Gulfood lead
Health, convenience and overall experience play critical roles in deciding what people eat and where they choose to eat Image Credit: Shutterstock

The UAE, or more precisely, Dubai is considered a favoured entry point or rather a testing ground for companies looking to secure a foothold in the region. Home to several international brands and restaurants catering to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population, the emirate is a good barometer to understand the mood of the food and beverage industry in the region.

In line with the global trends, the Middle East’s food and beverage market is expected to be dictated by dining habits of millennials, with health, convenience and experience factors increasingly playing an important role in deciding what they eat and where they eat. “The major factors that drive the growth in the UAE’s F&B industry are surging demand for fresh food, the popularity of online ordering platforms and an expanding tourist base that will create demand for more outlets with a diverse cuisine,” says Siyad K., CEO of Adan Garden, an organic store (adangarden.com) promoting locally produced certified products.

The major factors that drive the growth in the UAE’s F&B industry are surging demand for fresh food, the popularity of online ordering platforms and an expanding tourist base that will create demand for more outlets with a diverse cuisine.

- Siyad K., CEO of Adan Garden

Here’s a look at some of the top trends driving the Middle East F&B industry:

Super-casualisation

In this region, we expect to see strong growth in competitive socialising concepts as people increasingly look for reasons to leave the house, dine, socialise and get entertained.

- Alexis Marcoux-Varvatsoulis, Foodservice Consulting Lead MENA at JLL

In this region, we expect to see strong growth in competitive socialising concepts as people increasingly look for reasons to leave the house, dine, socialise and get entertained, says Alexis Marcoux-Varvatsoulis, Foodservice Consulting Lead MENA at JLL, With “convenience, speed, and flexibility” factors taking a centre stage, he says a new trend called ‘super-casualisation’ will play a key role in the Middle East over the next five years.

“This will replace the older, white tablecloth, three-course meal experience with more casual environments, service styles and dining timelines,” says Marcoux-Varvatsoulis, adding that good examples of this trend are Wavehouse at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai and Flight Club in London, UK.

Healthy and organic food

It’s not just the experience, consumers are paying greater attention to what goes inside their body and how it affects their health. There is a strong increase in healthier, organic and more sustainable food as this change is driven by the younger generations and their priorities.

Organic food is also better when produced locally as it is fresh and authentic.

- Umut Özkanca, Founding Partner of Rüya and CEO, d.ream

People are after the healthier choice when it comes to food and drinks, staying away from chemicals, says Umut Özkanca, Founding Partner of Rüya and CEO, d.ream.

“Organic food is also better when produced locally as it is fresh and authentic,” he says, adding that they offer authentic and contemporary Turkish cuisine that is both home-grown and high quality.

Given that there is a rising demand for healthy and organic food, Al Maya Group, which runs a chain of supermarkets and hypermarkets, has created a dedicated team of business managers, who constantly look for sourcing such products.

“Also during the Gulfood, our focus is to identify healthier product range to satisfy the needs of the consumers,” says Kamal Vachani, Group Director, Al Maya Group.

During the Gulfood, our focus is to identify healthier product range to satisfy the needs of the consumers.

- Kamal Vachani, Group Director, Al Maya Group

Since the consumers of today are well educated, widely travelled and are able to differentiate between healthy and substandard food, he says it provides ample opportunity for companies like Al Maya to explore further about the source of quality organic, healthy and more importantly locally sourced products.

Priyanka Mittal, Director, KRBL, which launched its healthy food range India Gate Quinoa in 2017, says they have seen good growth in the demand for healthier food options in the region.

Sustainability and animal welfare are going to influence our food choices this year.

- Jacek Plewa, General Manager, Global Food Industries (GFI)

In UAE, 40 per cent of consumers are keen to choose healthier alternatives, including natural and organic products, says Jacek Plewa, General Manager, Global Food Industries (GFI).

“Sustainability and animal welfare are going to influence our food choices this year,” he says.

Home-grown concepts

Globalisation has many benefits but, in some cases, markets became too branded, feels Marcoux-Varvatsoulis.

“International brands are great and there is a strong market out there, however, the local heroes should not be overlooked,” he says.

When traveling, for example, adds Marcoux-Varvatsoulis, food plays a big part in experiencing each culture. “It is important for each market to have a local identity in terms of food service.”

It is important for the new restaurants to create a true identity that translates into a customer experience to promote repeat business. The ability to change, adaptability, new kitchen techniques and technology is key in this fast environment.

- Thorsten Beerman, Executive Chef at Hilton Al Hamra

Thorsten Beerman, Executive Chef at Hilton Al Hamra, points out that every operator is trying to stay relevant and

90 per cent of new launches are trend driven, creating too many concepts that have diluted dining segments.

“It is important for the new restaurants to create a true identity that translates into a customer experience to promote repeat business. The ability to change, adaptability, new kitchen techniques and technology is key in this fast environment,” he says.

Veganism & plant-based food

While UAE and the Middle East was predominantly known for being meat lovers, an increasing number of people have started to turn to veganism as they want to stay away from meat to reduce their impact on the planet.

“A significant portion of the population earlier chose vegan or vegetarian options either to lose weight or stay fit but the reasons are a multifold today,” says Mittal.

Adopters of veganism today do it for reasons including lifestyle and healthy choice, compassionate living and environmental protection.

- Priyanka Mittal, Director, KRBL

“Adopters of veganism today do it for reasons including lifestyle and healthy choice, compassionate living and environmental protection,” Mittal adds.

She says 2019 will witness a rise in the number of restaurants offering plant-based food preparations to cater to the requirements of the growing vegetarian and vegan population.

Technology driven

Finally, industry experts say technology will accelerate change and frequency of change, ultimately minimising the trend life circle moving forward.

Driven by technology, the big changes are expected to come from food delivery which is estimated to grow at 13 per cent to reach $365 billion worldwide by 2022, according to UBS Evidence Lab, 2018.

“Food delivery may introduce great innovation such as robot cooks and drone delivery, in parts, replacing the need to cook or even maybe, include a kitchen at home,” says Marcoux-Varvatsoulis.

Premiumisation drives the beverage industry

Like food, in the beverage segment too, the consumer appetite is heading towards products that are healthy, sustainable and locally sourced. Premium water, for instance, says Jacques Le Moigne, Executive Director, Ocean Fresh Water, is the fastest growing beverage segment because it matches all these requirements.

“This appears to be particularly the case in the UAE. People are looking for genuine and unique products,” he says. Le Moigne points out that young active city dwellers want to enjoy a dynamic and elegant lifestyle where design plays a key role. “Elegant water bottles are definitely a plus to meet this demand,” he adds.

Young active city dwellers want to enjoy a dynamic and elegant lifestyle where design plays a key role. “Elegant water bottles are definitely a plus to meet this demand.

- Jacques Le Moigne, Executive Director, Ocean Fresh Wate

Siyad K., CEO of Adan Garden says that though the UAE is moving in the direction of organic food and drinks, the concept doesn’t apply much in the case of milk.

“That’s why we have re-launched the good old fresh from farm concept to deliver locally produced, EU and UAE certified, 100 per cent organic fresh milk in glass bottles at your doorsteps,” he says.

As consumers become more aware of the need to protect nature and preserve the planet for future generations, Le Moigne says it is most likely that sustainability will play a growing role in the UAE’s bottled water market.

“People will want to know how brands are addressing these issues, plastic recycling and water resources management, in particular,” he adds.