5 Innovative Trends Discovered At Gulfood 2023

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Gulfood is the largest food and beverage trade show in the world. This year, over 5,000 exhibitors gathered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to showcase their F&B products to an estimated 100,000+ visitors from across the globe. The event serves as a key indicator of global F&B trends, with particular attention to the Gulf region. 

Friend of the newsletter, Dr. Dalal AlGhawas – Agrifood Consultant at  SWAPAC, bridging the food security gap between East and West Asia attended the event and sat down with us to share 4 innovative trends she observed at Gulfood 2023.


In Today’s Email:

  • The Gulf: A Prime Market For The F&B Sector
  • Five Innovative Trends From Gulfood 2023:
    • #1 – Millet-Based Products
    • #2 – Date Innovations
    • #3 – Novel Dairy Products
    • # 4 – Functional Drinks
    • #5 – Plant-Based  Products

The Gulf: A Prime Market for the F&B Sector

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising six countries in the Gulf region, has become one of the most rapidly expanding and lucrative F&B markets worldwide. 

According to  MENA Research Partners, a regional research company, the food and beverage sector in the GCC was projected to reach $196 billion by 2021, growing at an annual rate of 7.1 percent. The region’s strong economy and growing urban population contribute to an increased demand for premium and quality food and beverages.

With a predominantly desert landscape, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region imports over 80% of its food, offering significant opportunities for F&B companies to fulfill the region’s food requirements.

Consumers are reportedly seeking to fill their baskets full of nutritious, functional products as health consciousness in the Gulf grows. At the same time, the Gulf is a curious market and consumers seek new products from around the world, for which they are willing to pay a premium.

Five Innovative Trends from Gulfood 2023

Gulfood is mammoth in scale and size. It covers more than an estimated 1 million square feet of convention space. Dr. AlGhawas highlighted the following trends and innovations showcased at this year’s event:

#1 – Millet-Based Products Make a Strong Showing

2023 has been designated as  the year of the millet, and boy did Gulfood know it. From savory superfood Jowar puffs to millet-based porridges and milk, the superfood grains made a strong showing at the expo.

Ella Foods’ Millet Poha | Courtesy of Dala AlGhawas (2023)

Millet is a grain that is slowly making a comeback as a health food. A staple food in India for centuries, they are high in fiber, calcium, and iron. They can also be grown in lands with poor soil quality and limited irrigation.

Dr. AlGhawas says millets are a promising crop for a world running low on arable land. They have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, making them a functional food too.

🍿 Company To Watch:  Eatopia  | Jowar Puffs

Eatopia is an India-based healthy snack company. Its Jowar Puffs attracted a lot of attention at Gulfood 2023 as a nutritious but flavor-packed snack. The Puffs come in flavors such as Bajra & Coconut and Ragi & Chocolate. 

#2 – The Date Debuts As An Upcoming Innovative Ingredient

Despite tough conditions, the Gulf has a few major agricultural sectors. One of its top crops is dates.

At Gulfood this year, there was a clear trend towards premium date products. Premiumization is sweeping through the entire F&B industry. According to Dr. AlGhawas, it was clear in the number of high-end date products on show.

Startup Dayts upcycles dates into value-added ingredients | Courtesy of Dalal AlGhawas (2023)

🌴 Company To Watch:  Dayts  | Date-based shelf stabilizer

One noteworthy innovation from Gulfood 2023 was Israeli startup DAYTS’ date-powered technology. The company is upcycled date sidestreams by extracting antioxidants from them to create a natural shelf stabilizer. The product is still in development but it hints at some of the exciting ways that companies are finding to upcycle agricultural waste into value-added products.  

#3 – Plant and Animal-Based Novel Dairy Products

There were gallons of alternatives to cow milk products at Gulfoods this year.

Lactose intolerance is present in as much as 70% of the population in the Middle East according to  research  and more and more consumers are going dairy free. This creates market opportunities for new types of dairy products in the region.

