A vast potential for fresh fruits and vegetables exists in the Middle East. The population is booming, particularly the middle class, who have increasing incomes and demand for premium, top quality fruits and vegetables. However, the Middle East does not produce enough food. Limitations exist because of its geographic location and climate. Substantial openings for produce will benefit the industry and
PMA interviewed a few exporters to gather insights on their Middle East activity. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates was the most mentioned region, followed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and Bahrain. The UAE relies on imports for 80 percent of its food needs, according to the ministry of economy.
Dubai, in particular, is the leading regional importer and re-exporter of produce. Efficient infrastructure (sea, land and airports), large free trade zones and a strong tourism and business orientation make Dubai an import commercial center. Euromonitor estimates the UAE population to be 8.7 billion with a GDP of $435 billion. There are more expatriates living in Dubai than there are citizens who were born there.
Consumers with changing tastes are willing to pay a premium for an assortment of produce offering freshness, quality, flavor, safety and convenience. “Young and affluent Western food-loving consumers are driving the growth and demand for imported goods and foods in the Middle East,” states an analyst from Mintel. In addition, there are healthy eating efforts toward purchasing more fruits and vegetables.
When asked about the largest opportunity in the Middle East, PMA interviewees indicated the marketplace is driven by buyers who want exclusivity, organics and within the last few years, frozen produce. Shoppers desire apples, grapes, citrus, pears and berries. One respondent indicated Middle Eastern consumers are willing to accept different sizes of fruit or vegetable than in other countries. “Fresh fruit and vegetables account for 22 percent of retail sales in the UAE, with berries – blueberries, raspberries and strawberries – representing the largest growth category”.
The U.S. faces challenges when selling abroad. There are issues with shelf life, shipping logistics, establishing distributor relations and competition. The European Union, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and local and regional processors are competing for the Middle East’s produce business.