UAE is, or at least should be, a top pick for food producers who are looking to export to new markets as the country’s food imports will likely reach record levels in the next years. A recent report by the UAE Government estimates that the Emirates’ food consumption will reach 59.2 million tonnes by 2021 which means that UAE’s food imports are also expected to soar. In these conditions, a steadily growing number of food importers are trying to meet the demands of the country’s more than 16,500 food outlets and restaurants.
For producers, the good news is that there’s demand for almost all types of foods, from basic ingredients and spices to high-end gourmet products as the country hosts diverse mix of expats, tourists and Emirati citizens.
Top food imports and future trends
As in the rest of the developed world, more and more consumers become interested in the origin of the products and in the quality of the ingredients. Gourmet foods from France, Italy or Spain are imported heavily by the restaurant industry. In 2017 for example, UAE imported more than 2.000 tonnes of cream from France.
Health food and organic products are also hot picks as the Emirates tries to promote a healthier lifestyle for its population with initiatives like the Dubai Fitness Challenge. Health bars, nuts and various cereals gain more traction.
South America has also become a preferred source for the UAE food importers ($600 million worth of food purchased in the first half of 2017), especially since the opening of the an office of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo last year. The majority of the imports came from the region’s most powerful economies – Brazil, Mexico and Argentina and meat and live animals were among the top imported items.
Rice is extremely important in the region’s cuisine and South Korea is an important partner for UAE in this category. Korea exports rice, as well as rice products like cookies noodles and cakes to the Emirates. Other top rice import markets for UAE are India, Pakistan, Thailand and USA.
Tips for getting into the market
UAE’s vibrant and rich economy attracts the interests of food exporters worldwide but the challenges that this market presents are not to be ignored. There are some very important cultural aspects that govern the business environment, from personal contacts to advertising and legal requirements. Islam plays a central role in the region and taking some time to understand these traditions that govern almost all aspects of UAE’s existence is a must. Respect and modesty, are very important, more so than in many European or US business relationships.
Entering the market can be done via direct export, agents or by setting up a physical presence in the country. Many companies choose to work with agents, as they have extended powers thanks to UAE’s legislation. Working with regional importers or distributors is also an effective way for market penetration. As an initial contact, producers can use a database with food importers from the UAE, like the one provided by BestFoodImporters.