Dubai: At Gulfood, said to be the world’s biggest annual food trade show, which wrapped up in Dubai on Thursday, there was an almost overwhelming sloganeering for healthy food.
It was impossible not to walk past stalls touting everything from all-natural to chemical-free food and drink. And the variety at the show, which this year attracted 5,000 exhibitors at 120 country pavilions, was just as endless.
It makes you think whether nobody eats unhealthily anymore.
We’re not quite there yet, exhibitors said, but consumers today are losing appetite for unhealthy processed food and growing hungrier for food with health benefits.
Jerry Zeifman, president of Health Matters, a Canada-based distributor of health and wellness products, said food and drink infused with probiotics and ayurvedic herbs is trending globally.
Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria while Ayurveda is a medicine system originating in ancient India.
“This trend is exploding all over the world,” said Zeifman. “People want healthier products, they want products which are clean, without pesticides and contaminants,” he added, while handing out servings of Health Matters’ own brand ‘Organic Traditions’ chocolate latte with what is said to be one billion probiotics for intestinal health, and an ayurvedic herb, which is said to lower stress.
“This is a vegan product even though it says ‘latte’, which means milk,” said Zeifman. “The creaminess from what you’re drinking is coming from organic coconut milk powder.”
But are these trendy health treats good for the consumer’s wallet too?
Zeifman said “our products are very affordable”, pointing out that “if you break the price down in Dubai, this 200ml mug will be less than $1 [around Dh3.67].”
“Everybody goes to a coffee shop, they spend $3 or $4, they don’t think about it — and those drinks don’t come with probiotics and they are not certified organic,” he added.
“There’s a trend worldwide towards healthier living and the Middle East is growing very fast in this trend. The trend in going-green products is accelerating exponentially.”
Home remedies in a box?
Another Gulfood exhibitor, Sonnentor from Austria, is offering ‘organic herbal functional teas’ that take on from home remedies for a range of ailments. For example, one of their tea packs shows a frog in a man’s throat — it’s tea for when you have a sore throat, containing lime flowers, elderberry blossoms, rosehip, ribwort and common mallow.
They also have teas for liver detox, relaxation, stomach upsets, and to get a good night’s sleep.
Sabrina Aistleitner, global brand ambassador for Sonnentor, a 30-year-old family-run business, said their packaging, using such illustrations, is “self-explanatory because many people don’t know which herbs are suitable for what health issues.”
Consumers are not health experts but they expect their food and beverage providers to be, she explained.
Bernhard Schneider, also Sonnentor global brand ambassador, said: “It’s a fact this is the fastest growing trend. People are becoming health-conscious because there are too many non-healthy products on the market. They’re just getting tired of that.”
He added: “And the healthy products are getting cheaper as the demand grows, because the volume and competition grows too. To have the momentum and the critical mass behind it, as a purchasing power, it certainly helps. It’s an interesting cycle.”
Today’s consumers want to have their cake and eat it too, said Ben Bekkers from SweetLife Switzerland, the company behind candy-like ‘Fruit Forest’ snacks (Dh7) that are said to be 100 per cent natural and all fruit based.
“The demand for health products is definitely rising and while this may look like candy it is actually a healthy snack and alternative to chocolate or chips,” said Bekkers.
“There’s a lot of obese people in the world. People are becoming much more aware of the health problems and what they eat. There’s a trend towards less processed food and more natural food.”
It only helps if healthy products are savoury as well though, he said.
“Healthier products, say 15 years ago, didn’t taste so good, so there was a limited audience for these kinds of products, but now people are aware ‘I want to eat healthy but it should taste good too’. Otherwise it doesn’t sell.”
While riding the healthy food wave, it is also important to stay anchored in fact, said Jad Charafeddine, managing director of Dubai-based Advanced Baking Concept LLC, whose ‘ProBake’ brand of breads have no preservatives. Using an innovative technique of “shock freezing” or “blast freezing”, the bread lasts nine months in the freezer, he said.
“Healthy bread is, in general, healthy. It’s the basic food source, the basic carb source. If someone’s looking for good health, they should also look at their lifestyle rather than just what they’re eating,” he added.
“All natural food is healthy, you need it all in your dietary intake. But you need to change your lifestyle as well, to move more, rather than just going on a diet of healthy food.”