Why UAE is in love with Irish food products

By Sarwat Nasir, Khaleej Times, Dubai

Ireland has exported Dh250 million (58.4 million) worth of food and beverage to the UAE in 2016 alone.

Knowing where our food originates from has become increasingly important in the UAE. The country has banned fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products from several different countries this past year due to unhygienic practices and high level of pesticides.

The country imports about 90 per cent of all of its food products, so it’s very cautious about the source of the food. Ireland, however, exports 90 per cent of it’s food, thanks to its green and wet environment. The Middle East has become one of its largest consumer base, especially the UAE.

Ireland has exported Dh250 million (58.4 million) worth of food and beverage to the UAE in 2016 alone. The UAE imported almost Dh111.23 million worth of Irish dairy products, Dh94 million in prepared foods, Dh6.4 million in Irish poultry and Dh5.5 million in Irish seafood.

When it comes to Irish food in Dubai, it is traceable back to the original Irish farm it came from through a barcode on the packaging – creating transparency and accountability. For some products, the name of the farmer is also available.

So, why is the UAE importing millions worth of food and beverages from Ireland? It’s probably because Ireland practises sustainable food production and organic farming. Bord Bia, the Irish food board, has implemented a quality assurance scheme, which allows consumers to track exactly where their food product came from. This means, the eggs, beef, yogurt, and crisps that are being sold in Dubai can be traced.

Khaleej Times recently visited the Irish farms and factories that produce eggs, beef, yogurt, potato crisps and chocolates, which are all available for consumption in Dubai.

Home grown eggs

The Nest Box Egg Company ships the Irish Golden Eggs to Dubai, which come from free-range and organic farms.

Khaleej Times visited the farm, where the hens are fed herbs and an organic diet to keep them healthy. The three thousand bird house lay free-range eggs that are all shipped just to Dubai. The hens have plenty of space to walk around in the green and lush Irish grass to keep healthy – enabling to lay healthier eggs for human consumption.

“We’ve taken all of our passion of eggs and we’re transporting that to Dubai. It’s a Bord Bia-proof product. We’ve been dealing with the farms that supply the eggs for over 26 years. It’s the most natural product you can get on the shelves,” said Stuart Whitton from the Nest Box Egg Company.

“That barcode that are on the boxes are put into our computing system so every single egg from hand to home can be traced. We go through half a million eggs every week. We have 26 local farms that supply us. They’re based on a contract basis. It’s a three thousand bird house and it’s purpose built to supply organic eggs to Dubai. These eggs are produced here and are sent to the Nest Box company to grade the eggs and make sure the eggs are ready to be shipped to Dubai.”

Irish beef story

© Tim Graham / Robert Harding/Rex

Ireland has shipped over Dh1.6 million worth of beef to the UAE in just the first half of 2017. The free range grass-fed beef is halal-certified and are popularly used among top chefs in the country. Similar to the egg transparency, the beef can also be traced back to the farm it came from.

Khaleej Times visited the Lakeview Farm, where each cow has a passport and an ear tag to track its movements.

“In terms of the halal process, it’s very regulated. There are a number of halal regulated exported plants that are approved by the UAE. Consumers in the UAE are looking for halal products and it’s done according to the requirements. There’s complete traceability and consumers know where their meat is coming from. In Ireland, there are a number of meat export plants because we export 90 per cent of our meat.

When we export products to the Middle East, they go into halal approved plants. They are looked after relevant authorities in Ireland and in the UAE. We make sure the halal practice is highly respected and monitored,” said Declan Fennell from Bord Bia.

The yogurt tale

Organic Irish yogurt, Glenisk, has been sold in Dubai for five years. Most consumers do not know how carefully the cows that produce the milk are looked after. The cows are fed fresh grass and hay, so they produce organic milk that is used for the yogurt.

“We’ve been in Spinneys for a long time and in the UAE for five years. When we started in Dubai, I genuinely thought we would get six months until the local industry caught up. But it wasn’t until later we understood the lack of grass in the UAE. We took for granted how green and wet it is for cows in Ireland,” said Vincent Cleary, the managing director at Glenisk.

UAE imports from Ireland (2016)

Dh250 million worth food and beverages

Dh111.23 million worth dairy products

Dh94 million worth of processed foods

Dh6.4 million worth poultry

Dh5.5 million worth seafood

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