93 Pakistani companies participate in Gulfood: Experts say time is ripe to tap into Dubai’s F&B sector
KARACHI: A total of 93 Pakistani companies exhibited at the five-day Gulfood event held at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) last week, up from around 50 firms that participated from the country in 2021, as the emirate presented a table of opportunities to network and expand the business in a fast-growing industry.
This year’s lineup from Pakistan included names such as Shangrila Foods, Bake Parlor, Tapal and Matco Foods.
The event, said to be the world’s biggest food and beverage (F&B) sourcing event, attracted more than 4,000 companies and speakers from 120 countries, including top chefs, business leaders and government policymakers.
Hassan Afzal Khan, Consul General of Pakistan in the UAE, said the event is an important networking opportunity for local companies.
Meanwhile, experts at Gulfood said now is the time to enter the F&B market in Dubai, as latest figures reveal F&B trade in the UAE crossed $20 billion in the first nine months of 2021.
Going beyond just exhibiting at the fair, if companies are established in the UAE, they have the chance to enter more than 20 markets and access around 60% of the world’s population, Dr Ashraf Mahate, Chief Economist, Export Markets Department of Economy and Tourism, said at a session he was moderating titled ‘Capturing Regional F&B Opportunities from Dubai – Why & How to Set Up Your Business in Dubai’.
With more free trade agreements in the pipeline, plus a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India that was just recently signed, this figure could grow to 80%, he added.
India was the UAE’s top F&B trading partner in the first nine months of 2021, accounting for 12 per cent of the UAE’s total F&B trade value, followed by the US, Brazil Australia, and Saudi Arabia.
Mahate said the UAE saw 60% growth in the sector between 2015 and 2020 while neighbouring Saudi’s growth went up by 52%. “There is huge regional growth in the sector.”
Worldwide the F&B sector was worth $5,820 billion in 2020, and in 2021 it went up to $6,200 billion – an increase of 6%, which “tells you of the global opportunity in the sector.”
Highlighting key trends in MENA, Mahate said there is a drive towards natural and organic foods, along with plant-based manufacturing, restaurants and food services, which is only going to increase.
Rizwan Ahmed, Executive Director of IFFCO, one of the Middle East’s largest producers and retailers of processed food products and agro commodities, had earlier noted that veganism and plant-based product offerings are two growing trends with great market potential, as consumers are looking at healthier lifestyles.
The sector is also increasingly focusing on Gen Z – which would rather use smartphones to buy F&B products than walk to the shops – “you’re engaging with a very different audience”, said Mahate, adding: “it’s not about selling a product, but telling a story. With Gen X it was packaging that mattered, now it’s how you tell the story of your product that makes a difference”.
Another trend to keep in mind when entering this market is environmental sustainability, which comes as more countries algin with the United Nations’ mandate to control climate change.
This was reflected at the Gulfood event, which ushers in a “first-of-its-kind zero waste campaign with the aim of sparking a global movement” - organisers said they would collect all food waste at the event and turn it into essential compost and by-products for local soil and local farms in partnership with women-led startup The Waste Lab.
Panellists at the ‘Why & How to Set Up Your Business in Dubai’ session also discussed how interested parties can enter the F&B market. As with all companies in the UAE, there are two options: setting up a freezone company vs a mainland one.
The Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) in Dubai has 600 companies dedicated to F&B ranging from processing, sourcing, packaging and distribution.
“These companies can access markets not just in the UAE or GCC – we are talking about the wider region and the whole world,” said Ebtesam Ahmad AlKaabi, Head of Sales at JAFZA.
JAFZA is part of a multinational logistics company called DP World, which has a presence in more than 64 countries and is investing in supply chain solutions to open up more markets and ease business for companies, said AlKaabi.
It has set up an online platform called Dubai Trade, offering 99% of services a company needs to run in the free zone, including getting custom clearances and tracking cargo.
“A customer in Japan can reach out to us to set up their business. He will be connected to our sales expert who will understand their business plan and help them set up their company online”.
Another option is Dubai Industrial City - a manufacturing and logistics hub operating on the mainland.
“The past year has witnessed significant growth in the district’s F&B cluster as innovation-driven producers joined its diverse community of start-ups, SMEs and international corporations,” it said in a statement. A cherry on top is that China’s WenChao Group is constructing a state-of-the-art food manufacturing and distribution facility in the city.
Gulfood also featured chefs and food influencers presenting some 50 masterclasses, as well as the unveiling of the first-ever youth empowerment platform for the F&B industry called Gulfood YouthX.
“Industry transformation is worldwide and spans the entire ecosystem from agritech through to production, packaging and distribution, which was reflected in the 2022 line-up,” said Trixie LohMirmand, Executive Vice President, Exhibitions & Events, DWTC.
Attendees engaged “with a host of new Gulfood features aimed at enhancing the future through technology, improved nutrition, industry diversity, health, and sustainability.”
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022