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A combined effort by local agriculture and the manufacturing industry is shaping the nation’s economic setting. With steadfast commitment towards food security, fostering economic growth, and preserving cultural heritage, key industry leaders are championing the strategic advantages of growing local, fresh-from-the-farm food, and nurturing home-grown brands. From innovative initiatives to investment in sustainable production infrastructure, these actions exemplify the UAE’s unwavering dedication to resilienceand sustainability.

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Mohammad A. Baker, Deputy Chairman and CEO, GMG

Mohammad A. Baker, Deputy Chairman and CEO, GMG, for one is firmly committed to the UAE’s food security strategy, which is a critical national goal to successfully transform the food system and address global uncertainties and challenges. Baker highlights the importance of initiatives such as Dubai Farms in supporting Emirati farmers and enhancing local production. “As part of the initiative, GMG signed a strategic partnership with Dubai Municipality to market and sell farmers’ products,” says Baker. GMG will collect, package, and market the crops across local outlets. “Through our six state-of-the-art food manufacturing and processing facilities, GMG is helping advance national efforts to develop sustainable food production systems with modern technologies,” he adds. GMG operates the GCC’s largest and the world’s second-largest, fully automated Himalayan pink salt factory.

Turgut Yegenaga, CEO of Al Ghurair Foods, Al Ghurair Resources International, stresses the multifaceted benefits of growing local food, stating, “Growing food locally typically helps boost the local economy by creating new job opportunities, and reducing the reliance on imported products.” Yegenaga discloses the company’s alignment with the UAE’s National Food Strategy 2051 and its investment in local production infrastructure to ensure a consistent food reserve. “That is why Al Ghurair Foods is investing in local food production infrastructure and technologies, giving local food producers a competitive edge,” he says. “This ensures a consistent food reserve, with less dependency on imports and a bigger contribution to the growth of the UAE’s economy.”

Turgut Yegenaga, CEO of Al Ghurair Foods, Al Ghurair Resources International

A spokesperson for Al Jazira echoes the sentiment, saying, “Giving emphasis to the production of local and farm-fresh foods offers significant strategic benefits, not only enhancing the quality and freshness of products available to consumers but also bolstering national economic growth.” They highlight the role of local farming in reducing reliance on imports, creating employment opportunities, and contributing to the country’s GDP. Local farming substantially reduces supply chain and makes the process more efficient. This strategic push towards growing and consuming locally produced fresh food can drive the nation towards a more sustainable and economically robust future, aligning with national goals and objectives.

Abdulla Ajmal, CEO of Ajmal Perfumes

Abdulla Ajmal, CEO of Ajmal Perfumes, underscores the strategic importance of nurturing homegrown brands, stating, “Nurturing homegrown brands in the UAE offers strategic advantages, supporting economic diversification.” Ajmal talks about the role of domestic production in job creation, skill development, and preserving cultural heritage. He adds, “This focus on trust and quality fosters national pride and consumer loyalty, which is key to our success both locally and internationally.”

As the country charts a course towards economic diversification and sustainability, home-grown brands face a myriad of challenges and opportunities within the country’s production and manufacturing sectors. In a sector dominated by multinational corporations, local companies are leveraging their unique strengths to carve out a niche in the competitive market.

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Challenges and opportunity

“Setting up production facilities is notably easier in the UAE with swift approvals and support from regulatory bodies,” notes a spokesperson for Al Jazira. The country’s robust infrastructure and business-friendly environment provide a conducive backdrop for local enterprises. However, challenges arise from competition with subsidised imports and fluctuating commodity prices, underscoring the need for resilience and adaptability. Fluctuations in commodity prices with poultry product prices controlled while input costs remain unregulated, leading to significant strain.

Abdul Jebbar, Group Managing Director, Hotpack Global

Abdul Jebbar, Group Managing Director, Hotpack Global, acknowledges the uphill battle for homegrown brands. “Multinational corporations have the advantage of established brands that are already registered within the minds of consumers,” he explains. Despite this, Jebbar sees opportunities in localising products to cater to consumer preferences, thereby fostering greater acceptance over time. Moreover, homegrown brands play a vital role in contributing to the country’s economic progress and embodying its vision for sustainable growth.

