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Gulfood: Prioritising food security and sustainability

by Mohammad Ghazal

As the food crisis continues, costs rise, and climate change reduces food availability, accessibility and quality, the 28th edition of Gulfood unites food and beverage communities from around the world to serve as a springboard for food systems transformation.

Bringing together over 5000 companies from more than 120 countries, thousands from the industry and beyond will gather across the five days; the event will focus on innovation and address global food challenges.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, attended the opening and was accompanied by H.H. Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; HE Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment; Helal Al Marri, Director-General of the Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA); and Dawoud Al Hajri, Director-General of Dubai Municipality.

Touring the event on Monday, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spoke about the UAE’s commitment to prioritising food security, said: “Aligned with our vision to be a leading player in shaping the future of vital sectors that drive global prosperity and growth, the UAE continues to bring together nations, markets and industries to discuss vital issues that impact the sustainability of economies and societies.”

Adding: “Furthermore, we seek to foster the sharing of knowledge and advance the adoption of new technologies and solutions that promote equitable access to food resources and the sustainable production, distribution and consumption of food worldwide.”

Held in the Year of Sustainability, in the lead-up to COP28, 2023 is a pivotal year for the UAE. As a result, Gulfood serves to bring sustainability in food and beverage to the fore, and promote resilient and sustainable food production and consumption. Likewise, it will feature a whole host of initiatives and shows, including Gulfood Green, Inspire, Top Table, Foodverse, YouthX, Dubai World Cuisine, and the Gulfood Meetings Program.

Also attending Gulfood is Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), represented by the Dubai Economic Development Corporation (DEDC) and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development (Dubai SME). According to the DET, the two corporations will facilitate the implementation of key components of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33, which seeks to double the size of the Emirate’s economy in the next decade, and position Dubai as a global gastronomy hub.

Food sovereignty, security and safety

In the MENA, half of all food is imported; this figure rises to 90% in Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC). Moreover, in recent years, with significant global supply chain disruption, the MENA, especially, has felt the effects. Yet, the region has used these supply chain challenges as an opportunity to reshape the food system, catalysing innovation and diversification.

At Gulfood, Kezad, for example, is demonstrating how it is pushing to realise the UAE’s vision of becoming the world’s best on the Global Food Security Index by 2051 through its food sector ecosystem.

Dubai Municipality is also participating in the event, to educate food product merchants and importers on the latest quality and safety procedures, with implementation guidance, too. His Excellency Dawoud Al Hajri, Director General of Dubai Municipality, commented that food safety is crucial because it has a “direct impact on people’s health” and “Dubai’s reputation.” He emphasised that ensuring all food institutions comply with standards is a priority, and it is working to enhance trust by utilising integrated ecosystems and implementing the best international and local practices. Adding: “We also establish and employ uniform monitoring procedures for imported food institutions in Dubai to guarantee the safety of their products and activities.”

Unlocking the potential of plant-based in the Middle East

The most recent IPCC report made it clear that diet change and a switch to a plant-based lifestyle are now “imperative” for survival and the adoption of plant-based diets is certainly ramping up globally. In the MENA, and particularly the Middle East, while there has been some hesitancy, in recent years, the vegan food market has surged. A recent Toluna study conducted in UAE and KSA, for example, found that more than half of the consumers had ‘either tried or started consuming’ plant-based products in the past six months, compared with just 9% ‘more than two years ago.’

At Gulfood 2023, an array of plant-based companies will display some of the latest innovations, from faux seafood to macarons. Plnt, for example, exhibited its plant-based crab cakes made with wheat protein and soy sauce. Elsewhere, Thai Union showcased its Asian-inspired plant-based shrimp dumpling, as one of the finalists in the prestigious Gulfood Innovation Awards.

Restaurants as facilitators of greener eating

This year’s edition of Gulfood brings together top chefs from across the world to discuss the hospitality sector’s role in feeding the planet sustainably. The first day, for example, hosted Chef Talks, which brought Chef Peeter Pihel, founder of Fotografiska, a sustainability-focused restaurant, to the stage. Pihel spoke of the restaurant industry’s role in facilitating change and driving forward sustainable food innovation.

Gulfood green

The 28th edition of Gulfood has also seen the introduction of Gulfood Green, a sustainability initiative, to help facilitate the switch from agenda to action with regard to food systems sustainability. In association with the initiative, Gulfood has also launched Gulfood Global Forest, an international tree-planting program.

At the event, attendees will have the opportunity to get involved in the program and contribute to the tree planting; so far, planting has begun in four countries: UAE, Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

The Gulfood Green Awards will also take place this year, with five categories:

  • Green Foodservice Industry Award,
  • Waste Management Award,
  • Green Food Innovation Award,
  • Sustainability Professional of the Year, and
  • Sustainability Company of the Year.


A look at the week ahead

Sustainability is woven into the fabric of this year’s Gulfood, and as the week progresses, discussions will centre on ways to work towards zero food waste and building a robust, diversified, sustainable food system. Keynotes will be delivered by ministers, global F&B value chain leaders, entrepreneurs, civil society and industry experts alike, with panels discussing everything from sustainable food production and food security; to waste reduction and sustainable supply chains.

ESG Mena will be providing coverage of the event throughout the week, with all the latest news, insights and interviews with industry leaders, sustainability experts and food and beverage innovators, so stay tuned.

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