The UAE was by far the largest importer of Italian food products at US$325m of imports by value, up 27% year-on-year, according to the figures from Cibus and Federalimentare Servizi. Saudi Arabia’s imports were valued at US$194m, up 13%.
Counting all food and primary industry products from Italy, which include fresh meat, fish and vegetables as well as a small proportion of agriculture-related non-food products, UAE imports were worth US$325m, up 26%, with Saudi Arabia at US$236m, up 7.3%.
The next highest Middle East country, counting only processed food products, was Lebanon, which imported US$71m worth of Italian food, down 3.7% on 2012.
The Middle East, especially the GCC, has significant potential as a growth market for Italian food products, according to Elda Ghiretti, brand manager at Cibus. She highlighted the growing regional populations, as well as the strong growth of tourism in the UAE.
“Because of the accreditation of the first Italian institution recognised by the local authorities for the issuance of Halal certification, as well as the recent elimination of the banof exports of beef and dairy products from Italy to GCC countries, Italian food exports could improve through targeted promotional activities,” said Ghiretti.
“The UAE is the main export market in the Arab World, also the UAE’s dependence on imports which make up over 80% of its foodstuff and ingredients, positions it as a key market for Italian food export. Dubai represents the main commercial hub for GCC countries with the Port Rashid and Jebel Ali terminals,” she added.
Sweets and animal feed
Growth in the UAE’s imports was driven by the bakery and confectionery sector, up 44% year-on-year to reach US$59m in value. Within this, the cocoa-based confectionery segment was by far the strongest performer, growing 66% and worth US$37m.
In contrast, the same sector performed relatively poorly in Saudi Arabia, with the overall bakery and confectionery market up only 2.93%, worth US$84m, with cocoa-based confectionery down 4.1% and worth US$21m.
Sales of Italian staple pasta saw a similar story, with UAE imports up 25% at US$14.5m, while Saudi imports were down 2.7%, worth US$10m. But Saudi Arabia did show stronger growth in dairy products, processed vegetables, and oil and fats.
The stand-out growth sector for Saudi Arabia was the animal feed sector, which saw 154% growth to reach US$13m, on the back of the country’s efforts to cut domestic crop production.