Anna Ryan, Sustainability Development, Bord Bia- Irish Food Board

Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food and drink trade show, took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the 18th – 22nd February. 20 Irish companies exhibited under the Origin Green Ireland pavilion and the show was attended by over 90,000 people across five days.

Gulfood gives us the opportunity to take a closer look at the key food and drink trends affecting the Middle East and African markets, with the below set to have the biggest impact.


The key trends and sales drivers in the beverage industry include plant-based varieties and beverages that are brewed in small batches using natural, local ingredients such as honey and agave. Functional, reduced sugar and “superfruit” juices are also high-value categories gaining popularity in the UAE, due to the growing young population and developing middle class. The popularity of hot drinks is also increasing in the region, with a focus on quality, luxury and experience, with a further emphasis on flavour, health and functionality.


The UAE, with its developed modern grocery channels, will enjoy higher per capita sales than the average for the Middle East and Africa for cheese. However, product affordability and an underdeveloped cold chain infrastructure in many markets remain key barriers to increased adoption of dairy in many markets. Yogurt and fermented milk products have seen a strong performance across most key markets, notably Algeria and Egypt. Non-dairy alternatives and organic products are also increasing in popularity.

Fats & Oils

Oils from sources such as vegetables, nuts and fish are in high demand among health-conscious consumers who are seeking low-fat, low-cholesterol and low-calorie varieties.

Health & Wellness and Free-From

Consumption patterns in the region are changing due to increased health consciousness. Manufacturers focusing on expanding their range of healthier options will have the edge. Strong natural, health and sustainability credentials form the basis of innovation and new product development in global food and beverages.

Mindful eating is one of the latest shifts in consumer food and drink perception. Consumers are more aware of what is included in the products than ever before. This is influencing purchase decisions, as consumers look for minimally processed and natural food and drink options, in line with the clean label trend.

Vegan and gluten-free products are also fast becoming a popular choice for consumers in the area. While consumers opt for products with low-calorie options, they are also equally keen on longevity foods such as avocado oil and dragon fruit.

Pulses, Grains & Cereals

This sector is being influenced by the popularity of organic products. In addition, as an affordable source of protein, pulses are important to the health-conscious consumer.

Meat & Poultry

Concerns over health, environment and animal welfare, as well as changing demographics and tastes, have all contributed to red meat’s relative decline in popularity in the region. Meat substitutes are set to continue to gain popularity, with consumers shifting from frozen to chilled variants.

New protein-based foods are to become more mainstream. Cultured protein or alt-protein are gaining popularity as food manufacturers look to develop meat and poultry alternatives.


Convenience stores are increasingly adding hot and cold takeaway service, while coffee shops (the fastest-growing foodservice segment) increasingly offer sandwiches, hot bakery items and sweet and savoury snacks in convivial surroundings. Other fast-growing foodservice categories include street stalls and kiosks, as consumers increase their on-the-go consumption.


Sustainability issues are increasingly becoming a bigger concern for consumers in the UAE, with packaging and food waste, in particular, becoming a cause for concern. Dubai is aiming to become a global benchmark by recycling 100% of its waste and bringing the volume of waste sent to landfill down to zero by 2030.

Dubai’s #ZeroFoodWaste campaign calls on food establishments and individuals to collaborate in reducing waste along the entire food value chain. Consumers in the region are becoming more interested in where their food comes from. Consumers are increasingly choosing food that is traceable by origin and source.

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