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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Food industry sets sights on Middle East markets

Gulfood consolidates position as leading FMCG expo with 40% growth for 2007 show and conferences on food safety and halal markets

It is not surprising that this year’s Gulfood exhibition, the region’s leading event for the FMCG sector, is set to be the biggest edition in the event’s 20 year history. Indeed, in the past year, the region’s food industry has experienced rapid growth and development. For example, the UAE alone has been importing US $3 billion of food annually in recent years, and its foodservice market is estimated to have grown by about 10% in 2006.

Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy, has also experienced spectacular growth in its food sector. Food sales in the country amounted to more than US $3.5 billion between January and November 2006, an increase of 5.8% compared with the same period in 2005, according to figures from ACNielsen.

Furthermore, leading players in the FMCG sector across the Middle East, such as Kraft Foods and Nestle, are ramping up their level of investment and their presence in the region.

Indeed, Kraft Foods MEA recently laid the cornerstone of what will be its first factory in the Middle East, in Bahrain Investment Park.

The factory, a 60,000 sq ft, US $40 million cheese and beverage plant, is set to be completed by the end of the year. FMCG giant Unilever Arabia has also responded to increased sales by increasing its production facilities. The company doubled the production capacity of its UAE-based Lipton tea factory, allowing it to produce more than 50,000 tonnes of tea a year.

With this level of growth in the region’s FMCG sector, companies large and small from around the world are increasingly taking an interest in the Middle East. Whether they are food distributors looking for the latest product, or manufacturers looking for new markets, Gulfood is viewed as an ideal platform to gain an insight, and a foothold, into one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

And this year’s exhibition is likely to impress its exhibitors and visitors. The event is growing in tandem with this ongoing market upsurge, achieving a 40% increase in exhibition space and record participation in 2007, with many countries being represented at the event for the first time. This will make Gulfood 2007 the largest ever.

The show has been expanded to occupy an additional 15,000 sq m in the new Zabeel Hall. “As one of the largest global events of its kind, Gulfood is a pivotal platform for the food and hospitality industry. The phenomenal growth of Gulfood 2007 is a further affirmation of its top-notch reputation and standing in competitive international arena,” said Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of Dubai World Trade Centre.

This year’s event will host more than 2,000 companies from over 70 countries, making it the most important food and hospitality event for the Middle East, Africa and Indian subcontinent region. Exhibitors from countries including Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, Georgia and Latvia will be taking part in Gulfood for the first time, and national groups from Brazil, Chile, Ireland, Latvia, Montenegro and Syria will also be making their debut.

Part of the international appeal of Gulfood is that the UAE is well placed as a distribution hub for the region, according to Al Marri. “Strategically located in an environment that reflects the internationalisation of the food and beverage market, and in view of the ongoing surging demand for imported and pre-prepared food on a worldwide scale, Gulfood 2007 provides the essential business interchange for buyers and sellers seeking to penetrate the regional market,” Al Marri added.

“Given Dubai’s central position at the heart of the global food export market, and Gulfood’s prestigious record in delivering real business opportunities, it is natural for international companies to make Gulfood their business choice,” he added. “We are very pleased to present them with an even bigger platform this year to develop and grow their business in the region.”

Furthermore, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the largest producers and importers of food and grains in the world, with Egypt being the biggest wheat importer in the world, and Turkey, among the top countries for wheat production, according to Dubai World Trade Centre.

Dubai plays a key role in the distribution of food in the region, with over 70% of total UAE food imports re-exported to more than 160 countries including the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, North and East Africa, and, increasingly, the Central Asian Republics.

Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia remains the largest market for food imports, representing about 60% of the total food market.

Some countries are reliant on imports to meet their food needs, which – given the rising population – is creating markets with major potential. Kuwait, for example, imports 100% of its food, and food imports made up 30% of the average total imports for Egypt in 2006, according to the Egyptian Exporters Association (EEA).

“Egypt is an important country within the food industry, both as a major producer of food and a rapidly-developing market,” said Dalia Kabeel of the EEA. “Such is the demand and interest from Egyptian companies in forging new links with companies from around the world that we are hosting our largest-ever national pavilion participation at Gulfood 2007.”

As a result of such strong global growth, leading up to its 12th edition, Gulfood has grown to become one of the world’s biggest trade hubs for the foodservice and hospitality sector, with an estimated reach of two billion consumers.

Furthermore, consumer spending booms in MENA countries such as Egypt have led to significant demand in the global food trade. Research also suggests that families in the region spend an average of 45% on food consumed outside the home, with global imports playing a major role in the region’s food and beverage requirements.

The role of Gulfood in bringing together the world’s food producers, manufacturers and distributors was evident at the 2006 show, which hosted more than 32,000 trade visitors from over 145 countries, according to the show’s organiser.

Dubai’s position as the world’s third largest re-exporter and a strategic hub for markets across Middle East, Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe, Asia and the Americas, also reinforces Gulfood as a must-attend event for professionals in the the industry.

New to Gulfood 2007 is a dedicated focus on food packaging, labelling and processing equipment. Recent research forecasts the market for packaging machinery in the Middle East, Africa and Europe to increase to more than US $14.8 billion by 2009.

Other key highlights at Gulfood 2007 include the Emirates International Salon Culinaire, a popular feature of the event. Organised by the Emirates Culinary Guild, 1,000 young chefs from around the world are expected to participate in Salon Culinaire to demonstrate their cooking skills live.

Following the success of the inaugural Dubai International Food Safety Conference (DIFSC), organised by the Dubai Municipality public health department alongside Gulfood in 2006, the second DIFSC will take place again from February 20 – 22 at the 2007 event.

The conference will address food safety systems, regulations and best practices, as worldwide authorities bring new regulations and health measures into force, and food safety continues to be under the microscope on a global scale.

Gulfood 2007 - The 12th Gulf Food, Hotel and Equipment Exhibition and Salon Culinaire, organised by Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), will be held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre from February 19 – 22.

"In view of the ongoing surging demand for imported and pre-prepared food on a worldwide scale, Gulfood 2007 provides the essential business interchange for buyers and sellers seeking to penetrate the regional market."

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