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Mon 28 Sep 2009 07:50 AM

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UAE, Saudi consumers in food labelling call

New research shows shoppers want clearer labelling to help them buy healthy food.

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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Masarrat Shaikh 10 years ago

I was very annoyed when a leading chain of cafeteria - Ceaser's Confectionary with locations in almost every emirate did not carry a food nutrition label on the banana walnut cake on sale, in addition to other items being sold such as toast rusks, pastries etc. It should be mandated by the UAE ministry (an authority sinmilar to the FDA in the US) to clearly print nutrition and calorie information on every food product being sold by cafeterias, supermarkets, etc.

Amira Smith 10 years ago

I completely agree. Even in supermarkets- such as Geant and Waitrose- you can have branded products that don't list their nutritional information. Take McVities- in the UK, US, their packaging on their biscuits shows the nutritional information. Here, it's on the box - but its in Chinese. How many people can translate that?! If the Gulf is serious about tackling its obesity and diabetes crisis, it will get tough on product labelling. Consumers can't be expected to make good food choices when they don't have the relevant information.

billhicks42 10 years ago

An admirable drive to improve labelling - last weekend I was looking at cans of coconut milk that had no information on them at all - it may be a further stroke of genius to not place the Arabic language ingredients sticker directly over the existing ingredient list or indeed the cooking instructions. Or mayhap invest in a sticker type that does not dismember the packaging when torn off.

Rafiq Al Mubarak 10 years ago

It is incredible how blind manufacturers are to what customers want, need, and use on a daily basis. Here in the UAE product labelling is terrible and has been for a long time. Very often labels are illegible! I want a good life for myself and my children. My wife and I read labels because we want to buy good, healthy products for our children. Often however, we can't - because of complacency!! I spent a few weeks in London earlier this year. Food labelling is so much clearer there. One can actually get a sense of what one is buying. If companies don't want me to put their products back on the shelf then they will have to clean up their act!!

Faisal Naamani 10 years ago

I think Labeling or Nutrition information should be made available for food that is sold in resturants. they should have the amount of calories for the items on the menus.