The firm, which produces a range of texturant and fat replacement products, with a focus on ‘clean label’ ingredients, is currently researching the market, and intends to finalise its strategy for the region by the middle of 2015. Its first step will be to appoint a distributor, but it also plans to open a direct office in the region at some point, according to director Adrian Short.
The region’s sweet tooth
“We’ve looked at it and decided there’s a sales opportunity for our products in the region. The food industry’s growing quite rapidly out there, processed food particularly. There’s particular opportunities for fat replacement, any kind of processed food where they need texture stability,” said Short.
“We’ll probably focus initially on the bakery sector – sweet confectionery, cakes, and patisserie-type products – where that region particularly has a sweet tooth; that’s a big sector for us. A lot of the products are very sweet and very high in fat, and they’ve recognised that although there’s still a big demand for them, there’s also a demand to reduce the fat and reduce the sugar,” he added.
The Middle East market is similar to Western Europe 10 years ago according to Short, with consumers starting to become increasingly aware of products’ ingredients, and demanding healthier alternatives. But while regional producers may not be aware of the full range of alternative ingredients available, Short believes this will change in the near future.
“Because the world’s a much smaller place now, that catch-up will come much quicker. If you look at the Middle East, it’s attracting people from all over the world, so the demand for different styles of work will increase – and with that will come demand for health-conscious and allergy-conscious products. I can’t see it not following that trend,” he said.
Currently Ulrick & Short has no presence in the Middle East, but has received a number of queries in recent years from regional food producers. Short says the firm is unwilling to service the region remotely, and believes the best approach is to have a presence on the ground, either directly or via a distributor which understands the firm’s product offerings.
“I think the education might come, for us – although I’ve yet to confirm this – with the distributors, in finding partners that aren’t just wanting to trade in a commodity-style way. As food technology gets more sophisticated, there will be a requirement for more technical food ingredients that aren’t commodities like sugar or flour or certain oils, for example,” said Short.
“We, and other food ingredients companies, might have colours, flavours, hydrocolloids that require a closer, more technical service to get the product developed into the finished food. And that requires a certain amount of technical skill – you tend to find companies selling products such as ours in other parts of the world using food technologists and scientists to do the work,” he added.
When it comes to the producers themselves, though, Short is confident they are very open to new innovations: “Are the producers open to these new ideas and new functionalities? I think absolutely yes, they are. As long as it meets the demand they have for their ultimate customers, of course – and we believe there is a growing demand in that region for simpler labels ultimately, but certainly now for improved nutritional profiles, in terms of reduced fat or sugar.”