The Organic and Natural Digital Trade Week for Vegan and Free-From products saw several RFQs and adept speakers. Let’s take a look at expert opinions from our live webinar session.
COVID-19 accelerated the trend of conscious consumption, especially with price and well being.
Monique Naval, senior analyst at Euromonitor International, the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research, started by giving us an insight into consumer behavior, “COVID-19 accelerated the trend of conscious consumption, especially with price and well being. People are looking at immunity-boosting ingredients. This applies greatly to plant-based food.”
She continues to talk about the other reasons for turning to a plant-based diet, “Other reasons for a move to plant-based are climate concerns, pricing (fresh fruits and vegetables are priced lower than conventional meat products), and animal welfare.”
Davina Shah, founder & managing director of The Goods Collective & Co, GCC’s premier health & organic food supplier and distributor opined, “Consumers started becoming more conscious and wanted to know where the products are coming from. They wanted products to be immune-boosting, with added benefits of vitamins or spices such as turmeric.”
Mitun De Sarkar founder of Simply Healthy Foods and a Dubai-based clinical dietitian with over 19 years of professional experience in health foods, also shared,
“Our sector is understanding that people are asking for immunity-boosting foods. They are also looking for vegan supplements, vegan omega 3, dairy alternatives, and more.”
The industry as a whole predicts growth of 10.5% for plant-based products from now until 2026
Naval talked about global expectations post-pandemic, “On a global scale, 37% of people expect a permanent change to buy more health and wellness products and 27% expect a permanent change toward buying more products to improve life at home.”
“Costa was noticing a big global trend and veganism was one of them. We started a line called Costa 4u in the Middle East, where 80% of meals were all vegan. The vegan burrito wrap is the highest-selling wrap in the store. This was done after a lot of research”, said De Sarker, who has partnered up with Costa to create recipes for their vegan line. “The industry as a whole predicts a growth of 10.5% for plant-based products from now until 2026. The global organic food and beverages market is set to reach 323.56 billion by 2024.”
Local produce + imports are both just as important as each other
“With lockdown restrictions, governments across the world are looking at localization and producing more at their home countries. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been very active and have ensured that there is food security. However, imports are still important,” Naval touched upon the importance of food security in today’s day and age.
De Sarker also mentioned, “Opportunities are immense! Leading retailers have a role to play in consumer awareness and shelf space, and to develop new organic vegan lines. Millennials are quite adaptive and are opening up to the fact that veganism is good for health and also trendy.”
Industry leaders in the regional food industry think that increased shopping online will be a permanent to mid-term change.
Euromonitor had asked several experts in the food industry and they all seem to be pointing toward the continuing trend of online buying.
“We know that with COVID-19 there has been an increase in online shopping and a reduction for in-store purchases. We asked industry leaders in the food industry in the MENA region, and they think increased shopping online will be a permanent to mid-term change. There are now more occasions to eat at home. Even with fewer restrictions, a fear factor persists. So foodservice occasions have now shifted to home,” Naval said.
Shah added, “As a company, we had a very basic online shop but later started to see people reaching out to us directly to buy products online and on Whatsapp. Because of this, we’ve enhanced and focused our website a bit more. Online has surely lead the way during the pandemic, and this will stay post-pandemic as well.”
Dairy and meat alternatives: The facts
Naval spoke at great length about dairy and meat alternatives as these are the two main markets where vegan substitutes are applied, “The primary reasons for MENA consumers to opt for dairy alternatives are digestive health and weight loss or management, as per 39% of our survey responders. The retail value for this sector has grown at an exponential speed from 2014-1019. Blends with dairy alternatives offer room for innovation and more demand. Alternate sources of meat are also growing at a fast rate, mainly driven by veggie patties.”
The UAE and GCC have a diverse population. You need to understand who you are targetting.
When it came to advice for international suppliers wishing to enter the market, Shah stated, “The UAE and GCC have a diverse population. You need to understand who you are targetting. As long as the product is innovative and fits the sector, you will succeed. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth.”
“Ingredients in the products need to be clean and relatable with natural processing and nutrition. Home-based recipes created for retail spaces are more in demand, for a food service experience at home. Moreover, closing the price gap is important, as plant-based products such as alternate dairy and meat become more competitive. Suppliers should consider partnerships with brands that directly cater to the consumer such as coffee brands,” Navel suggested.
Buyers are sourcing products that are price competitive, tasty, and palatable with good packaging.
Shah had specific criteria while choosing products to source for distribution in the region, “We source products that are price competitive, tasty, and palatable. We also look at other things that matter, such as packaging and branding, that have to be relatable and on-trend. We have also had a big shift to vegan products recently for our company in terms of demand and requirements.”
Plant-based diets are here to stay, and other predictions about 2021 and beyond.
Naval is optimistic about the future, “There is a huge potential in plant-based food. Expo 2021 next year is also looking bright.”
De Sarkar added, “Plant-based diets are here to stay. You have to read up on the right material and educate yours.”
Davina said we will soon catch up with the western world, “Even though we are two to three years behind the western hemisphere, I feel organic vegan and gluten-free options in this region will be the norm and will be pushed with government incentives.”