“Homegrown brands have the advantage of being deeply rooted in the local market and understanding the unique preferences and needs of consumers,” he says. “They also have the opportunity to contribute to the country’s economic diversification goals and showcase the capabilities of local talent and expertise.”

Emile Douaihy, CEO of Al Ghurair Foods – Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)

Emile Douaihy, CEO of Al Ghurair Foods – Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), says local brands need to establish their presence from scratch, but this becomes an opportunity to differentiate and appeal to local consumers through factors such as fresh, farm-to-fork options. “We can also tap into the emotional side of our audience, pushing them to advocate for local brands,” says Douaihy. “We have the advantage of being closer to our end-users here in the UAE, which means we can back what we say through our active listening and agile responses to their needs and behaviours. Another significant advantage of local production is the UAE government’s support for local producers, with the ambition of increasing self-sufficiency and improving food security in the Emirates.”

The FMCG industry in the UAE is highly competitive, with the presence of well-established international brands. In such an environment, Baker believes it’s important for local brands to continue innovating in manufacturing, distribution, and marketing.

“Through our farm-to-fork strategy, we position ourselves as a pioneering industry leader in the UAE food industry,” he states. “Focusing on local production can reduce reliance on long-distance transportation, significantly lowering carbon emissions. This environmental benefit supports global sustainability goals and appeals to eco-conscious consumers, enhancing our competitive edge.”

Ajmal highlights the intrinsic value of cultural authenticity and innovation. “Ajmal’s success shows that cultural insights and local market knowledge can drive substantial growth,” he asserts. Despite facing challenges in achieving economies of scale and accessing global distribution networks, Ajmal Perfumes demonstrates the potential of strategic international expansion grounded in a deep understanding of consumer preferences.

Sustainable solutions

It is seen that home-grown brands in the UAE are not just thriving but leading the charge in sustainability and innovation within the manufacturing sector. Through a combination of forward-thinking strategies and relentless dedication to quality, these companies are shaping the future of production processes while contributing significantly to the country’s economic growth and vision.

Talking about his company’s commitment to sustainability and innovation, Baker says, “At GMG, we prioritise sustainability and innovation by aligning closely with our customer-centric values, daring to challenge the status quo, and openly collaborating and partnering.” He highlights GMG’s investment in cutting-edge food manufacturing facilities, which not only support the Make in the Emirates initiative but also align with global standards. Through collaborations with entities like Bustanica and Silal, GMG is furthering its commitment to local production and sustainability, ensuring fresh and organic ingredients for consumers across the UAE.

“We also actively support the UAE’s Food Tech Valley, a federal initiative launched in May 2021 to address food security locally, regionally, and globally,” says Baker. “The initiative aims further to develop vertical farming and other advanced agriculture technologies and bolster the Emirates’ food security.”

Yegenaga calls attention to the pivotal role of sustainability in shaping the success of homegrown brands. “At Al Ghurair Foods, we deeply integrate sustainability and innovation into our operations. Our initiatives, such as utilising solar energy solutions to reduce CO2 emissions and recycled wastewater, reaffirm our commitment to the UAE’s sustainability goals,” he explains.

Moreover, Al Ghurair Foods is running a robust recycling programme for wood, carton, metal, and plastics, which reduces waste and supports the circular economy. “As the largest egg manufacturer in the UAE, we use chicken droppings as soil replacement, which promotes more sustainable agricultural practices by enhancing soil health and reducing the reliance on chemical fertilisers,” says Yegenaga.

Sustainability and innovation are crucial in enhancing both environmental conservation and economic efficiency. It also helps in cost reduction and improved product quality, particularly in the livestock sector where local climate conditions may pose challenges.

“We have been continuously making improvements for a sustainable environment,” says the spokesperson for Al Jazira Poultry. “Some of the sustainable practices include reduction in use of energy to raise hens in cooler environments by using effective insulated buildings to house hens, use of packaging materials that are made from recycled water bottles and recycled waste paper and recirculating water used in keeping poultry houses cool, use of solar power lighting systems, etc.”

Jebbar highlights Hotpack’s relentless pursuit of sustainability through innovative manufacturing processes. “Hotpack has been a frontrunner in making its manufacturing processes completely sustainable,” Jebbar states. From utilising recycled materials in packaging solutions to investing in best-in-class machines, Hotpack is pioneering eco-friendly practices that not only reduce environmental impact but also set new standards for responsible production.