Poultry farm
More and more consumers are looking for antibiotic- and hormone-free locally produced poultry Image Credit: Shutterstock

Hygienic, hormone-free and local: These are a few of the key buzzwords brought up by UAE experts asked about consumer trends in the poultry space. “Consumers are becoming more health-conscious,” says Ajay Rampal, CEO of IFFCO Poultry, adding that chicken buyers are also beginning to pay closer attention to how hygienically packed their birds are — unsurprising, given the widespread concern over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consumers are becoming more health-conscious.

- Ajay Rampal, CEO of IFFCO Poultry

Chicken of convenience

For Willem van Walt Meijer, CEO of Al Ain Farms, increasingly fast-paced lifestyles are driving demand for convenience and easy-to-prepare poultry options, such as the chicken sausages Al Ain recently launched at its farm’s stores in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Like Rampal, he stresses the importance of antibiotic- and hormone-free birds, while also emphasising why local matters more to buyers: “The source of origin is also an important factor, as most of the consumers prefer locally produced meat due to health and safety reasons.

“With increasing awareness of a need for sustainable local farming, we believe transparency in our operations has made local customers more aware that fresh meat produced locally is often a better option.”

Data nuggets

Meanwhile, Jeanette Kristensen Alhaider, General Manager of Emirates National Food, which markets the Al Rawdah brand of poultry, shares some chicken-specific market nuggets: “Chicken is the preferred source of protein across all consumer income levels in the UAE. Household consumers generally prefer whole birds that are small in size – between 0.8 and 1.3kg.

Chicken is the preferred source of protein across all consumer income levels in the UAE.

- Jeanette Kristensen Alhaider, General Manager of Emirates National Food

“Consumption of boneless chicken is growing and is increasingly used in many cuisines. Whole-bird grillers are in high demand from both hotel and retail sectors. Trade sources state that nearly 60 per cent of all imported poultry is used by the food service sector.

“Additionally, the relatively low price of leg quarters makes them popular with catering companies that service the massive manual labour sector.”

Despite the rapid rise of Kibsons, Instashop, Fresh to Home and other services that let people order meat and other groceries in, Rampal says hypermarkets still rule the roost when it comes to consumer trust for poultry shopping spots. However, while he states that consumers do prefer the taste of fresh chicken over frozen, he adds that they are often confused when facing supermarket shelves that stock fresh and defrosted products side by side, often without adequate labelling.

Poultry peaks

While Alhaider says the overall UAE economy saw slow growth in 2019, she adds that the chicken market is expected to rebound by 2 per cent around the middle of this year, as we approach Expo 2020.

“According to our observation, the demand peaks during first week and last week of each month and our main seasons are the first quarter and fourth quarter of each year, considering the hero season that is Ramadan and back to school.”

In terms of orders from F&B operators versus retail, Rampal outlines a few differences: “F&B is negligible in comparison. They are on the lookout for cheaper frozen options, which have a 365-day shelf life.”

In the UAE, IFFCO brand Al Khazna is primarily sold and distributed to retailers, though IFFCO has also partnered with a number of e-commerce players, including Kibsons, Choithrams, LuLu, Carrefour webstore and Farmbox.

Alhaider says, “Fresh and healthy is the main concern and trend worldwide. UAE consumers purchasing fresh products more often will follow the world trend and focus more in the coming period on local fresh products first.

“Then frozen comes as an option with observed record for online and ecommerce purchase.”

Expo impact

Last year, Al Ain Farms was selected as the official dairy provider for Expo 2020 Dubai - something van Walt Meijer is proud of. “Through a collaboration based on the shared principles of sustainability and innovation, Al Ain Farms will help take Expo 2020 into millions of homes across the country as well as welcome visitors from all over the world to Expo with its quality local products.

“By locally sourcing Expo’s dairy requirements, Expo 2020 will help minimise the food miles, lower the environmental impact and support development of sustainable food and beverages produced in the UAE.”