Home » Gulfood: Shaping the future of food

Gulfood: Shaping the future of food

by Mohammad Ghazal

This year’s Gulfood has achieved record expansion, as the biggest Gulfood ever, with 125 country pavilions, including first-time participants Armenia, Cambodia, and Iraq.

The second day of Gulfood was another day of big names and announcements, insightful discussions, deal signings, product unveilings and award announcements.

Promoting SMEs

Dubai SME, in cooperation with the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, is attending the event, in alignment with the efforts of the Department of Economy and Tourism to bolster Dubai’s position as a leading international food and beverage hub. Set to showcase Dubai’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, it aims to initiate the growth of SMEs in the emirate, which, it outlined, represent 99% of private-sector companies operating in Dubai.

Speaking about the presence of Dubai SME at Gulfood, His Excellency Abdul Baset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME, said: “The Gulfood 2023 exhibition is one of the most prominent platforms in which we regularly participate due to its importance in the F&B sector. Bringing together thousands of companies from all over the world under one roof, along with the most renowned global chefs and intellectual leaders in this sector, the forum is capable of bringing about change in the culture and orientation of small and medium-sized companies, providing them with more opportunities for growth and expansion.”

Healthy body, healthy planet

Consumer habits are changing in the MENA, with the development of healthier food consumption patterns. The global pandemic has led to more people placing an emphasis on health and wellness, with 50% of UAE consumers agreeing that they are increasingly choosing foods that help “strengthen their immune system.”

With the nutritional content of food being increasingly important in the MENA, this year’s Gulfood is exhibiting a number of food innovations that are healthy for the body, and the planet, with the environmental impact of food, also a key consideration for consumers.

The event saw the exhibition of a number of health-focused food and beverage products from countries around the world. This included the Ghaf smoothie by Barakat, which is made from extracting ghaf leaves, which grow on the drought-tolerant ghaf tree, and is used to promote gut health.

Likewise, Ghodawat Consumer (GCL), part of Sanjay Ghodawat Group (SGG), exhibited its Super Seven Sprouts snack, a mixture of staple Indian lentils, such as moong, Bengal gram and black-eyed peas, and western pulses. Pulses are not only a nutritious crop, rich in protein and fibre, and a great source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium, they’re also great for the environment due to their nitrogen-fixing properties.

Interestingly, experts on the sidelines of Gulfood noted that despite disposable income decreasing in the past year for two-fifths of UAE residents, the cost of living crisis is not deterring consumers from seeking out high-quality, healthy foods.

Tech’s role in smart food and sustainable supply chains

In the wake of Covid-19, ongoing supply chain issues, and climate concerns, creating sustainable and traceable food supply chains has never been more important. At the event, in an effort to drive forward food traceability, and reliability, Dubai Municipality announced its latest update about the new ‘Green Channel’ that was first revealed during the Dubai International Food Safety Conference in November 2022. A spokesperson from the Municipality outlined that the Channel had taken its first shipments.

Currently, in the first phase of the initiative, the Green Channel’s mission is to create a global blueprint for the digital food system that boosts food safety and security and enhances quality of life. The Channel reportedly uses AI technology and machine learning techniques for its operations.

Elsewhere, Mohammed AlKhateb, Consumer Packaged Goods Industry Director – IMEA, Schneider Electric, highlighted the importance of agritech investment, especially in the United Arab Emirates, where 80 percent of food is imported. AlKhateb also emphasised the role end-to-end traceability has in helping companies comply with safety and sustainability regulations. This is also a key consideration of consumers, with 52% agreeing that traceability is an essential component in purchasing decisions.

Tackling Ramadan food waste

Food waste is a serious problem in the MENA region; the entire region wastes up to 250 kilograms per capita a year. This is especially an issue during Ramadan. It is estimated that around 25-50% of the food prepared in the Arab world during Ramadan is wasted. As a result, this is a particular focus of this year’s Gulfood, which held a session titled, ‘Towards zero food waste.’

At the panel discussion, Khuloud Al Nuwais, chief sustainability officer of the Emirates Foundation, explained change needs to happen at a grassroots and policy level, and highlighted the role that food donation has to play. Likewise, messaging around portion control was highlighted as being helpful for behavioural change, as well as effective meal planning, recipes for leftovers, and collaboration and partnerships.

