Opportunities abound in Middle East

For fresh fruit and vegetable marketing and distribution in Asia
Mike Knowles



Opportunities abound in Middle East

This week's Eurofruit Middle East Congress assessed the potential for supplying fresh produce to the region

Opportunities abound in Middle East

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Opportunities to supply the Middle East market appear set to grow over the next couple of years as continued investment in the region, particularly in the modern retail sector, combines with steady population growth to offer significant new avenues for imports into the region.

This was the main message taken away by delegates to this year's Eurofruit Middle East Congress, the region's only international fresh produce conference, which took place on 17-19 November 2008 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai, UAE.

Stefano Iorini of Unifrutti, a leading supplier to the region, said the importance of the Middle East as an international market for fresh produce was greater than ever. "Most fruit needs to be imported into the region, because local production is limited and not enough for the population," he said. "Consuming large amounts of fruit and vegetables is part of the culture here."

Some 250 delegates from a total of 30 countries attended the three-day event, which included a conference programme of presentations and panel discussions from leading industry executives and analysts, as well as study tours to retail outlet Panda and airfreight operator Emirates' new Mega Cargo Terminal.

Dubai has grown considerably as a major hub for the fresh produce trade in the Middle East over the past few years and looks set to continue on that trajectory. In fact, the city is reportedly attracting an even greater volume of fresh fruit and vegetables this year as suppliers to markets in Europe turn their attention to the Middle East, where demand from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran is also helping to sustain recent growth in imports through Dubai.

But in addition to clear opportunities to send product to the region, the conference also drew attention to major challenges that will also be in evidence over the coming 12 months, notably the impact of the global economic downturn on a region that many feel is not immune to financial difficulties elsewhere, as well as teething problems with new transport and logistics infrastructure.

Speaking about the pressures Dubai itself is under as a growing hub for fresh produce shipments to the region, Mike Knowles, editor of Eurofruit Magazine, told delegates the city would face increasing competition from other parts of the Gulf. "Dubai will face a number of challenges in the near future. As well as coping with logistics headaches and the global economic downturn, operators in the trade tell us it is also having to compete with a number of emerging markets elsewhere in the Middle East region," he said. " As populations grow and per capita GDP increases in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, there are going to be more viable options in terms of supplying these countries direct."

During a session looking in detail at future prospects for supplying Saudi Arabia market, Eugene Brand of Jeddah-based importer and trader Abbar & Zainy Cold Stores said he felt the market was poised to grow considerably over the next few years. "The age profile of the country's population, which is dominated by young people, will be very important for purchasing trends in Saudi Arabia and will affect the outcome of retail developments, with more direct services likely at the expense of wholesale," he said.

Other topics covered during the conference included the role of foodservice in the Middle East, the importance of generating added value and the new opportunities that are emerging for local suppliers such as Egypt and India to supply the region.

"Traditionally we have concentrated on serving our business partners in Europe, but in order to diversify and expand we will have to give equal attention to the Middle East, developing our brands and products," said Alaa Diab, president of leading Egyptian producer Pico Modern Agriculture.

Leading representatives from Italy's fresh fruit and vegetable sector help kicked off this year's Eurofruit Middle East Congress at a sponsored gala reception held in the hotel, where members of leading Italian fresh produce consortium Mediterranean Fruit Company (MFC) welcomed delegates.

MFC's foreign markets manager Federico Milanese said the meeting would offer the consortium's members a valuable opportunity to establish new business links in the region. "The aim is to have major visibility and to increase the number of Middle Eastern contacts we have," he added.

French interprofessional body Interfel and French apple association Le Crunch held a gala cocktail reception on the second evening of the event, promoting a range of France's fresh produce exports to the region.

Next year’s Eurofruit Middle East Congress takes place early November 2009 in Dubai. Dates will be confirmed shortly. Join the mailing list at info@mideastcongress.com

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