In cosmopolitan Dubai, it’s no wonder you can buy beef from Buenos Aires, focaccia from Florence, sole from Europe and smoked salmon from Scotland.
Gone are the days when gourmet grocers such as Milk and Honey, and Daily Gourmet were the only places to get exotic variants necessary for a culinary experiment. Now even supermarkets retail speciality products.
But what is making regular people try these unusual ingredients? Easy availability, health consciousness, and the fight against obesity and diabetes have played their parts in helping the segment grow.
“In recent years we’ve noticed a huge increase in the sale of health-specialised products, such as foods free from nuts, wheat and lactose,” says Asad Ullah Cheema, Trade & Retail Manager, Milk and Honey. “We offer a varied range of health-conscious foods, which are currently proving to be our most popular items, including the largest selection of gluten-free foods in the UAE,” he says.
Other brands that have jumped on the bandwagon are Waitrose, which has positioned itself as a specialist supermarket and Galeries Lafayette, where one can find the best saffron from Iran, balsamic vinegar by Mussini, and Italian pasta from Rustichella d’Abruzzo. The trend has grown to include delis such as Dean and Deluca, Baker and Spice, The Lime Tree Café and Wafi Gourmet. These eateries often boast a special menu — visit at the right time and you can sink your teeth into a crocodile or kangaroo burger.
“Consumer trends ultimately form the future of retail,” says Mark Napier, Exhibition Director, Gulfood 2013. “Shelf space is at a premium so retailers will not devote space to a product unless it has a market. We see retailers stocking more premium, gourmet foods as more consumers are preparing these meals at home. Fresh speciality breads, gourmet relishes and conserves, high-quality meats and exotic cheeses are now regular items in most kitchens.”
With an increasing number of Michelin-starred chefs including Gary Rhodes and Pierre Gagnaire being associated with leading eateries across the GCC, the region is developing a healthy appetite for gourmet dining as well.
Driving the growth further are food events such as Taste of Dubai and the Speciality Food Festival. Set to take place in the latter half of the year, The Speciality Food Festival witnessed a 22 per cent increase in visitors from 2011 while wrapping up its third edition last November. Taste of Dubai will be held next month and showcases the culinary expertise and repertoires of the restaurants in the UAE.
A microcosmic representation of the speciality industry can be found in Dubai, says Kamal Vachani, Group Director, Al Maya Group. “A lot of our customers ask for high-end products. These customers are well travelled and know what they want. Speciality food retail in Dubai is growing along with the trends seen in other major emerging markets,” he says.
“Our customers shop in regular supermarkets, but come to us for their more specialised needs,” says Cheema. “Whereas, originally it was mainly serious foodies and chefs who would visit our stores, now we are reaching out to customers who may have seen a recipe that requires an ingredient that is only available through us. We find that many people are open to trying new flavours these days.”
But keeping the clientele happy is a lot of work. At Yunib Siddiqui’s Jones the Grocer even the ketchup is prepared daily. “It is about setting the standard for the region and offering a refreshing approach to gourmet food retailing,” says Siddiqui. A unique selling point of this Australian-origin food emporium is the walk-in cheese room that stocks some of the world’s finest cheese from artisan producers.
Napier says, “The appeal for less processed, quality and premium foods is growing. Well-trained and knowledgeable staff who can discuss sources, preparation and preservation techniques also add to the experience of buying fresh artisan produce.”