The potential for organic food in Middle East

By Hannah Abdulla | April 10, 2015

The demand for organic food in the Middle East and North Africa is increasing, in part, prompted by ex-pat consumers. However, at present, the sector is only valued at US$110.1m compared to mature markets like the US, where organic food is worth billions. However, there is also a reliance on imports, pointing to some opinion that there is a big opportunity for international organic food manufacturers. Hannah Abdulla explores.

Organic food is becoming an area of increasing interest in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2014, the organic sector in the region was valued at US$110.1m compared with $72.4m in 2009, according to Euromonitor International.

Compared to a mature market like the US, where sales of organic food and beverages were – according to Packaged Facts – forecast to reach $53.5bn in 2014, the organic food movement in MENA’s is in its early stages. Growth varies from country to country too. Israel has remained top of the MENA organic food leader board with a sector valued at $67.1m in sales in 2014 compared with $46m in 2009. The UAE follows at $18.1m versus with $11.9m in 2009 and in Egypt, the market was worth $9.5m last year, up from $5.3m in 2009.

Liron Kriaf, contributing analyst for Euromonitor International, explains in Israel a range of factors have led to the growth of the market. Kriaf points to the greater awareness of the organic movement and its purported benefits, broader media coverage and government-imposed regulations ensuring organic products “are actually organic” for resulting in a higher uptake among Israeli consumers. There is also a much wider distribution of organic products in sales channels across the country.

In the UAE, the region’s second-largest market for organic food, the demographics of the population have a lot to do with influencing the sector’s growth. Joby Mathew Muricken, head of exhibitions at the Middle East Natural & Organic Product Expo, which specialises in showcasing organic and natural foods, says the UAE’s population is quite young and “keen to embrace a healthy lifestyle”. In addition, he says the rising number of professionals, with a growing interest in healthy eating habits and chemical-free foodstuffs is a further reason for the segment’s popularity.

There’s also a high foreign expatriate population. In the UAE alone, around 80% of residents are foreign ex-pats. For western ex-pats – who have likely had greater exposure to organic offerings – organic is something they are on the look out for, particularly when it comes to feeding their children.

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