Camelicious: crossing borders

The merits of camel milk are gaining wider recognition and now The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products is tapping into markets further afield

The Food And Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations (FAO) is not a body well known for its levity. After all, its mission is “a world without hunger” - hardly a laughing matter. But on its webpage about camel milk, even it can’t resist having a little joke at the expense of the much-maligned dromedary. “Tapping the market for camel milk,” it writes, “involves resolving a series of humps in production, collection, processing and marketing.”

But, iron out some of the problems both in collection and perception and, the FAO recognises that there is a huge potential market, worth potentially over US$10bn. Camel milk is high in Vitamin C and low in fat, more digestible than cow's milk, lower in cholesterol and suitable for the lactose-intolerant.

And this month, the market got a little bigger. When the UAE finally obtained a license to export dairy products to the European Union, it meant that The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products (EICMP) finally got the go-ahead to begin tapping into the European market.

EICMP is these days most famous for its Camelicious brand, but it’s been a long journey for the Dubai-based company. “We started commercial production in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we launched the fresh plain milk into the market,” says Mutasher Al-Badry, its Deputy General Manager. “Since then we’ve brought in other flavours, and made yoghurt, cheese and chocolate from camel milk, but because the UAE didn’t have a license, we couldn’t let people outside the Middle East try it. We worked closely with all the organisations to make sure that would change, and it’s taken a long time.”

EICMP will find itself up against some hefty competitors – the latest big advertising push has been for Alpro’s similarly health-conscious almond milk. And while Alpro may style itself as an independent, lifestyle brand, it’s owned by Dean Foods, the largest dairy company in the world. So for now, perhaps sensibly, EICMP is not promising that litres of camel milk will miraculously appear overnight in European supermarkets and health stores.

“The shelf life of fresh camel milk is very low, so logistically it won’t make much sense right now,” admits Al-Badry. “But we are going to export the freeze-dried milk powder flakes, which also has uses in cosmetics and for pharmaceutical companies as it helps the skin. And we do have future plans to make an instant-milk powder which can be mixed with water.”

EICMP’s plans are interesting, if only because fashioning a viable business out of camel milk is not easy: their 3,000 camels only produce seven litres a day each, compared to 35 from a cow. Of course, the intrigue also comes from what camel milk tastes like: “A little saltier than cow’s milk because of all the minerals, but lighter, too,” says Al-Badry. “But once you enjoy it, you never go back.”

But are notoriously cross creatures amenable to the commercialisation of their milk? “We keep them happy,” smiles Al-Badry. EICMP has to. A camel with the hump is not good for business.