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Thu 9 Feb 2012 07:57 AM

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Organic food off the menu for UAE hotels

Brands veering away from organic produce due to a low demand in the Gulf state

Organic food off the menu for UAE hotels
Restaurant kitchen, hotel, food generic

UAE hotels are veering away from organic menus due to a lack of demand for guilt-free products in the region, food and beverage managers have said.

Organic food, which is produced naturally and under eco-friendly conditions, is too expensive for the majority of restaurant-goers, most of whom prefer lower-cost, conventional products, hotel staff said.

“The demand is not enough, no-one asks for it,” Gregor Schmidt-Kiefer, F&B manager for the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Dubai, told Arabian Business.

“We discussed this with our chefs, but it is very expensive and people aren’t prepared to pay for it in a hotel. It’s more than double [the price], especially for dairy products, so you have to price the dish higher.”

Kiefer said the hotel had experimented with organic tea, but the lack of demand meant even this was financially unviable.

“I wanted to try it with organic tea, but it’s not really popular either, people aren’t looking for it. We price it the same as the other tea, but we pay more than double to purchase it.”

Organic produce has attracted more attention in the UAE in recent years as individuals become more health conscious.

Experts say the demand for more naturally-produced food comes largely from the Western expatriate population, but is also growing among young Emirati females.

The Radisson Blu in Dubai Media City made a move towards organic alternatives last month, when it offered a special organic menu for diners between January 15 and January 31 at its Italian restaurant Certo.

F&B director Adil Souate said guests were largely uninterested in the new choices, with sales remaining low despite the possibility of discounts on dishes.

“It’s something that’s getting a bit more popular in Dubai, but so far the demand is not there,” he said.

“In terms of sales it didn’t produce a lot, we sold about 180 portions in two weeks - about 6 percent of our total.”

Organic dishes were approximately 22 percent more expensive than normal options, he said, hiking the price of lunch or dinner quite significantly.

Hospitality consultants believe most hotels find organic menus less profitable than traditional options.

Whilst organic options are increasing, there is also a tendency to offer simply healthier products.

“Organic produce by definition is more expensive, because it produces lower yield, the shelf life is shorter and in most cases organic food is flown in,” said Daniel During, managing partner at hospitality consultancy Thomas Klein.

“While the general public may be ready to pay a premium for organic food, there is a limit to how much you can charge and therefore many times it is more profitable to use non-organic ingredients.”

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Jessica H. 7 years ago

It's a vicious circle: demand for organic produce in the UAE is so low because it's so expensive... and it's so expensive because demand is low and not enough is brought into the country. I was recently visiting Scotland and was amazed at how cheap most of the organic and free-range produce is; sometimes ever cheaper than "regular" brands! I do hope that organic produce will become more popular and therefore more affordable in the UAE one day soon.

Bill Paradis 7 years ago

The problem is that the organic food on offer is not yet being produced locally in sufficient quantities. Local organic food will out-compete imported organic or conventionally farmed produce because costs will be reduced, shelf life will improve, and the income stream will be benefit the local economy. Studies in the US and Europe have shown that organic practices, in a short amount of time, generally overtake conventional methods in yield, are comparable or higher in nutritional value, and have equal or better flavor. Demand for organic food in most western countries, and in many developing countries, such as India and Brazil, is growing annually, and has been for several years. As economies in the Middle East develop toward independent and sustainable policies, and if international tensions start to decline, the demand for local organic products is likely to increase there as well.

keenobzerver 7 years ago

First of all, what do you mean by saying "due to a lack of demand for guilt-free products in the region" why should anyone feel guilty about eating non organic food ?!

The Food Standards Agency-UK: "there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food" based on the most comprehensive study in this area looking at data spanning 50 years.
‘A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. There is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.’
This research was supported by the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), Denmark

Eating Organic is a lifestyle choice for those who can afford it.’

Wildwine 7 years ago

@Jessica H. it is not a demand issue. Organic food is essentially more expensive to produce and crop levels would be lower than the regular food.
Ideally, it would be nice if all our food can be organic as it will have a lesser effect on the environment (I do not believe organic food is healthier). But it is not possible, the way population is growing in the world, we need to produce more, faster.