The worldwide vegan trend has reached the UAE, but what are its greatest challenges and how can Irish companies capitalize?
Background to veganism in the UAE
In global NPD terms, over the last five years, the share of product launches with a vegan claim has increased while vegetarian claims have declined. ‘This suggests that brands are focusing more on the very specific nature of what vegan is’ (Mintel, 2018). In the UAE, each month sees new vegan options arrives on both retail shelves and in foodservice.
In the UAE, the value of meat substitute products has risen from $8.2m to almost $12m in 2019. It is forecast that this figure will grow to $15.1m by 2023 (Global Data, 2019).
The UAE has a population of 9.8m (World Population View, 2020), with 90% of these are immigrants. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the two biggest cities in the country. With every passing month, more vegan options arrive on the supermarket shelves and on restaurant menus in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
More and more restaurants, café, hotels and QSR’s are including vegan products on their menus over the last 18 months. This is represented by Beyond Burger’s coverage across the UAE. From being virtually non-existent in 2018, by November 2019 the product was listed in 60 outlets (Khaleej Times, 2019).
Dedicated restaurants and initiatives aim to increase the exposure of veganism in the country. Italian restaurant Ronda Locatell, features 40 vegan dishes including 8 vegan pizzas while Restaurant MINA, based in Dubai, began its Meat-Free Mondays campaign (Timout Dubai, 2019).
Impossible burger launched in UAE in January 2020 while a delivery service for flexitarians ‘Flexi Kitchen; launched in late 2019. Similar trends can be seen in retail as stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets are listing vegan products on their shelves.
However, while the demand for such products is rising, there is no question that veganism faces many challenges in the region.
The UAE is a price sensitive consumer (McDonnell, 2017). The difference in price between vegan and conventional products can serve as a challenge for vegan products, in both foodservice and retail.
In 2 Ouncez, a regular cheeseburger is 39, compared with a beyond burger which is €9.80, compared with a vegan beyond burger which is €17.50.
The Beyond Burger has a significant price range from €8.75 in EatPikle in Dubai to €18.75 in Southern Sun in Abu Dhabi. In retail, Spinney’s list a pack of two Beyond Burger patties at €11 (€6.50/patty).
Challenges to the sector
The popularity of veganism relies heavily on the population dynamics of the UAE. Over the course of the last 12 months, it has been reported that 400,000 westerners have left Dubai and 400,000 Asians entering the country. While Arab’s are adopting western eating habits, losing the western population is a threat to future demand.
The impact of the Coronavirus will not be fully comprehended until late summer, early autumn, but it is likely that restaurants will find it difficult to recoup losses. A reduction in the number of food outlets is a realistic consequence. Coupled with the threats of reduced incomes and spending power may leave expensive vegan options in a precarious position.
Meat consumption is on the rise in UAE and will also pose a threat to the progression of veganism. This popularity of meat is fuelled by the high numbers of highly affluent ex-pats, the health conscience Emirati consumers with a focus on leaner meats and the increased availability of Halal–certified meat (Global Data, 2019).
The future for Irish suppliers in this sector?
Competition in this space is rising. In foodservice, many restaurants are producing their own style vegan substitute products, eg Nolu’s Downtown Quinoa burger. Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are appearing in more and more outlets.
In retail, companies such as Quorn, VIV ERA, Meatless Farm Co, Moving Mountains, Lightlife and Land of Tofu among other, can be seen across virtually all retail outlets.
For Irish companies looking at this competitive space, the greatest considerations must be around innovation and price. Vegan products are still in demand and distributors are actively looking for new opportunities to add this listing to their portfolio. However, the innovative nature of the product and company, as well as the price it is offered at, are major considerations if the venture is to be considered and/or to succeed.
Global Data, (2019). Meat Substitutes in the UAE Outlook to 2023.
McDonnell, R. (2017). Understanding the UAE consumer (Online). Available at https://bordbia.bloomfire.eu/posts/2004093-understanding-the-uae-consumer-2017. [Accessed 25 March 2020].
Murphy, D. (2019). Ronda Locatelli adds nine new dishes to its huge vegan menu. (Online) Available at https://www.timeoutdubai.com/restaurants/410079-ronda-locatelli-adds-nine-new-dishes-to-its-huge-vegan-menu [Accessed 24 March 2020].
Rodrigues, J. (2019). Why Beyond Meat is a trend you need to sink your teeth into. (Online). Available at https://www.khaleejtimes.com/lifestyle/food/why-beyond-meat-is-a-trend-you-need-to-sink-your-teeth-into [Accessed 25 March 2020]
Strutton, M, (2018). What's driving the unstoppable rise of vegan claims? An overview of how vegan claims are taking off in food & drink and beauty & personal care.
United Nations, (2019). World Population Prospects – Population Division – United Nations (Online). Available at https://population.un.org/wpp/DataQuery/ [Accessed 25 March 2020].