Global food sector looks to Middle East

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Middle east United arab emirates

As Gulfood opens its doors in Dubai the global food industry is turning its attention to the rich opportunities presented by the Middle Eastern market, and consumer tastes and preferences there.

Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Sultanate of Oman – import some 90 per cent of their foods. In the UAE alone, food expenditure in 2009 reached US$6.78bn in 2009 according to Business Monitor International.

The UAE government is actively encouraging more food manufacturing plants to be set up there; since 1994 it has invested $1.4bn in the industry, and today there are around 150 food processing plants in operation.

This means that the region has high potential for ingredients firms looking to supply local manufacturers, and multinational manufacturers developing foods that are tailored to Middle Eastern tastes.

Amongst the manufacturers with bases there are Nestle, Kraft, General Mills and Unilever.

“Companies large and small from around the world are increasingly taking an interest in the Middle East,” said Helal Saeed Almarri, CEO of Dubai World Trade Centre which is organising the Gulfood trade show and conference.

In the last few years, more ingredients companies have been setting up bases in the Gulf region, including German firms Symrise and Doehler. Just this week family-owned flavour and fragrance firm Firmenich announced the formation of its new affiliate in Dubai.

Who is at Gulfood?

According to Almarri, Gulfood attracts distributors looking for the latest products or manufacturers looking for new markets.

The event has attracted suppliers showcasing their wares from all over the world.

France, which has saw a 30 per cent increase in its sales to the Middle East between 2004 and 2008 to reach €779m, has 60 exhibitors at its food and ingredients pavilion and 40 at its equipment pavilion.

Traditionally France has supplied poultry, dairy and apples to the region, but its is now branching out into sweets, delicatessen products, mineral water and other beverages too.

The Austrian contingent includes 13 food exhibitors and 7 equipment exhibitors, 10 of which are at Gulfood for the first time. The main aim for them is to find importers and distributors in the region.

Germany’s Symrise will be presenting its Middle Eastern strategy at the show; and Doehler, which has been in the region since the 1970s, will be showing its latest product innovations in the natural beverage sector.

Other ingredient companies making the trip to Dubai include National Starch Food Innovation and Puratos.

Fruits from afar

The Gulfood event has also attracted a presence from Brazil, which has been supplying fresh fruits to the Middle East since 1998. Its initial offering of four fruits has grown to 20 today, including avocado, persimmon, coconut water, Brazilian nuts and cashews.

Some US$9.31m of fresh fruit and $21.46m of processed fruit were imported by the Middle Eastern countries in 2009.

Afghanistan, too, has high hopes that the event will raise its profile for fresh and dried fruits (apricots, applies, grapes), wild pistachios and other nuts, and concentrated juices from its first juice factory which opened in October 2009 (and rapidly pre-sold its entire production for the year!).

“Afghanistan grows the fruit the world wants,” ​said Mohammed Rahimi, minister for agriculture, irrigation and livestock,“and we’re coming to Gulfood 2010 to make sure that everybody knows it”.

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