Abdulla Al Saleh (fourth from left), Undersecretary of Foreign Trade and Industry at the UAE Ministry of Economy, inaugurated the event Image Credit: Supplied

Future Food Forum, the Middle East's largest annual gathering of industry leaders, opened today, marking a significant milestone in regional food security, sustainability, innovation, and consumer wellbeing discussions.

Abdulla Al Saleh, Undersecretary of Foreign Trade and Industry at the UAE Ministry of Economy, inaugurated the event, which focuses on the theme of Inspiring Sustainable Well-being, bringing together F&B industry, government officials, and business leaders to emphasise the importance of fostering self-reliant food supplies and harnessing agri-tech for enhanced food security in the Middle East.

In the following keynote address, Mohammad Ali Al Kamali, COO of Manufacturing and Exports Development, Dubai Industries and Exports, said, "The food and beverage manufacturing sector is a vital sector of the economy, not only because it contributes to economic growth and creates jobs, but also because it ensures food safety and meets the growing and evolving demand for food while ensuring that products comply with regulations to meet nutritional requirements. Therefore, food producers are a crucial factor in promoting public health.

Mohammad Ali Al Kamali, COO of Manufacturing and Exports Development, Dubai Industries and Exports, delivering the opening keynote address at Future Food Forum 2023

"With the Dubai Economic Agenda – the D33's ambitious goal to double the size of Dubai's economy in the next ten years and consolidate its position among the top three world cities – it also aims to double foreign trade to Dh25.6 trillion. The future is about growing and exporting, and I urge the sector to seize these opportunities. Together, let's make the F&B sector in the UAE and the region thrive."

The two-day event, hosted at Le Meridian Hotel Dubai and organised by the UAE Food & Beverage Business Group (F&B Group) under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Economy and Dubai Chamber, with support from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Food Tech Valley, saw the official launch of F&B Group's UAE Food Platform, supported by stakeholders and the government, which seamlessly integrates UAE food data into a single platform, promising strategic decision-making. Meanwhile, the Group's Emiratisation remains a top priority, driven by the Ishraq Program and the Innovation Lab, which aim to cultivate a competitive team and environment.

Future Food Forum 2023 highlights the country's advancement in the F&B sector and innovations driving the Made in the UAE products for local and global markets, value projects and Emiratisation of the industry in building a competitive yet sustainable F&B ecosystem.

Welcoming the gathering, Saleh Lootah, Chairman of the UAE Food & Beverage Business Group, said, "It is a pivotal moment for the F&B sector in the region, one where the sector is taking a new strategic direction to ensure UAE's position as the regional food hub of excellence. This transformation is underpinned by visionary government directives, a testament to our commitment to promoting UAE-made food products, not just for local consumption but also for global market access.

Saleh Lootah, Chairman of the UAE Food and Beverage Business Group, delivering the welcome address at the Future Food Forum 2023

"The global challenges of our time have cast a spotlight on the urgency of food security, particularly given the UAE's reliance on food imports. Geopolitical events like the Ukraine war have underscored the significance of strategic partnerships for sustained food security. Technological innovation has received strong government backing, particularly in agri-tech and vertical farming. There's also a renewed focus on boosting our own food production to achieve significant market penetration, both locally and internationally. Moreover, the government actively supports in-country value projects within the food sector, fostering local enterprise and innovation. As technological evolutions and cost dynamics reshape partnerships and spawn new business models, the food sector is also adapting. E-commerce dynamics have pressed manufacturers to establish direct relationships with end-users."

This multifaceted approach, interwoven with local production, innovation and Emiratisation, is carving a distinct and ambitious path for the UAE in the global food landscape. It's a journey made possible through collaborative efforts that harness digital and tech breakthroughs, all under the guiding leadership of the UAE, steering the sector towards resilience and global prominence.

The opening session featured speakers including Ebtesam AlKaabi, Head of Sales, Jafza; Yerlan A. Baidaulet, Director General of the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS); Youssef Mohamed, Alibaba.com MEA Managing Partner of JSC Middle East & Africa; Andrey Dvoychenkov, Managing Director - Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan, Nielsen; and Dr Ashraf Mahate, Chief Economist - Trade and Export Market Development – Dubai Industries and Exports.

The first day of the event featured focused sessions on India and Saudi Arabia, shedding light on topics such as the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which is poised to fortify food security and sustainability through cross-border collaboration. Other sessions provided valuable insights into investment trends in food tech startups, sustainable food initiatives, government-backed funding opportunities, and the growth potential of Saudi Arabia's F&B industry in line with Vision 2030.

The Free From Food exhibition, co-located under the forum, showcases the thriving healthy, organic, vegan, plant-based, functional, and free-from food sectors across Middle Eastern countries. Additionally, various sessions delved into strategies for promoting locally grown produce, addressing critical issues related to climate change's impact on food security, and exploring opportunities to foster a circular economy in the food sector.

Supported by leading organisations and featuring active participation from prominent business councils worldwide, including the International Islamic Food Processors Association (IFPA), Future Food Forum 2023 lays a comprehensive road map for the food sector's trade ecosystem to achieve economic and climate sustainability goals in the UAE. The event is supported by DP World and key sponsors in the industry, including IFFCO, AGTHIA, Al Ghurair Foods, Almarai, SGS, Emirates Development Bank, Sadia, and Hayatna as leading partners. Industry organisations such as IFPA have added their expertise and insights to the discussions.