Dubai: Demand for organic foods is on the rise in the UAE as consumers are increasingly placing more value on products that are good for their health and the environment, experts told Gulf News.

Sales of organic packaged food in the UAE reached $16.3 million in 2013, according to Euromonitor International. Retail sales are forecast to grow by 31 per cent to top $21.1 million in 2018.

Within the organic packaged food market, organic baby food accounts for the lion’s share of sales, at $7 million as of 2013, followed by organic sauces, dressings and condiments ($5.7 million) and organic canned/preserved food, excluding ready meals, soup and pasta ($2.5 million).

Retailers of fresh organic produce are also reporting a rising demand from their customers in the UAE, but there is no collated data on actual sales. The growth in natural and organic food consumption has been attributed to growing awareness on the benefits of foods produced according to higher and safer standards.

Western expatriates are considered a significant driver of the organic market in the UAE, but recently, retailers are seeing other nationalities switching to the organic food lifestyle. However, since organic food has always been associated with premium prices, the market has yet to capture the low-income segment of the population.

“Because most organic products are significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts, low-income consumers are still excluded from their market,” said Fatemah Sherif, research analyst at Euromonitor Interantional.

“However, with generally increasing awareness about healthy eating and food quality, more middle-class consumers are discovering organic products for the first time. The key is for consumers to understand the benefits of organics.”

Sherif said there is still a lot of education that needs to be done, although awareness has “improved markedly in the last couple of years across many ethnic groups in the UAE.”

Elena Kinane, managing director of Greenheart Organic Farms, which sells freshly harvested fruit and vegetables, herbs and eggs, said they don’t have any problem with disposing of their stocks, considering the growing demand from UAE customers.

“We continuously run out and we are in the process of expanding our farms. For us, the selling is not the issue, it’s growing fresh produce,” Kinane told Gulf News. “We have European customers, as well as Arabic, Indians and Americans. We have loads of families and single people. It used to be mostly European families but now it’s literally all across the board.”

However, she pointed out, it is not right to generalize that organic foods are more expensive than the conventional goods. “Pricing is an absolute myth. I’m currently selling nectarines, plums and all of that for Dh31 to 33 [a kilo] But if you go to [a popular supermarket] they’re selling them at Dh45 [per kilo]. Our tomatoes are generally half the price of how much the other supermarkets would charge,” she said.