Retail space given over to organic food and drink in the UAE has grown 60% in the last four years according to new research from Mintel, creating a major opportunity for both local growers and international brands.

Part of the impetus behind growth of UAE’s organic market is the country’s strict regulations on imported fresh produce. UAE’s ministry of Climate Change recently announced that it had banned imports of certain fruits and vegetables from countries including Egypt, Oman, Lebanon and Yemen. This is because produce from these countries has reportedly been found to contain pesticide residues in excess of permissible limits. The ban, which came into effect from 15 May 2017, reflects how food safety has become a core priority of the country’s food security system and is said to continue until necessary safety requirements are being met.

The newly introduced ban certainly reflects how organic food is becoming an area of increasing interest in the Middle East. Retail space stocking organic products in UAE has increased by 60% over the last four years, according to a study conducted by Global Links. This trend is also replicating itself in other markets in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

Organic food is on the agenda of food and drink operators, but only a few are promoting the organic claim on-pack. According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), just 2% of food and drink launches in the UAE were positioned as organic in the year to October 2017. Instead, the majority of operators focus on wider natural and free-from claims: ‘no additives and preservatives’ is currently the most used ‘natural’ claim in the market, featuring on 16% of all product launches.

Mintel says there is therefore an opportunity to “stand out from the crowd by promoting organic claims”. Some major food brands are already doing so, such as Arla with its recent launch of Organic Milk in the UAE, as well as Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup, which was also launched in the UAE.

Currently, Israel and Egypt lead in organic-certified food and drink innovation in the Middle East but UAE’s share has grown in the last few years.

Leading retailers have a role to play in raising consumer awareness of organic food and drink, and in continuing to increase the shelf space available for these products, says Mintel. This, it says, will encourage local food and drink producers to develop new organic lines as well as open the door for more imported organic brands from more developed organic market.

Photo: Use of organic claim by Middle Eastern countries in 2016 and 2017