Trend 1: Liquid luxuries
Non-alcoholic beverages are getting a flavour boost. Sana Toukan, Research Manager, Middle East, Euromonitor, says: "Soft and hot drinks saw a very healthy growth in 2011 and 2012, and this trend is likely to get stronger. The region is seeing a rising health trend, which has boosted growth of niche subcategories such as flavoured bottled water. Local manufacturers have tapped into this, with Al Ain Mineral Water and Masafi now competing with Aquafina in the flavoured water category in the UAE. The demand for fortified functional fruit juices will rise as people turn to reduced-sugar beverages."
Trend 2: Catering to kids
The image of the large, happy family meal has permeated into real life with chefs bringing their culinary training and family heritage into affordable, casual restaurants. Family-friendly restaurants are mushrooming in neighbourhoods, where residents recognise their value to the community.
Mark Napier, Exhibition Director, Dubai World Trade Centre, SEAFEX, SFF, Sweets and Snacks ME, says: "With more than 50 per cent of the region’s population under the age of 25, children make up a considerable portion of the Middle East’s consumer market. Not only are dining options increasingly family-friendly but food groups such as snacks and confectionery are also extremely popular with this segment. Trends both regionally and internationally indicate increasing demand for healthier options, as evidenced at Sweets & Snacks Middle East (the region’s largest trade show for the snack and confectionery industry) where a record number of exhibitors will be displaying new products that are sugar-free, low-calorie, vitamin-fortified, fat-free, fibre-rich and/or organic."
Trend 3: Asian influences
The bold, fresh flavours of Thailand, Vietnam and Korea have infiltrated the comfort food zone. Chef Uwe Micheel from Radisson Blu Hotel says: "The UAE is no newcomer to Thai flavours, but we still haven’t seen a boom in Vietnamese and Korean restaurants — this I think we will witness soon. Korean food is definitely poised to be the next big thing."
Trend 4: Unusual dining
Niche products are now sharing the epicurean spotlight. For instance, seaweed has now trickled down to the mass-market, and is being used in bread, flavoured salt, crackers, breakfast cereals, butter, toasted and sprinkled on fries, fish and pasta.
Mark Napier, Exhibition Director, Dubai World Trade Centre, says: "With an increasing number of Michelin-starred chefs at leading eateries across the UAE and other GCC markets including Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Nobu Matsuhisa, Yannick Alleno, Sanjeev Kapoor, Jamie Oliver and Pierre Gagnaire, the region is developing a healthy appetite for gourmet dining.
" As the region’s palate becomes increasingly adventurous so too does the demand for niche food products and ingredients such as seaweed. From cucumber and wakame salad, seaweed rice crackers and sushi, this gift from the sea is fast becoming a healthy snack alternative in the region."
Trend 5: Look out for the gastropub
Tired of their fish ’n’ chips, a growing number of younger, more affluent diners are looking for great food in a casual setting. With lesser time to cook, most people are eating out a couple of times a week and they want good grub without the fuss. Pubs have been the fallback option for this segment, but no longer; now they want somewhere smart, relaxing and informal where they can drink and eat. However, the trend seems to have garnered some controversy with The Good Food Guide banning the term gastropub from its 2012 edition. Time will tell if 2013 will see a revival or the death of the gastropub.
Daniel During, Principal and MD, Thomas Klein International, says: “This is an area that has been hitherto unexplored — the options have been limited to noisy pubs (serving typical pub grub), family-oriented fast-food chains or fine dining. Now many places are offering food that has the same attention to detail as five-star restaurants, but in a casual, informal setting that allows you to spend quality time with friends and enjoy a great meal without burning a hole in your pocket. In the UK, typically gastropubs charge about 20 pounds (Dh117) for a good meal and drinks — the UAE still has to get to that price range.”