By Melody Meyer
I recently traveled to Dubai as part of a Trade Mission with the Organic Trade Association (OTA), to explore the organic market potential for U.S. products in the Middle East. We found an ultra-modern city flourishing with diversity and wealth – and a market that is hungry for organic products.
Dubai is one of seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has always been an attractive market for food exporters as the Emirates import 80 percent of their food.
Subsequently, the city has emerged as the center of global trade and transit for products destined to the broader Middle East, Asia and North Africa regions.
Last year the United States exported $1.2 billion worth of agricultural products into the UAE with most of the sales coming from consumer-oriented goods found in the country’s thriving retail sector. Food re-exports from the UAE have increased more than 25 percent over the last decade while total UAE agricultural imports reached $13.3 billion in 2018.
The Emirates import 80% of their food, and $1.2 billion worth of agricultural products
According to USDA’s Global Organic Trade System (GATS), US organic exports into the UAE totaled nearly $11 million in 2018, with the top 5 organic commodities exported from the US being strawberries, blueberries, mixed berries, carrots and apples.
At the same time, it’s hard to accurately estimate what imported organic items are growing in the region for two reasons:
- The USDA export data available for organic products is limited because of the lack of Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HS) codes assigned to organic export products.
- UAE's Ministry of Climate Change and Environment - akin to our USDA- doesn’t collect data on specific items are being imported into the region.
What we do know from local retailers’ and market observations is everyone anticipates a steady rise in the demand for natural and organic products.
Both small speciality stores and major retailers are now offering organic items to consumers
As recently as 2015, organic food options in the UAE were limited and found primarily to small specialty stores. Today, all major retailers are capitalizing on this growing consumer trend by dedicating more shelf-space for organics products.
UAE consumers now have access to a plethora of organic products in most major hypermarkets, supermarkets, and even in smaller stand-alone grocery and convenient stores.
Expatriate citizens or non-native Emirates make up 80 percent of the total population and are responsible for rapid gains in population in the past few decades.
The Emirates and Western Expat community enjoy sizeable disposable incomes and along with UAE government initiatives will only accelerate demand for organic food products over the coming years.
The entire region is ripe for organic growth.
The Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States
The Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States is the regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Over the last three years retailers have noticed behavioral changes in the high-income consumer category with a greater emphasis placed on nutrition as well as environmentally friendly foods.
Suppliers report a marked increase in spending on products designated as free-from, organic, and local, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy alternatives and ketogenic items.
Furthermore, online availability and sales for these goods shows progress and is expected rise as ecommerce gains momentum in the Gulf region. Most retailers offer now products both online and in store and include home delivery service.
Many retailers in Dubai now offer organic products in store, online and delivery
What about certifications?
Organic products must be certified by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA), and imports must be certified by an organization approved by ESMA. Imports that aren’t certified by an organization approved by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology will be stopped at the port.
To find out more about Exporting to the Gulf Region or anywhere in the world visit the International Organic Trade Resource Guide at www.globalorganictrade.com