Northern Irish produce gaining ground in UAE

(MENAFN – Khaleej Times) When you think of Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s highly unlikely that Northern Irish (NI) produce comes to mind. But, from 2011 to 2015, this tiny nation has seen an increase of 24 per cent when it comes to food and beverage exports to the Middle East & Africa (MEA).With a population of just 1.8 million, and with 2016 being the country’s ‘Year of Food and Drink’, Northern Irish companies are eager to push their local produce in the UAE’s food market – which is worth an impressive Dh42 billion.

In a country that hosts more than 200 different nationalities, it seems the residents are keen to get their hands on NI produce too – by large part through popular supermarket chains.Looking at NI’s food and drink exports solely to the Middle East, it hit an impressive 61 million last year, with dairy products topping the list.

But there’s certainly room for more NI produce here, Shane McArdle, business development director, Invest Northern Ireland (INI), said recently.McArdle touched on the country’s current presence in the food and drink market in the UAE.

“Food export is one of our country’s biggest commodities and that speaks volumes about our produce. In fact, about 75 per cent of our produce is exported.”He said the UAE’s biggest import from NI is powdered milk, as well as cheese.

But halal meats, seafood, as well as more niche products, like free-from brands, are also expanding to meet growing demand.”People in the UAE want quality and many consumers here have excess income to spend on luxury goods. Many retailers here stock goods from Northern Ireland including Lulu, Carrefour, Spinney’s and Choithrams.”

When we look at the figures, NI is a giant when it comes to the world of food, with agriculture earning the country 1.5 billion annually, and food and beverage processing an additional 4.5 billion.Several retailers from NI told Khaleej Times the response from UAE-based retailers has definitely picked up over the past few years. But many are now looking to push products to big airlines too.

“We’ve been looking at the possibility of stocking produce in Emirates and Etihad Business Class lounges,” Colum McLornan, Rule of Crumb founder, said.Offering a wide range of gluten free foods for sufferers of celiac disease, McLornan said they export about “7,000 products to the UAE every two months” to LuLu.

Carrefour will also be added to that stockiest list in October, however if the airlines do come on board, this export figure will “increase dramatically”, he said.Gulfood, which takes place annually in the UAE, will be coming to Dubai again on February 26, 2017.

An event which connects local and international food retailers, all retailers Khaleej Times spoke to in Northern Ireland said this was a “great arena for figuring out where to go next”, when it comes to the UAE food and drinks market.