The UAE, like many countries across the world, is seeing huge changes to its population in terms of attitudes to eating and consumption habits. But just what are these trends and what could they mean for your product’s entry into this huge market?
Trend #1: a growing hunger for organic foods
Organic food is the biggest and fastest growing market in the UAE region, driven by high disposable incomes coupled with a greater awareness of health issues and the benefits of organic produce; in a recent study in the UAE, around 80% of the sampled population agreed with the suggestion to improve availability, pricing and education in relation to organic produce. This is in line with government targets, as farmers are increasingly encouraged to use land to grow organically.
However, the market is hugely limited by the climate of the area, as the lack of potable water and the high costs of desalination means that the UAE must rely heavily on imports. This could mean an opportunity for UK products which are able to gain organic certification and gain traction in this fast-growing market.
Trend #2 Sports nutrition
Sports nutrition saw a 98.5% value growth from 2011 to 2016, alongside an increase in sales of sports nutrition products, weight management products, and vitamin supplements. As more and more people come to realise the benefits of sport and exercise to complement a healthy and balanced diet, so too do they turn towards products which can aid them – either by boosting energy or by providing a nutritional or physical benefit, such as protein products.
The latter accounted for 83% of overall sales in 2016, of which protein powders formed the greatest proportion and was followed by protein bars and RTDs (Ready To Drink). This is especially significant as Western media boosts demand for the muscular, toned look, and younger generations seek to achieve the results advertised by products or encouraged by online campaigns and celebrities.
This interest in Western ideals and sports nutrition could mean a gap in the market for up and coming UK protein-based products, who could use this rising trend to build a reputation and brand loyalty with new consumers who are just starting to turn towards this kind of product. Products could do especially well if they are able to combine a functional sports aid with another key trend: for example, by using organic produce or appealing to speciality free-from diets.
Trend #3: free-from foods flourish
Another category which is fast becoming a niche opportunity for UK exporters is that of the free-from sector – thanks to popular western or celebrity diets and a growing perception of eating gluten-free foods as a healthier and more attractive lifestyle, the UAE has seen Free From packaged food grow by 19% in 2016, most of which has come from gluten-free bread. The latter saw the most dynamic value growth in 2016, although its sales have been boosted not by people who are genuinely intolerant to gluten, but rather by those who see it as healthier or more fashionable: it is a lifestyle symbol as opposed to a functional choice.
However, as the UAE does not currently issue a gluten-free certificate, most of these products are imported. This therefore represents a strong opportunity for UK brands who could use this recognition and certification to appeal to both consumers who require gluten-free products for their health as well as those who choose it as part of their fashion diet.
Trend #4: on-the-go snacking is on the up
In 2016, savoury snacks saw a retail value growth of 14%, an increase which has mostly been supported by new demand for convenience as well as healthy alternatives to traditional snack foods. As such, nuts, seeds and trail mixes was the most dynamic category, while rice snacks saw the highest % percentage volume growth at 85.4 between 2011 and 2016.
This trend was also boosted by the choice of many manufacturers to provide a greater variety and flexibility of pack sizes, allowing snacks to be taken on the go and portion sizes to be controlled.
This category is already largely populated with international brands which benefit from brand recognition and loyalty among consumers, such as Kettle Chips, Lay’s, Pringles, Doritos, and others, although local brands such as Best and Gyma Bayara lead value sales in the nuts, seeds, and trail mixes category as many of these products already feature in traditional diets. This could be beneficial for UK brands, knowing that consumers in the UAE are already willing to look to international brands for their savoury snacks – but it also indicates an already crowded market, with strong competition from pre-established brands. With some innovation and perhaps a combination with other trends, however, it is very possible that this could form an export opportunity for your product.
Trend #5: tea is a hot topic
The UAE is one of the few countries where tea can be pitched to different demographic segments of the population based on different ways of consuming tea among different nationalities, a factor which can make marketing of related products more complicated.
Nevertheless, the category is being boosted by the growing number of flavour options, as well as the health and wellness trend. Online bloggers and fitness enthusiasts extol tea’s benefits, while others revel in the range of new blends and origins. As such, tea has seen a 7% retail value growth in 2016, with particular consumer preference for speciality black tea and fruit/herbal teas which sell at a higher unit price than standard black tea.
The trend is also strongly supported by the influx of Indian and Arab expats into the region, as well as a trend towards tea with functional properties such as slimming tea. This could represent a great opportunity for UK brands offering new and exciting flavours or properties to this market, although the heavy competition could be a barrier to entry. Teas with brand recognition in the UK may also benefit from brand loyalty among expatriates in the UAE.
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