How the UAE’s food trade will reach Dh23bn by 2030

Expo 2020 Dubai and the new Dubai Food Park will drive a boom in the local food industry. Jessica Holland investigates

The smell of sizzling gourmet beef burgers. Gleaming Cadillacs and vintage airstream trailers. Faded midcentury advertising billboards. When the Dubai’s first Last Exit opened last summer — a cluster of trucks serving upscale versions of street-food classics, on the E11 road from Abu Dhabi — it was one more sign that the city’s food scene is flourishing.

In fact, a recently released report predicts that the value of the UAE’s food trade will rocket to Dh23bn by 2030, an increase of 70 per cent.

What will drive this spectacular growth? A big part of the story is Expo 2020 Dubai, which will generate an estimated Dh2bn in onsite food and drink sales, generated by visitors attending the event between October 2020 and April 2021. 30,000 sq m of space has been set aside for these vendors, and 85,000 meals are expected to be served every hour at peak times. An additional five million meals will be required to keep the Expo 2020 Dubai workforce fed.

Dubai Food Park will play a pivotal role in enhancing food security and revitalising the growth of the food sector in the region and the world

Dr. Amina Al Rustamani, Group Chief Executive Officer of TECOM Group

“This is a major opportunity for SMEs [small and mid-sized businesses] in the food and beverage sector,” said Manal AlBayat, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Integration at Expo 2020 Dubai, “to showcase the many cuisines and cultures within the UAE to millions of visitors from around the world.”

Expo 2020 is great news for Dubai’s food businesses, but it’s not the only initiative behind the projected growth of the industry. In July 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled plans for a Dh5.5bn food business park that will help make the emirate the region’s leading hub for food exports.

Dubai Food Park will sprawl across 48m sq ft in a location that’s close to both Ali Port and Al Maktoum International Airport, part of Dubai Wholesale City. It will include a wholesale market selling goods to hotels, shops and restaurants, and will also host hotels, areas for logistics, packing and processing, and an organic waste recycling centre.

According to Abdulla Al Habbai, Chairman of Dubai Holding, the idea came about “to meet the growing demand of the food sector in the UAE and the region, triggered by population growth and the development of the tourism sector.” He added that “there is an increased need for specialised logistical services that ease supply chain costs, as well as for more dedicated spaces to accommodate the fast growing operations of food companies in Dubai.”

This is a major opportunity… to showcase the many cuisines and cultures within the UAE to millions of visitors from around the world

Manal AlBayat, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Integration at Expo 2020 Dubai

The park will “play a pivotal role in enhancing food security,” said Dr. Amina Al Rustamani, Group Chief Executive Officer of TECOM Group, “and revitalising the growth of the food sector in the region and the world.”

Government figures show that the industry currently makes up around 11 per cent of the nation’s GDP, and KPMG’s 2016 UAE Food & Beverage Report demonstrated that 2 in 3 people in the nation reported spending more than last year on meals, on average. Lavish brunches were particularly popular, with 2 out of every 3 UAE residents having brunch at least once a month. The same number eat dinner out every weekend, while 3 out of 4 said that they order takeaway at least once a week.

The expected growth of Dubai’s food and drinks businesses is good for the industry, the nation, and for customers, who will find their options proliferating for diverse, high-quality, satisfying meals. Some of these will be served up by Michelin-starred restaurants, some of these will be fast-food outlets and neighbourhood brunch spots, and some may be from old-style aluminium trailers, that give off an air of midcentury glamour, and are parked at the side of a busy road.