The market for organic food in the UAE is still a niche segment compared to economies in Europe, the US, and Asia. However, with specialised food outlets and distributors setting up shop in the country, it seems poised for growth.
In Dubai, restaurants such as Azur in Dubai Marina, the Signature Restaurant in Jebel Ali, Baker and Spice in Downtown Dubai, Freshii in DIFC, Magnolia in Madinat Jumeirah and More Café in the Mall of the Emirates, have played pivotal roles in popularising organic food.
Gulfood 2012 will also focus on organic options. It has launched a health and ingredient award, to be presented to a company that has shown innovation and excellence in the development, marketing and launch of a new health food or beverage. The other category includes health education initiatives for beneficial food and beverage products.
One exhibitor to watch out for is Organic, a company founded by Al Hosany Group. It recently unveiled the region's first organic energy drink, Pure Bio Energy, created by Austria-based Pure Bio Products. "Organic will seek to expand the market for organic products in the region and simultaneously enhance awareness of the salience of these products in terms of its health benefits and ethical contribution to animal welfare and the environment," said Juma Abdulla Al Hosany, Chairman, Al Hosany Group, at the launch of the company.
Supermarkets in the UAE such as Spinneys and Choithram also offer organic products but spending on such items by regular customers remains low, according to sector figures.
Mohammad Ashiq Ariejeel, CEO of Organic and its subsidiary Organic Life, says the brand has adopted a pioneering pricing strategy. "High prices have always been a hurdle for the growth of organic products in the market and we have taken a strategic look at it. The challenge is to convert consumers to the organic side of the market, and we are very confident on this," he says.
Pure Bio Products too wants to explore the Middle East. "Dubai is a highly prospering market and a perfect entry point for Pure Bio to expand to other markets such as Saudi Arabia," says Udo Wagner, Chairman, Pure Bio Products.
Carboholix in Al Barsha promotes a healthy lifestyle by offering low-carbohydrate, low-fat items along with their nutritional information. It also has a range of diabetic-friendly food. "Our vision is both to spread the awareness of diabetes and obesity in the region and to be a one-stop shop for low-carbohydrate foods in the UAE and Middle East region to aid people to live with this disease," says Mohammad Behroozian, co-founder, Carboholix on its website. Other organisations dedicated to health and medical food include Nutricia, Holland and Barrett, and Planet Nutrition in Dubai, and Dr Nutrition Centre in Sharjah.
The UAE is also home to Organic Foods and Café, a family-run organic supermarket and café. It has stores in The Greens and The Dubai Mall with another store in the offing near Safa Park. "We stock the best range of organic brands at affordable prices and to meet the requirements of those who follow specific diets, whether for health reasons or personal lifestyle choices," says Nils El Accad, owner of Organic Foods and Café. "We also help raise awareness about the importance of eating organic biodynamic foods, not just for one's own health but also for the benefit of the farmers who produce, the crops, as well as the environment and animal welfare," he adds. "People are getting a lot more aware of their health needs but being aware does not mean they know what to do about it. It is still early days when it comes to awareness and just the beginning when it comes to doing something about it," says El Accad.
There are no bestsellers when it comes to organic food. "It varies from how long the people have been buying organic and where they are from. The locals tend to like fruit and vegetables the most. The Germans like our bread since we had a German baker who put in Artisan German-style recipes. Many health conscious [customers] like the coconut products and mothers love the items we have for lunch boxes such as the organic sun blast juices," he says. The café boasts a unique menu with products such as bio goat cheese, an invention of Austrian bio-farmer Thomas Eberharter, who first met El Accad at Gulfood 2011.
Another player is YK Intertrade, a Thai-based company. Its president, Panpilai Baiyoke, says, "the organic food trade with GCC countries is an expanding sector. It is a field where we have a lot of expertise aided through a group of organic producers in Thailand."
With increasing interest in the sector, the government, via both the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Ministry of Health, is focused on promoting the movement. The environmental ministry has set a target of 3,000 hectares of agricultural land to be dedicated to organic farming.