Dubai: High population growth and a rise in tourism in the UAE are boosting demand for international food exporters, said organisers of Gulfood, the food and beverages (F&B) trade event.
The GCC is expecting to cross the 50 million population mark by 2020, up from the current 40.6 million, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Tourism figures are also on the rise. The number of UAE-bound tourists is expected to approach 9 million, according to recent figures released by international industry consultant Business Monitor International (BMI). This is a 9 per cent increase over last year. Meeting the increasing demand for food represents an opportunity for leading international players.
"The growth and outlook of the food sector is a very important issue for the Middle East market as global trends present new opportunities for the food and beverage industry. With food consumption in the region growing exponentially, there is a pressing need to establish valuable trade relations with the food producing nations. Similarly, the region represents huge potential for companies with home markets that are currently delivering minimal growth," said Hilal Saeed Khalfan Al Merri, CEO of the Dubai World Trade Centre.
This growing demand is reflected in the high attendance figures of Gulfood 2012 which has attracted a sell-out participation from 88 countries and 110 international pavilions.
"This year we've filled the entire venue and we're constructing a temporary hall to meet the demand. We're seeing an upward trend in terms of exhibitors and buyers," said Mark Napier, exhibitions director at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
"In such a climate as our own, food security will continue to be an issue, our hospitality will continue to grow and our population will continue to rise. Dubai's position is an import export trading hub will become increasingly important. The feedback we get from the countries is that many of the traditional markets aren't nearly as attractive as they are here," he added.
Many international suppliers which export food to the UAE are reporting double digit growth in the last year. Italy witnessed an increase of 28.4 per cent in export sales in 2011 that generated revenues of over Dh438 million.
French agrifood exports to the UAE in 2011 were valued at Dh1 billion, an increase of 31 per cent over the previous year.
"Our demand has been driven by a strong tourism industry in the UAE. Our export market is mainly high-end gourmet goods to five-star restaurants. Tourists go out for dinner, boosting this demand," said Francois Sporrer, Trade Counsellor Director for France.
One of the sectors which has recovered significantly compared to last year is beverages. "After the crisis our export figures to Dubai went really low and we've now recovered to good levels," said Sporrer.
According to Sporrer, they have seen an increase in the retail segment as well. "The distributors I spoke to in the retail sector told me their sales were the best they've had in 2011. There has been a strong growth in consumption," said Sporrer.
Looking ahead, France is looking to expand their mid-range food products. France has also just obtained the green light from local authorities to export meat products to the Emirates and is looking forward to growth in the segment as well.
Further afield, countries such as Chile are also seeing their UAE-bound exports rise by about 4.4 per cent each year.
"The main sector we are concentrating on is dry foods such as almonds, walnuts and berries. It's one of our biggest sectors especially during Ramadan," Carlos Salas, Trade Commissioner at the Embassy of Chile.
According to Salas, Walnuts increased 547 per cent in the last year.
"Walnuts used to arrive through other countries to the region. Now we're promoting the product in Dubai which is the main reason for growth.
"The walnuts are re-exported during Ramadan to neighbouring countries such as Saudi and North Africa," said Salas.
The country is also working on rebuilding its salmon export industry and launching its halal meat exports. "Last year we got government approval to export halal meat into the market," said Salas.
India, the second largest food producer in the world and a key trade partner with the UAE, is investing $18.9 billion in the its food industry between now and 2015 to cater to the growing local and international demand, said Sanjay Verma, Consul General.
New countries to make a debut at Gulfood this year include Hungary, Peru and Algeria.