A rising population and insufficient domestic production have bolstered food imports into the Gulf region, allowing the sector to ride out recent political turmoil and forecast a future of exponential growth.
According to a recent survey by investment bank Alpen Capital, the six GCC nations imported food worth $25.8 billion (about Dh94.7 billion) in 2010. The region's population is projected to swell from the current 40.6 million to 50 million by 2020, with per capita food consumption, currently lower than the developed countries, projected to rise proportionately. Per capita income distributions in the GCC is among the world's highest and the fact that the food and beverages (F&B) industry in the region has grown remarkably in the last few years is hardly a surprise. The sector even stayed resilient in the face of the Arab Spring.
"The Arab Spring has done little to dampen the growth that the F&B sector in the region is experiencing. With franchising continuing to present excellent growth opportunities across the Middle East, Africa and Asia — as international restaurant brands and food manufacturers increasingly look to these markets — and the growth of SME (small and medium enterprises) businesses in the Middle East — approximately 200,000 SMEs operate in the UAE alone — the region is ripe for business," says Mark Napier, Exhibition Director, Gulfood 2012.
To tap these emerging opportunities, companies from all over the world will converge on Dubai today to attend Gulfood, the region's biggest trade-only event that focuses exclusively on the sector. "This year's event will witness participation of a record 107 international exhibitors and 65,000 trade visitors from more than 150 countries, highlighting the truly international flavour of Gulfood," says Napier.
New countries to make a debut at Gulfood this year include Hungary, Peru and Algeria. In total, the show will host more than 3,800 exhibitors over nearly one million square feet.
The event aims to give manufacturers, distributors, retailers and buyers the ideal platform to explore opportunities, clinch deals, network and share industry know-how. Bagason Middle East, an importer of food and beverages in the region, has been participating in the exhibition for the last five years. Its managing director, Rajendra Herwani, says Gulfood has helped the company grow, and this year, his team hopes to capitalise on the event's networking potential to find distributors in the Gulf and Africa.
Krishna Kumar, the sales manager of Dubai head-quartered Arabian Can Industry, a company that manufactures packaging materials for food stuff, is looking forward to the exhibition. He says, "We have taken a 12-square-metre space at the show to meet new clients and generate contacts to help us in our expansion drive." Arabian Can Industry is participating in the exhibition after nine years.
Another industry leader that will be at the show is Unilever Food Solutions. "The decision to be a part of Gulfood 2012 follows the unprecedented success achieved at the event over the years," says Mohammad Shanawani, marketing manager, Unilever Food Solutions. The company will have a bigger and more enhanced presence at this year's event, including associating with the conferences that run parallel to the show.
Napier expects these conferences to be the high point of the exhibition. "Recognising the importance of knowledge exchange for this fast-paced food industry, the conferences at Gulfood will showcase the latest trends and innovations across all sectors, including food entrepreneurship, franchising and leadership within the industry," he says. This year's edition boasts a fantastic line-up of speakers including celebrity chefs and some of the most dynamic leaders of the F&B industry in the region such as Yusuffali M.A, the managing director of EMKE Group, Sanjeev Chadha, President MEA, PepsiCo and Eelco Camminga, VP, South Africa, Middle East and Pakistan, Unilever, and Yousif Abdulghani, Managing Director of McDonald's Middle East. Various development, agriculture and trade ministers are also scheduled to visit. The opening address will be made by Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade. The show will also offer interactive workshops for those who wish to launch operations in the sector or expand operations.
If the response to past editions of Gulfood is a barometer of the event's success, participants and exhibitors should be thrilled. Last year's show saw a number of record breaking deals for F&B professionals. Napier points out that UAE-based Masafi, for instance, reported business prospects from new markets beyond the GCC, Malaysia conducted business worth more than $16.2 million during the show and an additional $28.5 million in trade following the event. The US pavilions confirmed business of $34 million while more than 100 exhibitors at the French Pavilion posted record sales in poultry, dairy, apples, biscuits and mineral water.
All you need to know
Where: Dubai International Exhibition Centre
Timings: February 19-21,11am-7pm;
For more information, log on to www.gulfood.com
Running parallel to the main event, the newly extended Gulfood Conferences incorporates four key summits — the Food Leaders Summit, Foodpreneur Forum, Food Packaging and Processing Forum, and the Gulfood Workshop on Franchising. The Food Leaders Summit, to be held today, addresses the challenges and trends shaping the competitive landscape. The Foodpreneur Forum, to be held tomorrow, will prove specially valuable for entrepreneurs and business owners in the industry, bringing together international food biz veterans including celebrity chefs, global brand leaders and retail gurus, to guide start-ups, businesses looking at expansion, and those wishing to compete regionally and globally. The Food Processing and Packaging Forum on February 21 will highlight the latest trends across the sector, with keynote presentations on a broad range of topics including Factories of the Future; Sustainable Packaging and the Carbon Effect; The Quality Chain — From Farm to Fork; Tackling The Cost of Quality Assurance and Process Control; and Packaging and Labelling — Mandatory versus Self-regulated.
The franchising workshops, to be hosted on February 22, will offer participants practical advice on evaluating brands, recognising legal and financial issues, maximising the franchiser-franchisee relationship and differentiating between local and international markets to envisage success in business.