Healthier eating on the rise in Middle East: UK clean label ingredients supplier to expand into the UAE and GCC

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ulrick and Short's R&D team at work in the firm's test kitchen.
Ulrick and Short's R&D team at work in the firm's test kitchen.

Related tags: reformulation, Clean label, Healthy foods

Ulrick and Short, a UK-based clean label ingredients supplier, is in talks with distributors and food manufacturers in the Middle East to enter the market amid growing consumer demand for healthier products.

With 18 years of experience, the firm is currently working with over 250 manufacturers in the UK alone. 

Increasing consumption of foods with reduced sugar and fats, was the main reason for expansion, Adrian Short, director of the company told FoodNavigator-Asia.

There is a growing market for clean label, but it is still in early stages… I suspect it is the expatriate and foreign community that started it."

“However, the trend has spilled over and spread to the local population. We are getting to a tipping point, so this is impacting locally produced foods.”

Second, he noticed that more local manufacturers were producing food with less sugar, fats, salt and gluten-free, which was why he believed that the time was ripe for expansion into the Middle East.

“At the moment, many healthier food products are imported. However, we also see that there are more local manufacturers producing that kind of food as well… That is why we hope to work with them.”

“Also, the Middle East is a lucrative market, particularly due to issues of obesity in the region.”

Other reasons for a growing demand for clean eating include an increasingly wealthy population, Short said from his observation.

The general thing is that consumers have more disposable income, because it’s a choice more than necessity.”

As such, the firm’s biggest market goes to wealthier countries such as the UK, which is followed by the European Union.

Focus on bakery and ​confectionery

Elaborating on the firm's expansion plans in the Middle East, Short said that the firm was looking to supply fat, sugar and salt replacers for the bakery and confectionery industries, as these products were highly consumed in the region, and used a large amount of sugar, butter, and oil.

“We are looking into the bakery market, bread, pastries, cakes, confectionery, and will move to the sauces, processed meat further down the line. Basically, we are interested to supply ingredients for any kind of processed food.”

Vegetable and crop-based extracts, including tapioca, wheat and maize, are the raw ingredients for making the firm’s sugar replacers.

Besides reducing the use of artificial sugar, Short said that the sugar replacers also sought to offer improved texture, taste, colour, and shelf-life.

“Replacing sweetness is relatively easy and well-practised out there. But we want to focus on its functionalities as well,” ​he said.

For instance, while the sugar replacer is able to reduce the use of artificial sugar by 30% to 50%, it is also able to mimic texture and structure of artificial sugar, hence retaining the eating experience.

The sugar replacers could be used in bakery products such as muffins, cream-based fillings, and sugar icing.

The firm is looking to produce sugar replacers for savoury sauces, such as the BBQ or ketchup sauce, which often contain a high amount of sugar. 

Presence

The firm, which has already secured halal certification, is looking to work with local ingredients distributor and food manufacturers in the UAE and GCC countries.

It also hopes to firm up the expansion plans in the region in the next 12 months.

Short said that included commencing commercial sales and establishing partnerships with local distributors.

Besides the UAE and GCC countries, Iran, Pakistan and India are countries that they are interested to work with.

While the R&D team is in the UK, its manufacturing facilities are outsourced to partners in Germany, Brazil, China and Thailand – countries where they source for raw food materials.

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