Even Nusr-Et is selling a #SaltBae range of spices. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Italy has been exporting truffles, cheese, vegetables as well as other foods to high-end restaurants in Dubai for years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many restaurants have had to decrease their covers and at some point even close down temporarily, suppliers needed to quickly change their approach.

Restaurants have been one of the biggest channels of promotion for Italian products because their chefs are the amplifiers of the cuisine. However, these days, supermarkets are increasing their space for premium products. Which is where we want to be.

- Dr Amedeo Scarpa, Italian Trade Commissioner to the UAE

The Trade Commissioners’ goal is to improve the chances of having more Italian-made products on supermarket shelves in the UAE, whether it is a ‘private label’ or ‘Italian label’.

“What we do is produce everything the Italian way - Italian processes, Italian certifications but the label would be the private supermarket label,” Scarpa said. “Or there’s the option for supermarkets to opt for the Italian label, which would then come from the producer/supplier.”

Italian Ravioli
The import of Italian pasta products into the UAE increased by 30% during the last 9 months.

The Italian Trade Agency is currently facilitating the majority of supply to Spinneys and the Waitrose locations it operates in the UAE.

“So, if supermarkets prefer to show their private label, we can do it,” he added “And if they want to show the Italian label, we can do it.”

As long as the products show Italian farmers and exporters, interests get a boost.

The Italian Trade Agency also have an eye on Lulu hypermarket. “Although the demographic is more of a South Asian customer base, who tend to also prefer eating their own cuisine, we still try and stock the shelves of their more western expat dwelling locations,” Dr. Scarpa said.

#SaltBae in your kitchen

Salt Bae
All that was needed was sprinkle salt and get it done on the net. For Nusr-Et, it meant having his own label. Image Credit: Supplied

Internet sensation Nusr-Et is known all over the world for sprinkling salt over medium-rare steaks. “Nusr-Et currently owns restaurants in 12 countries right now,” said Burcin Ozdaryal the Director of Chef Seasons, a gourmet sauce and seasonings company based in Turkey. “We approached him and said that we are the most experienced company to package and market his salt, spices and rubs.” As a result, Chef Seasons can reach a much wider fanbase with Salt-Bae products.

"We spent six months creating this range for him. We started with flavoured salt seasonings.” Products in the range include Smokey Salt, Chili Pepper Salt, Celery Salt and even Beetroot Salt.

“With time we are going to expand the line with steak marinades, steak sauces, seasonings.We want to sell products all over the world. We are trying to penetrate the supermarkets in Dubai.

"The goal is to get into the major retailers. The Carrefours the Lulus, the Spinneys. But all in good time. Gulfood is our first venture out into the UAE, so we are just exploring the response and seeing where things go.”

Ozdaryal also told Gulf News that Chef Seasons is currently the global supplier of Dominos Pizza, Little Caesars Pizza, Subway, Starbucks and many other multinational restaurant chains. But our main focus now is retail.

A focus on gourmet retail


Valrhona, the French premium chocolate manufacturer has, for the longest time, been a major supplier to UAE restaurants. These days leading pastry chefs rely on the artisan quality chocolate brand for their creations.

“If you ever see chocolate cake or a fondant on the menu, it is most likely Valrhona chocolate,” said Zeyneb Larabi, a spokesperson for the brand. “And if it isn’t, it will be most likely be Belgian chocolate.”

The French chocolate brand has been regularly hosting workshops for pastry chefs, who are loyal to the Valrhona brand, on how to improve their techniques, discover new products and recipes.

“A huge portion of what we do is supply to restaurants, train chefs on how to properly utilise our products in their creations and continue to innovate with new flavours. The other portion of what we do is focus on retail.”

Some specialty labels prefer going with the premium channels, such as Jones the Grocer or Les Gastronomes.

Valrhona’s retail venues are certainly more on the premium side. Although their prices are relatively reasonable and accessible. With 1kg of chocolate priced at approximately Dh90, the average bar of chocolate starts from Dh20. They still only sell their products in higher-end gourmet markets like Jones the Grocer or Les Gastronomes.

“We don’t have a plan to supply to regular supermarkets. We sell at gourmet markets or online,” Larabi explained.

During Gulfood, Valrhona launched a new vegan chocolate, Amatika 46 per cent, which the company considers a milestone. “This is the first time in the history that a Vegan Grand cru was created with single Madagascar origins,” Larabi said. This move will hopefully see growth in more food intolerant or vegan customers and as a result, make more room for speciality products on UAE retail shelves.