Home » Gulfood: F&B sector as a catalyst for change

Gulfood: F&B sector as a catalyst for change

by Mohammad Ghazal

At the mid-week point of Gulfood, hotels reached 100% occupancy as event participants continued to flock to the Dubai World Trade Centre, emphasising the magnitude and influence of the food and beverage event.

Holding such significance in the sector, Gulfood continues to be a key opportunity to highlight innovation and hold important conversations around F&B sustainability, with the sector holding great potential to become a catalyst for change.

At 30 per cent larger than previous editions, this year’s Gulfood has been attended by a record number of participants, and included a visit from H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council.

Speaking at the event, His Highness outlined that Dubai is “on track” to achieve Dubai Economic Agenda D33 goals, and realise the vision to make the city one of the top three in the world. He continued: “As a pivotal commercial hub, Dubai is committed to provide platforms for diverse global industries to share knowledge, unlock new growth opportunities, and forge productive partnerships to accelerate development.

A city at the forefront of driving global economic progress, Dubai is a preferred venue for decision makers, thought leaders and innovators across industries to gather together to discuss how they can chart new pathways for growth, enterprise and innovation.”

Plant-based as the future of food

With an increased focus on the imperative for more sustainable diets, along with global egg prices rising, and bird flu, plant-based eggs are quickly rising in popularity. Float Foods’ OnlyEg, featured at this year’s Gulfood, is an example of how plant-based eggs are becoming an increasingly attractive alternative for consumers. Made from legumes, the plant-based egg has a wide range of applications and is now available in the Middle East. The company announced on Wednesday that it had inked a distribution deal with Bidfood Middle East, the leading food service distributor in the Middle East, as part of its expansion plans.

Jermi Käseria’s coconut cheese, La Rose Noire plant-based bakery goods, and LoveRaw’s chocolate products were also some of the vegan offerings on display at the event.

More broadly, the Middle East’s plant-based food industry is forecast at a CAGR of 6.45 per cent between 2023 to 2029, with alternative fish also becoming increasingly popular. Wednesday’s Inspire show, for example, held a discussion exploring this with Gerben Kamps, Global Business Development Manager, Alternative Proteins, Thai Union Group, focusing on the wave of alternative seafood and the challenges and opportunities that come with this.

Venturing into the virtual

The foodverse, part of the metaverse, may only be at the start of its journey, but many chefs, restaurants and foodies are looking to it as the next big thing. There are many facets to this, and those investing in it within the F&B industry are using it as a way to:

  • promote brand awareness,
  • hold meetings,
  • invest in food and beverage companies,
  • raise funds for charitable causes, and
  • establish exclusive dinner clubs and restaurants.

This year’s Gulfood introduced Foodverse, where event participants are able to experience the real-life applications of the metaverse, attend one-to-one workshops with those from the tech sphere, and hear from industry experts on tech’s impact on the food and beverage sector.

Wednesday’s Foodverse offerings included everything from a talk on blockchain by Vignesh Pethuraja, Director of Business for Middle East & South Asia – HBAR Foundation, to an introduction to NFTs and NFT projects. Some in the sector are raising brand awareness through food NTFs, or non-fungible tokens, and these are also available to Gulfood attendees linked to a Michelin-star restaurant.

The event also highlighted digital dining experiences, which Ronald Menzel, investor and advisor in Our Hidden Worlds, spoke about at Gulfood, highlighting their potential to create a more conscious consumer.

Khalifa Fund and Al Dhafra Co-operative sign MoU

The third day of Gulfood witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and Al Dhafra Co-operative (ADCS) in an effort to spark entrepreneurship and encourage the development of SMEs in the F&B sector in the UAE.

Speaking about this, H.E. Alia Al Mazrouei, CEO of Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, said that the collaboration would contribute towards creating new opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs in the sector. Adding: “With access to training and support, our entrepreneurs will have the capacity to launch and grow their businesses, contributing to the overall economic growth of the UAE.”

The Ishraq programme launches

The fourth day of the event saw the Emirati Human Resources Development Council in Dubai (EHRDC) announce that it had partnered with the UAE Food and Beverage Business Group to launch the “Ishraq” programme. The initiative, dubbed the first-of-its-kind, is aimed at creating a skilled Emirati workforce in the F&B sector, providing on-the-job training to over 500 Emiratis each year. It will offer assessments, coaching, mentoring, and a curriculum integrated with on-the-job training.