🥛 Company To Watch:  Marijampoles Pieno Konservai UAB  | Condensed oat milk

One company hoping to capitalize on this trend was Lithuanian dairy company, Marijampoles Pieno Konservai UAB. They showcased their oat-based and coconut-based condensed milk products – an interesting format that stood out from the typical soy, almond, and oat milks. 

Plants aside, the Gulf region is also unique for cultivating a camel milk industry. Camel milk has a range of health benefits such as 50% less fat than cow’s milk, less lactose than dairy, and abundant proteins that boost immunity such as lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, immunoglobulins, and lysozyme. For this reason, it has earned superfood status.

Camelicious flavored camel milk | Courtesy of Dalal AlGhawas (2023)

According to Dr. AlGhawas, there was super innovation in this category on display at Gulfood 2023, with local Emirati brands such Camelicious (dates, saffron, strawberry and chocolate flavored camel milk) and Camelait (Instant Camel Milk Coffee) proudly showcasing premium products for international markets. 

🐫 Company To Watch:  Barakat  | Camel milk Ghaf smoothie

Bakarat, a fresh produce supplier from the UAE, was exhibiting a Ghaf smoothie made with camel milk. Ghaf is a highly nutritious plant that is believed to be especially good for the gut.

# 4 – Functional Drinks Focussed On Health

Functional beverages are trending in the MENA region. High temperatures, growing health consciousness, and low alcohol consumption have created a fertile market for drinks that hydrate and provide additional health benefits. The market is expected to grow at a rate of  8.5% CAGR  between 2022 – 2028.

Unsurprisingly, exhibitors showcased a range of interesting functional drinks at Gulfood 2023. 

☕️ Company To Watch:  Nature’s Own Factory  | Buckwheat tea

Nature’s Own Factory is a local Gulf producer of buckwheat teas. The products are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and fiber.

🥤 Company To Watch:  Laperva  | Keto Colas

Laperva, a European sports nutrition company showcased their Keto Cola. The product is sugar-free, naturally sweetened with stevia, and includes several functional ingredients like MCT and Glutamine.

#5 – Plant-Based Meat, Eggs, and Fish

There are no shortages of plant-based meat brands in the UAE. By 2027, the global market for plant-based foods will exceed $38 billion according to Market Research Future® (MRFR). Thousands of plant-based protein brands were showcasing their products at Gulfood 2023.

Today regional food giants such  Americana Foods  have a full-fledged  Nabati range, and the UAE’s  Al Islami Foods  have their sunflower protein plant-based burger. Saudi Arabia’s  Al Kabeer Group  and even a traditional meat mortadella player  Siniora Food Industries‘ Badeel (literally meaning ‘Alternative’ in Arabic) have their own plant-based meat ranges too.

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While GCC players are diversifying their meat portfolio to include a plant-based range, this year at Gulfood, the  IFFCO Group  is announcing their first 100% plant-based meat range Thryve, which has invested in cutting-edge food technology to catalyze a sustainable shift in the food system.

Soytto Burger exhibited by Fuji Trading Company | Courtesy of Dalal AlGhawas (2023)

Catching up with APAC players, it was positive to see new offerings for the GCC market.

🤯 Companies To Watch:

🍔 Fuji Trading Company  | Soyetto Burger – a plant-based burger made with soybeans and konjac.

🍡 Iceplantze  | “MOCHI” Dessert Soymilk & Yuzu  – dairy-free mochi and ice cream.

🥟 Taste Altn  | Dim Sum – Meat-free dim sum range from Singapore.

🍢 Jumain Sataysfaction  | Meatless Satay.

🍳 Onlyeg  | Egg Fried Rice – egg free fried rice ready meals.

🥟 Thai Union  | Plant based shrimp dumplings.

Taste Asia’s plant-based fried rice with OnlyEg | Courtesy of Dalal AlGhawas (2023)

That’s all folks

Big thank you to Dr. Dala AlGhawas for supporting this article with interviews, content, and photos. You can follow Dr. AlGhawas on  LinkedIn  and  Instagram.

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