the red meat trade between India and the Middle East, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, was previously dominated by the export of live cattle.

“These cuts as I understand are primarily directed at the hotel and restaurant service sector. The UAE has affluent residents and they are willing to pay for high value meat,” said Chavan, adding that some cuts end up in supermarkets frequented by expats and rich Emiratis and Arabs.

India, which by some accounts is on track to become the world’s largest exporter of beef, primarily ships its buffalo beef (carabeef) to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Government data reveal that the amount of exported carabeef from India increased from about 726,000 tonnes in 2010-11 to 1.2m tonnes in 2012-13.

The top five destinations for export of Indian sheep/goat meat during 2012-13 were UAE (47.87%), Saudi Arabia (29.53%), Qatar (10.25%), Kuwait (6.53%) and Oman (2.21%), according to government data.

Kartik Dwivedi, partner at Mumbai-based Dassler Business Intelligence, told FoodNavigator that demand for high value cuts of red meat is also coming from new growth markets in the Middle East such as Jordan.

“What is happening in the Middle East is that there is an explosion of fast food chains, hotels, restaurants and resorts over the last few years. This has increased the opportunity and demand for a variety in the cuts in the food industry,” he said.

In December, Australia’s primary red meat association and marketing body also revealed that it was now shipping fewer live cattle than before to the Middle East. Instead, the demand for high value cuts of red meat was rising.

Jamie Ferguson, regional manager, MENA, for Meat and Livestock Australia said that countries like Saudi Arabia had not only stopped taking Australian livestock, but also importing cheaper beef cuts from Brazil.

“Now they've had a taste for better quality and consistent beef from Australia, we're even seeing things like wagyu and organics sneaking into the retail sector. In 12 months, we've seen an amazing transformation and it's a really exciting opportunity for us,” he said.

Ferguson pointed out that cities like Abu Dhabi and Jeddah are fast growing economies of their own and important destinations in the Middle East, where travellers want to experience higher quality meat.

Australia and India are two countries that have benefitted from Saudi Arabia’s ban on beef from US (in February 2012) and Brazil (December 2012) due to cases of BSE or mad cow disease.

“Since Brazil's ban, they tried to replace product at Brazilian prices, which the quality out of Australian didn't match. So we're seeing them demand better quality,” he added.

Australian Beef exports to Saudi Arabia totalled 18,944 tons shipped weight in 2012-13, up more than four-fold year-on-year, making Saudi Arabia Australia’s largest beef market in the MENA region. The UAE remains Australia’s largest lamb market, accounting for 25% of Australian exports.

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