Capacity of the Gulf's nine edible oil processing plants have reached 750 tonnes, while the combined output is about 550 tonnes, according to industry officials.

"Out of the 11 edible oil processing plants, two have been closed down. Among the remaining nine, six plants are located in the UAE," said Rizwan Ahmad, director of Emirates Refining Co (Erco), part of the Sharjah-based Allana Group.

"This means the capacity is higher than the total production in the GCC markets.

"The food services industry in the UAE is recording at a rate of 15 to 20 per cent, based on our own experience, due to the expansion of the economies and population growth."

Allana Group recently launched olive oil in the market under the brand name Rahma. "We are investing about Dh5 million in building the brand. This is the first olive oil processing plant in the entire region. All other olive oil brands are directly imported," he said.

Total sales value of bakery products in the UAE stood at $91.09 million in 2002, according to the International Grains Council (IGC). This translates to a per capita annual consumption of 79,583 grammes, or $27.87 (Dh100) spend in bakery products only.

World market potential for pasta and noodles is expected to reach $70 billion by the end of 2005, IGC statistics shows.

Asia is the largest market, worth $28.6 billion, or 41.1 per cent. The Middle East market for pasta is estimated to be worth $7.18 billion, or 10.3 per cent of the global market.