| 18 September, 2017

Inspired by organic and gluten free: Producers eye slice of UAE’s health food market

At Food Specialty Festival, companies aim to capitalise on demand for healthier food options

Assorted gluten free cupcakes on display. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Assorted gluten free cupcakes on display. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Dubai: Walk around The Specialty Food Festival in Dubai, and three words pop-up on every corner: organic and gluten free.

Despite any feelings you might have about these marketing buzzwords, they’re attracting exhibitors, who are aiming to jump on a wave of demand for healthier options.

From gluten-free pastries and snacks to organic coffee beans and protein bars, food producers are competing for a slice of the growing market for healthier food options. Even traditional food producers are launching new categories that are exclusively organic or gluten free.

“You can see supermarkets stocking up on organic products, and creating whole aisles and shelves for these products. Before, you couldn’t really find organic products or healthy products outside of speciality stores, so the demand for that food is definitely getting stronger here,” said Pierre Gebrane, general manager at Wholesome Health Food, a Lebanese company.

Wholesome Health, which already sells some of its products in supermarkets in the UAE, is looking for more distributors in the country and distributors across the region. The company produces quinoa-based snacks (such as flavoured quinoa puffs), fruit juice, organic coffee beans, nut bars, and coconut milk.

“We’ve been introducing new products and new brands recently to cater to demand. Snacks are our best-sellers. Instead of high-calorie snacks, people are starting to choose high-protein, low-calorie snacks, and that’s what we provide,” Gebrane said.

And it’s not just him. Norway-based Sigdal Bakery is also aiming to expand its footprint into the GCC with its crisp bread made from seeds and kernels. The company also produces a line of gluten-free bread and organic bread.

A spokesperson from Sigdal described demand as “massive,” adding that there is strong interest in this part of the world.

“It’s not just a trend that will fade; people are health-conscious and they’re trying new diets. They read the ingredients on their products and understand what they’re buying, so demand is only growing and growing. Even if people aren’t trying to get fit, they’re looking for healthy products,” the spokesperson said.

For Dubai-based Skinny Genie, the company is going a step further, offering food options that include dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, and sugar-free products. Their products include raw bars, bread, and other pastries.

Yann Jolivet, founder of Skinny Genie, said the company has also started supplying its products to a few countries outside the UAE including Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt.

“Four years ago, we had to explain our products to every chef we talked to. In the past few years, demand grew exponentially in America and Europe, and that travelled here. People are more health-conscious now, and they also want to give proper food to their kids instead of junk food,” he said.

Jolivet added, “It’s important to promote the fact that you, as a retailer or distributor, don’t have to import [healthy food]. There’s local availability in the UAE.”

The Specialty Food Festival is being held under the umbrella of the Dubai International Hospitality Week, taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

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