Behind the bright lights of this growing market lies a shifting attitude to food and health.
According to a study investigating consumer attitudes towards health and organic foods*, more than 70% of the sampled population in the UAE acknowledged the health and environmental benefits of buying and eating organic foods, and around 80% agreed with the suggestion to improve availability, pricing and education in relation to organic produce..
This reflects a country which is becoming ever more interested in buying and consuming healthy foods – organic food is the biggest and fastest growing market in the region**, driven by high disposable incomes coupled with a greater awareness of eating and health issues. The UAE ministry of Environment and Water has set a target to use more farmland for growing organic crops, but this is a difficult task due to the lack of potable water and the cost of desalination. Understandably, this leads to a very high rate of imports, as well as more expensive products, a factor which has been marked as a major barrier to people buying organic foods.
Farming methods and lack of certification has also been blamed, suggesting that consumers would be more willing to pay the premium price if it were certain that the products had been produced in the correct way.
Despite this barrier, availability of organic packaged goods is improving, with leading supermarket and hypermarket chains such as Spinney’s and the French brand Carrefourincreasing their organic product ranges. Previously, organic foods had been found mainly in specialist chains. Among these product ranges, organic reduced fat milk is the most dynamic, while organic baby food has also seen huge growth (current value growth of 22%), going from 6.3 million sales in 2010 to 17.2 million in 2015.**