Organic food off the menu for UAE hotels

By Elizabeth Broomhall, Arabian

UAE hotels are veering away from organic menus due to a lack of demand for guilt-free products in the region, food and beverage managers have said.

Organic food, which is produced naturally and under eco-friendly conditions, is too expensive for the majority of restaurant-goers, most of whom prefer lower-cost, conventional products, hotel staff said.

“The demand is not enough, no-one asks for it,” Gregor Schmidt-Kiefer, F&B manager for the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Dubai, told Arabian Business.

“We discussed this with our chefs, but it is very expensive and people aren’t prepared to pay for it in a hotel. It’s more than double [the price], especially for dairy products, so you have to price the dish higher.”

Kiefer said the hotel had experimented with organic tea, but the lack of demand meant even this was financially unviable.

“I wanted to try it with organic tea, but it’s not really popular either, people aren’t looking for it. We price it the same as the other tea, but we pay more than double to purchase it.”

Organic produce has attracted more attention in the UAE in recent years as individuals become more health conscious.

Experts say the demand for more naturally-produced food comes largely from the Western expatriate population, but is also growing among young Emirati females.

The Radisson Blu in Dubai Media City made a move towards organic alternatives last month, when it offered a special organic menu for diners between January 15 and January 31 at its Italian restaurant Certo.

F&B director Adil Souate said guests were largely uninterested in the new choices, with sales remaining low despite the possibility of discounts on dishes.

“It’s something that’s getting a bit more popular in Dubai, but so far the demand is not there,” he said.

“In terms of sales it didn’t produce a lot, we sold about 180 portions in two weeks – about 6 percent of our total.”

Organic dishes were approximately 22 percent more expensive than normal options, he said, hiking the price of lunch or dinner quite significantly.

Hospitality consultants believe most hotels find organic menus less profitable than traditional options.

Whilst organic options are increasing, there is also a tendency to offer simply healthier products.

“Organic produce by definition is more expensive, because it produces lower yield, the shelf life is shorter and in most cases organic food is flown in,” said Daniel During, managing partner at hospitality consultancy Thomas Klein.

“While the general public may be ready to pay a premium for organic food, there is a limit to how much you can charge and therefore many times it is more profitable to use non-organic ingredients.”