The UAE – a gulf of opportunity for New Zealand F&B


aug14-export-400While on the surface it may appear there are very few similarities between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and New Zealand, our trade relationship is actually a perfect fit.

As New Zealand bears the brunt of winter and looks forward to the burst of spring, temperatures here in Dubai soar to well over 40 degrees; New Zealand’s lush pastures contrast with the UAE’s desert sands.

The GCC, or the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the UAE is part of and also comprises Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman, sits atop an estimated third of the world’s oil reserves, has less than 1.5 percent arable land, and imports up to 90 percent of its food. Contrast this with New Zealand; we import the vast majority of our oil and gas needs (in 2013 we imported more than $2.9 billion worth of oil and gas from the GCC), nearly 50 percent of our land is used for agriculture, and we export more than 90 percent of our agricultural produce.

It is stark differences such as these that provide a platform for Kiwi businesses to excel in a market so different from our own. And when you look at the contrasts, it is quite easy to see how we complement each other and where the opportunities are.

The relationship between New Zealand and the GCC is one of mutual benefit. Our annual two-way trade has been growing at about 10 percent per year, and in 2013 was $4.7 billion ($1.4 billion in exports and $3.3 billion in imports).

New Zealand has been exporting meat and dairy to this region for many decades and commodity exports remain a core component of our exports, with over $200 million of meat and $1 billion of dairy exported to the region last year. But this is beginning to change, and the area of most interest is the rise in high-end, high-quality branded food and beverage products, particularly into the UAE, our most significant market in the GCC. Here brand is king, and residents and visitors have an increasing appetite for such products.

The UAE is a competitive market, with food and beverages from around the world available in luxury hotels and restaurants and in malls across the country. You only have to be here for a few days to realise just how much variety there is and just how spoiled for choice consumers are with a full array of international options available.

Despite this competition, New Zealand is well-regarded for our quality food and beverage products, and we continue to break into the market by promoting our environmentally friendly, healthy and high-quality credentials, while also outlining Kiwi companies’ commitment to halal certification.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is actively helping more than 100 New Zealand companies enter and grow in the UAE, with more than half of these food and beverage companies. Added to this is a growing, but strong, group of food technology and agribusiness companies to round out the broader food production and food service sector.

Given the potential in this market, NZTE is focusing on building the overall profile of New Zealand F&B amongst discerning consumers and food service professionals.

One of our activities here is our Taste New Zealand chef competition which aims to increase exposure for Kiwi companies, particularly amongst the restaurant and hotel industry. The annual competition invites professional chefs from across the UAE to experiment with New Zealand ingredients. In this year’s competition, we gave the 10 finalists just 60 minutes to create a dish from a full pantry of mystery New Zealand ingredients. The winner will visit New Zealand later this year to experience our food production systems first-hand.

The competition is proving to be a winning formula and has helped a number of Kiwi food and beverage companies break into the competitive hotel restaurant scene here.

But this is not the only avenue for growth. New Zealand companies have also been expanding into the consumer market. Walk around any of the western supermarket chains in Dubai and it does not take long to spot products from home.

Kiwi dairy and meat are our staples, but it is the recent additions to the market that best illustrate the new consumer-led opportunities for Kiwi firms. Tegel chicken and Whittaker’s chocolate are two of the more recent additions to this market, joining the likes of Phoenix Organics, Jack Links and Comvita on supermarket shelves, and many others who supply meat, seafood, and specialist ingredients to hotels and restaurants.

Growth in this part of the world continues to rise, and the opportunities here will only become more lucrative for those companies producing high-quality products. Dubai has been named as the host of the World Expo in 2020, and has a concerted focus on building its tourism industry. This only bodes well for New Zealand food and beverage companies.

By Haylon Smith, trade commissioner – Middle East & Africa