Conflicts in the Middle East and the depressed oil price are having an affect on investment among food producers, said Tarif Jaffan, owner of Jaffan Trading and Marketing, a regional distributor of equipment and ingredients, based in Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
“They are a little bit more cautious, I would say. Whoever wants to buy something will buy it. But no-one is making new investments, I would say – only people who have already made an investment, they are increasing their investments. But not new investment, no,” said Jaffan.
Investment will return step by step
While investment is on hold at the moment, he believes it will return in time: “I believe they will wait a little bit to see what will happen, and step by step they will start to invest. Everyone wants to eat chocolate.”
Among those firms which are investing, Jaffan said most were now focusing on quality rather than price, as had been the case in the past, and added that chocolate and dates were both growth areas. He has seen growth among regional chocolate producers, as well as increasing interest from international firms.
“Now there are a lot of factories appearing to produce chocolate – a lot of international companies have started to produce over here, whether in the UAE, or Egypt, or even Saudi Arabia. It’s a growing market, and people are eating a lot of chocolate,” said Jaffan.
“One major point is shelf-life – if you’re exporting chocolate to hot countries, there are difficulties, you need a reefer container. Now if you’re producing it over here, it’s easier to handle,” he added.
He also suggested international firms are modifying their products for the Middle East market: “Every region has different tastes, different mentality – for sure they do some development for this market.”
Date producers hunt novelty
Among date producers, Jaffan said many are processing the fruit into paste, and then creating new products with this: “Many of the date manufacturers in Saudi Arabia are looking to present the dates in a different way – not the original way. Now they’re trying to make different shapes out of the paste, like hearts, squares, or coated in chocolate.”
Talking about the firm’s visitors at Gulfood Manufacturing last month, Jaffan said most were very focused, and knew exactly what they were looking for – in contrast to more casual visitors in previous years. The company has expanded the size of its stand significantly over the three years it has exhibited, from 12 square metres originally to an 88-square-metre stand this year, with demonstration machines from Memak and Krueger.