Key trends shaping the future of the UAE retail sector
Rachel Tobin, International Graduate, Dubai
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) retail market is a fast-growing and ever-evolving industry with a large product offering for consumers. 10 million people call the UAE home, with the vast majority of these expatriates from around the world. The global influence is evident in supermarkets, which carry a wide array of products to cater for every cuisine. Bord Bia recently held a market study visit in Dubai to explore the retail landscape and understand key trends and opportunities within the market.
Consumers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are becoming more conscious of products that they purchase, from both a health and sustainability perspective (McKinsey, 2022). In line with global consumer trends, consumers in the UAE have become increasingly more health conscious since the onset of the pandemic. Supermarkets across the region have seen growth in their ‘better for you’ and ‘free from’ product offerings in response to consumer demand. In addition to these claims, organic claims are growing within the UAE with sales of organic produce in the UAE expected to reach $52billion by 2025 (Statista, 2022). ‘Low-fat’ and ‘low-sugar’ claims are also popular amongst consumers in the UAE (McKinsey, 2019).
Awareness of sustainability amongst consumers in the UAE is growing. Food security is a major concern in the UAE, as approximately 90% of the food consumed needs to be imported (Strategy and Middle East, 2020). The pandemic saw disruptions to food supplies due to supply chain issues. As the region is so heavily reliant on importing food, this leaves the UAE vulnerable to food shortages which is why there are large efforts to increase food security within the country to minimise any threats to food supply. There have been advances seen in new technologies to increase local food production, (Strategy and Middle East, 2020) however, there is still a demand for imported food, especially from Europe, as this is perceived as very high quality, nutritious and safe, all important factors for UAE consumers (Bord Bia, 2021).
Despite the growing demand for healthy and sustainable food options, price sensitivity remains a key consideration for many consumers in the UAE (McKinsey, 2022). 2022 saw inflation rise to unprecedented levels. As a result consumers have become more value-conscious and focused on getting the best possible price for their purchases. Retailers are competing aggressively on price, often through promotions and discounts, in-store and online to attract customers. Private label offerings are also growing amongst retailers who aim to offer customers high-quality products at more affordable prices (GulfNews, 2023).
E-commerce grocery offers consumers a convenient and efficient way to purchase groceries. The convenience of home delivery, flexible ordering options, and competitive pricing have all contributed to the popularity of e-commerce grocery. The market is seeing significant growth, with predictions that the e-commerce grocery market in the GCC region will reach $3.5 billion by 2024 (Euromonitor International, 2021). As a result, traditional retailers and online marketplaces are all vying for a share of the market and must stay competitive to win over consumers.
Overall the outlook for the UAE grocery market is positive. As the country continues to grow and new players enter the retail sector, this will open up opportunities for a wider range and larger volume of products to cater for all.
McKinsey & Company. (2022). How to win in the Gulf's dynamic consumer and retail sectors. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/how-to-win-in-the-gulfs-dynamic-consumer-and-retail-sectors
Statista. (2021). Forecasted organic food retail sales value in the United Arab Emirates from 2017 to 2025. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1295846/uae-forecasted-organic-food-retail-sales-value/
Gulf News. (2023). Demand for private label products on the rise in the Middle East, says Lulu. Retrieved from https://gulfnews.com/uae/demand-for-private-label-products-on-the-rise-in-the-middle-east-says-lulu-1.1676964695979
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McKinsey & Company. (2019). Navigating a perfect storm in the Middle East's consumer sector. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/middle-east-and-africa/navigating-a-perfect-storm-in-the-middle-easts-consumer-sector.
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