Khuloud Al Nuwais said that at Gulfood, by bringing together the whole food ecosystem, there is the opportunity to have an open dialogue and engage with all stakeholders to explore how all sectors can combat food waste and be catalysts for change.

This aligns with the words of UAE’s Minister of State for Food and Water Security, HE Mariam bint Mohammed Al Mheiri who warned this week that the world is off track to achieving Zero Hunger.

Highlighting recycling: Making packaging more sustainable

As we collectively push for a more resource-efficient, circular economy, the focus on ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ has never been more important. In January, for example, the UAE announced its plans to build the first food-grade plastic recycling plant, involving iVeolia Middle East subsidiary Repeet, BEEAH Group, and Agthia. More broadly, in the Middle East, countries are increasingly taking significant action towards reducing plastic consumption, with the implementation of various recycling initiatives, and companies are doing their bit, too. LanzaTech NZ, Inc. and the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Company’s (Tadweer) partnership to develop a large-scale conversion plant for transforming solid municipal waste into SAF is another example of this commitment.

At Gulfood 2023, for example, Al Ain Water announced the launch of its new water bottle, made of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), the first to be locally produced by a UAE brand. The company has outlined that when recycled, PET transforms into rPET, which is a strong, durable, and infinitely recyclable material that can be used for packaged foods and drinks, and, when reprocessed, can be turned into new plastic bottles.

Speaking about the impact that these recycled products can have, Alan Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Agthia Group, said: “Plastic is a significant resource if repurposed and reused appropriately. We have been in active conversations with the UAE government and other stakeholders to develop a system for collecting, recycling, and reusing PET-based packaging. We are delighted that these efforts are bearing fruit, and today Al Ain, Agthia’s flagship water brand, is pioneering this initiative by introducing a 100% rPET bottle to the market and is actively supporting UAE’s transition towards a circular economy.”

New events pegged to facilitate food systems transformation

On the second day of Gulfood, Gulfood Green and Gulfood Agrotech were announced, two new sustainability events set to take place on 24-26 September 2024 at DWTC. The former will gather the entire food ecosystem to exchange knowledge, technology, regulations, practices, solutions and changes in consumer food culture to achieve sustainability across the supply chain. Meanwhile, the latter will focus on bringing together all sectors across global agriculture and food supply chains to find ways to facilitate the global transition to more sustainable food systems.

Speaking about the announcement, Trixie LohMirmand, Executive Vice President, Dubai World Trade Centre, the organiser of Gulfood said that the “urgent need for, and momentous shift towards, more resilient and climate-supportive food production and consumption” has led to the creation of a different event mission, which aims to champion innovative ideas transforming consumption behaviours and “leading us to a more responsible and sustainable future.” Adding: “GULFOOD, with its global influence and leadership in the world food economy, will provide the international GREEN and AGROTECH movement the imperative to evolve and catalyse the sophistication and innovation of the circular food industry.”

Gulfood Innovation Awards 2023 winners

Day two of the event unveiled the winners of the Gulfood Innovation Awards. Categories include the best plant-based product, for which Temole Cashew Kale Wave Puffs by Atlantic Foods LLC, Cold Mushroom Coffee by International Trade Centre and Nudie Snacks by Nudie Snacks were nominated. Meanwhile, for the best sustainable product category, the following were nominated:

  • Hayatana Full Fat Claypot Yoghurt by Emirates Food Industries LLC
  • Spherika Salmon Pearls by Pescaviar
  • El Gusto Drip Coffee by Tertulla Brugge S.A.

The former was won by Nudie Snacks for its Nudie Snacks Cauliflower Crisps, while Tertulla Brugge S.A. took the crown for the latter with its El Gusto Drip Coffee.

Positioning sustainability front and centre at Gulfood

Make sure to check in with ESG Mena throughout the week for even more news, insights, and interviews on the ground at the event, including with:

  • Agthia,
  • Lamb Weston,
  • NSC,
  • Food Made Good, and
  • Bord Bia.

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