UAE, Saudi consumers in food labelling call

New research shows shoppers want clearer labelling to help them buy healthy food.
UAE, Saudi consumers in food labelling call
By Joanne Bladd
Mon 28 Sep 2009 07:50 AM

Diet-conscious consumers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia are calling for clearer labelling on food and related products to help them choose healthy items, according to new research.

More than 60 percent of UAE shoppers and 56 percent of Saudi shoppers rely on labels on packaging to make product choices, but nearly half find the health-related information confusing, said researchers at Datamonitor.

The report, Profiting from Consumer Mega-Trends in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, polled 2,000 shoppers in the two countries to gauge how rising health awareness was affecting their consumer choices.

The results showed the rise of a new breed of diet-conscious consumers, with 79 percent of respondents placing more importance on their health today than they did two years ago.

While 38 percent of UAE consumers and 35 percent of Saudi consumers admit to dieting on a regular basis, another 62 and 55 percent reported actively seeking out products with “added health benefits”, rather than just steering clear of junk food.

In Saudi, 75 percent of shoppers will avoid certain products because of allergy or intolerance fears, with 68 percent of UAE consumers equally wary.

The rise in obesity and diabetes incidence in the Gulf has brought an increasing focus on diet. An estimated 13 percent of the UAE population, and 13.5 percent of the Saudi population is affected by diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. Globally, the UAE and Saudi Arabia rank among the top five countries for diabetes prevalence.

The International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), a London think-tank, now finds 59.8 percent of women obese or overweight in the UAE and 75.8 percent in Saudi Arabia.

A push for improved diet awareness could drive business opportunities for firms in the health and wellness market, said Datamonitor analyst Richard Adams.

“[Products] which cater to differing degrees of health consciousness will define the regional consumer market in the years ahead,” he said. “Manufacturers need to respond with clearer labels which can be digested at a glance.”

Clever product labelling, which advertises what a product lacks, could also help firms establish a price premium for products and cement brand loyalty, the team noted, while simple measures such as specifying the product’s country of origin can help win over shoppers.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, more than half of UAE and Saudi respondents report feeling more stressed now than they did six months ago.

However, many are also actively seeking stress-relieving solutions in a bid to balance their lifestyle, the report said.

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