In the first half of 2022, the UAE recorded an import rate of over 41,000 tonnes of food per day. The figure is forecasted to grow due to a number of factors, including the growth of the population, the strong demand for imported products by foreigners living in the country and the significant expansion of the tourism sector with a high number of new hotels and resorts opened in recent years.
The multiculturalism of this country – about 88% of the total population is a foreigner – results in different food habits which translate into a variety of cuisines and a diversified demand for fresh products.
Consumers in the UAE have begun to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. The government’s commitment to address the alarming rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease among the population and the recent pandemic, have changed the local consumption scenarios; according to a research commissioned by the Irish Food Board, 50% of the consumers from the UAE declared that they increasingly choose foods that help strengthen their immune system; 52% agree with the importance of the traceability factor in the products they consume and 56% think that quality standards are even more important today.
The UAE imports most of the fruit and vegetables available in the country and there is a strong interest for the high-quality European products.
Fresh Up Your Life, the CSO Italy project funded by the European Union, support the promotion of high quality, nutritious and healthy fresh products in the United Arab Emirates until 2025, highlighting the themes of sustainability, clarity and traceability of the supply chain. The following Italian companies also participate in the programme: Apofruit Italia, Cico-Mazzoni, Conserve Italia, Lagnasco Group, Oranfrizer, Origine, Unacoa. Kiwis, apples, pears, blood oranges, pureed tomatoes (considering that pasta is the most imported product in this area) are the products on which the project will focus on.
In the UAE, “Made in Italy” food is particularly appreciated for the uniqueness of tastes and flavours (first distinguishing feature for 26% of consumers), for the typical and traditional recipes (21%) and for the high quality of the raw materials (17%). Furthermore, Italy leads the ranking of quality: 20% of UAE consumers believe that Italian food products have better distinctive qualities than products from other countries. (Source: CRIF and Nomisma). The segments of the population most likely to recognize the merits of European agricultural products are middle-class young people from big cities, with a medium-high level of education and income, who travel and are interested in quality imported products, of which they prefer appearance, safety and taste, and Western expats who are already familiar with European foods.
Italy is one of the UAE main suppliers of kiwis (42% of the total value in the fruit and vegetable category), peaches (32%) and plums (6%).
“The increase demand of genuine products and the healthy lifestyle trend, represent an important driving force for the growth of Italian fruit and vegetable which are recognized and appreciated by the local consumers for the high quality” declared Paolo Bruni, President of CSO Italy. “With the Fresh Up Your Life project we will encourage the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables with both B2B and B2C initiatives, rewarding the quality, the transparency and the traceability of our supply chains. The next appointment will be in February at Gulfood, the most important event in the Middle East for the food and beverage industry, a crossroads of flavours and trends at an international level”
Italy is the European leader in the production of kiwis with 330,150 tons in 2020 of which 246,824 tons (75% of the total) are produced by CSO Italy Members. As for apples, Italy is the main producer along with Poland, with 2.6 million tons produced in 2020 of which 1.7 million tons by CSO Italy Members. Italy is also leading in the production of pears, with 611,000 tons in 2020, of which 306,000 tons produced by member companies of CSO Italy. Finally, tomato puree exceeded 1 million tons in 2020, of which 530,000 produced by CSO Italy members.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UAE is one of only four countries in the world, together with Switzerland, Iceland and Azerbaijan, where all residents can afford the cost of a healthy diet. In the report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022” the estimated cost of a healthy diet in the UAE from 2017 to 2020 was between 2.75 and 3.11 US dollars per day. The report also points out that a healthy diet is based on a wide variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, balanced across food groups, and include whole grains, legumes, nuts, and an abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of eggs, dairy products, poultry and fish, and small amounts of red meat.