Commenting on the launch of the initiative, Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Chair of the EHRDC, said: “We are delighted to partner with the top F&B companies in our country to launch this groundbreaking programme. The F&B sector is a strategic pillar in our nation’s economy, and we believe that this initiative will help bridge the skills gap in the industry, while creating new career opportunities for Emiratis.”

Gulfood Green award winners

The winners of the Gulfood Green award were announced on the fourth day of Gulfood. The award celebrates sustainability and seeks to drive forward green best practices across the food and beverage value chain.

This year’s winners are as follows:

  • Food Waste Management Award – Spinneys
  • Green Foodservice Industry Award – Right Farm
  • Green Food Innovation Award – Pescaviar S.L
  • Sustainability Company of the Year – Lowe
  • Sustainability Professional of the Year – Emma Banks, Vice President F&B Strategy and Development, Hilton Europe, Middle East and Africa

ESG Mena gains insight into sustainable farming with Kieran Fitzgerald, Regional Director, Middle East, of Bord Bia

ESG Mena had the opportunity to speak with Kieran Fitzgerald, Regional Director, Middle East, of Bord Bia, at Gulfood, who said that the event had been one of the most important events for Irish food and drink suppliers over the years. Fitzgerald spoke of Bord Bia’s Sustainable Farming Origin Green initiative, the only national sustainability initiative in the world that covers the F&B sector from farm to fork.

Explaining the origins of the initiative, Fitzgerald said that while Ireland has a reputation for being green and clean, it’s increasingly important to be able to measure and prove that, so Origin Green works with producers, farmers and processors to reduce their carbon footprint throughout the supply chain. To ensure accountability, traceability and carbon footprint reductions are all taking place, 50,000 farms across the country are audited at least once every 18 months.

Agthia’s President – Water & Food (GCC), Ahmad Yahya: Business purpose pushes forward sustainability

ESG Mena’s Chief Editor, Fawzia Yassmina, caught up with Agthia’s President of Water & Food (GCC), Ahmad Yahya, to hear more about how Agthia is evolving and pushing forward sustainability. Yahya explained that while, in the past, sustainability was less integrated into overall business strategies, these days, it is front and centre as an imperative. Yahya referenced the company’s recycled packaging, plant-based packaging, paper label removal, and its most recently launched rPET bottles, made with its own recycled bottles.

Aside from its recycling focus, Yahya said that the company is focusing on optimisation and efficiency in order to reduce emissions from logistics. Likewise, it works with its suppliers to reduce scope 3 emissions.

Keary Shandle, Sustainability Consultant and Omar Shihab, Restaurateur, on the role of restaurants in pushing forward sustainability

Keary Shandle, Sustainability Consultant and Omar Shihab, Restaurateur, spoke to ESG Mena’s Fawzia Yassmina about Food Made Good’s launch in the UAE, and the role it has to play in transforming sustainability in the restaurant sector. An advocacy platform, resource, tool and free assessment provider, it helps restaurants and food service providers find a place to start with sustainability.

Having launched in the UK over ten years ago, it has expanded into Spain, Denmark, Turkey, and most recently, the UAE, offering accessible insights and actionable advice regarding enhancing restaurant sustainability.


Lorenzo Gardelli of Lamb Weston on integrating sustainable practices in food production

In conversation with Chief Editor Fawzia Yassmina, Lorenzo Gardelli of Lamb Weston explained that sustainability is at the core of the business, due to the company’s potato products being intrinsically linked with the earth. Gardelli explained that the management of waste, and assisting consumers in making healthier choices and pushing toward climate goals are key focuses of the business.

Further, Gardelli explored some of the actionable ways the company is driving forward sustainability, including optimising efficiency in the kitchen, creating more sustainable packaging and tackling food waste. 

Gulfood highlights sustainability, but further innovation and progress required

Gulfood 2023 showcased how far the F&B industry has come in recent years with regard to sustainability and climate awareness; however, it is clear that there is still a way to go. Food waste, supply chain traceability and emissions, regenerative farming and plant-based innovation, must all take centre stage if the world is to truly transform global food systems for the better.

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