UAE - The demand for safe and organic food has been witnessing a steady increase across the UAE, and the GCC region, in line with global trends, where consumers are becoming more mindful of the products that they are consuming, experts said during the Gulfood 2020 exhibition.
Speaking to Khaleej Times during the event, which concluded on Thursday, Amedeo Scarpa, Italian Trade Commissioner to the UAE and director of the Italian Trade Agency Dubai Office, noted that consumers, especially families, are more aware about the importance of eating healthy food. This awareness, he explained, has led to a sizable increase in the demand of various segments such as organics, non-GMOs, and foods that are free from pesticides.
"There is a lot of interest in fresh fruits and vegetables from Italy," he said. "The market for these is growing daily. Salads and various cheeses are also growing in popularity. Millennials in particular are very up to date when it comes to food trends and healthy eating. They follow various channels on social media and they learn not just about food products but also about how they are grown, harvested, and packaged. They are sensitive about what they are eating. Several brands from Italy have already found a home in the UAE, and this is mainly because Italy has one of the safest food production lines in the world - we are trusted for our food safety and quality."
Scarpa predicted that the figures would continue to grow as more consumers became aware about the importance of eating food made with healthy ingredients. "We have a saying about having a good mind in a good body and that you are what you eat. If you eat good food, then you are investing in your body and heath."
Christophe Monnier, head of the Agri-Food Division at Business France, noted that he is "still quite impressed by the quantity of junk food that people consume" in the GCC region. However, he observed that the situation is slowly changing as consumers become more oriented towards healthy, quality, and safe choices. "We are seeing a trend where people are not hesitant when it comes to spending a little bit more money to buy food items that are organic and healthy."
Like Scarpa, he said that families are leading the way when it comes to changing their eating habits, because parents everywhere want to ensure that their children are getting the very best and most nutritious foods when it comes to meal times.
"Food and gastronomy is very important to the French people, and we are delighted with this chance to share our recipes with the rest of the world at Gulfood," he said. "French products have always been very popular in the Middle East region, and we are certain that our food and beverage exports to the region will continue to grow in the years to come."
Data by Business France revealed that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the top importers of all French food and beverages categories in the region, followed by Egypt and Lebanon. Since 2010, a 50 per cent increase in demand for French F&B products has been recorded in the UAE.
David Gau, director of Operations for the Middle East & Central Asia at Casino Group, which made its debut at Gulfood this year, said that the French retailer intends to expand its presence across the UAE. A big part of this expansion, he said, revolves around understanding the current and future needs of the market. Right now, he believes that the UAE is "just in the beginning of its organic movement."
"It is still seen as a niche segment, but we are seeing it move into the orbit of consumers; they want to consume products that are good for their health, and they are paying attention to ideas such as sustainability and their impact on the environment," he said. "Over the last few years, we have seen organic food products being heavily promoted across the region."
Asked about the fact that organic products in the market are still more expensive than their counterparts, he said that it was only a matter of time before the prices were adjusted. "Retailers, manufacturers, and distributors have to adjust the price to match with the market demand. Keep in mind that Dubai has over a 100 nationalities living here, so it takes time for a product or a segment to gain traction among the different demographics. However, organics have seen a huge boost in popularity due to celebrity chefs and fitness personalities on social media."
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