Expo 2020 is Dubai's chance at a feeding frenzy

UAE businesses vie for a slice of the $550m expected to be spent on F&B during the six-month event
By Courtney Trenwith
Mon 10 Jul 2017 05:34 PM

Emirati mother Najah Hussain Al Muntafiq has been making premium chocolates for UAE giants, including Emirates and Emaar’s Address hotels, for four years, but she is yet to open a retail outlet. She hopes Expo 2020 Dubai will make that dream come true.

Al Muntafiq is one of hundreds of small- and medium-sized food and beverage (F&B) businesses vying for a slice of the $550m expected to be spent on hospitality during the six-month event.

The Expo 2020 organising committee expects up to 85,000 meals to be served each hour on peak days, with at least 5 million meals needed just to feed staff, creating what has been described as “the world’s biggest food operation”.

Much of the food and beverage is expected to come from small, home-grown concepts, which is in line with the Expo’s intention for 20 percent of the value of all contracts to be awarded to SMEs. The opportunities available were highlighted during the latest in a series of BusinessConnect events in Dubai on Mnday.

SMEs from food suppliers to kitchen developers were able to inquire about how they could potentially be involved in the extravaganza.

Al Muntafiq was quick to ask about the opportunities to use the Expo as a means to expand her brand, Coco Jalila, which was born in the UAE. With legacy a crucial component of the Expo planning, cultivating new businesses and supporting the expansion of existing brands is an important element.

“Retail space is my dream, because I haven’t been able to do it because of cost,” Al Muntafiq told Arabian Business.

The Expo also will be a platform for locally grown businesses to showcase their innovations to a global audience.

Organic café Wild & the Moon, which started in Dubai’s Al Serkal Avenue and now has multiple outlets in Paris and New York City, is planning to do just that.

“We’d like to show that a local company can really create a brand here, especially about sustainable, organic, vegan food that’s good for the planet and for the health,” said UAE operations manager Francois Vogelsinger.

“We believe our concept is really matching Expo 2020,” he said, referring to the Expo’s theme of sustainability.

Vogelsinger said the café hoped to set up in a greenhouse within the sustainability pavilion. When asked what additional information he needed before deciding whether to participate in the Expo, he said: “We don’t have any questions; we’d just like to be there”.

“Of course, we need to make money but we want to show our brand first, to bring more customers to our brand and to show what we have.”

The founder of eight-month-old Burger 28, Alex Debare, has a similar mission. He wants to use Expo to showcase the innovation adopted by his Emirati-inspired burger chain, which includes plastic wrapping to prevent the burger sauce from spoiling car seats.

Debare said he would apply to open multiple Burger 28 outlets across the Expo site.

“I want to be the first Abu Dhabi-born F&B concept to open in London; Expo helps me make that a reality. Not only can I get feedback from people from all over the world on whether they like my product or not, the social media exposure -- which is the main way to advertise, especially for SMEs -- is amazing,” Debare said.

Expo 2020’s senior vice-president of commercial, Gillian Hamburger, told Arabian Business about 160 F&B outlets would be required, including those offering impulse purchases, take-away snacks, casual sit-down dining and fine dining. Even pop-up shops and food trucks would be welcome, fitting into another of the Expo’s key themes, mobility.

“What is key for us is flexibility and mobility,” Hamburger said.

“We’re extremely committed to having 20 percent devoted to SMEs as our minimum target for F&B [businesses].”

With 70 percent of the 25 million expected visitors to Expo 2020 coming from abroad, diversity in food options will be pivotal, she said.

All aspects of the food chain will need to be addressed, including safety and hygiene and the logistics of supplying tens of thousands of items each day.

Tenders are due to open in the fourth quarter.

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