Speaking at the Gulfood Innovation Summit as part of the Gulfood 2019 event, the panel comprised of Greg Wright (Managing Partner, Food People), Chef Manaf Al Alem (Professional Chef, TV Chef and Internet celebrity), Fatemah Bolos (Head of Corporate Marketing, Saudi Goody Products) and Lovrenc Kessler (Managing Partner, Simon-Kucher & Partner). The session was chaired by Suzanne Radford.
The panel discussed F&B consumer insights in the Middle East region with regard to youth and women consumers, as well as the opportunities and challenges involved. Here, we summarise some of the key points highlighted during the discussion.
Experience and environment
Experience was stressed as a key attractive factor for consumers in the region early on in the discussion.
“[When it comes to food], people are still going to want the experience,” said Bolos.
“I don’t think the future of food is going to be just a pill to swallow that contains all the nutrients and supplements. It’s going to be much more enjoyable, more lavish.”
Even when it comes to food preparation, the panel agreed that consumers in the region ‘want their own signature touch’ and to be able to ‘share’ their creations online with others after completing a dish.
Wright added that food experiences can no longer just be about what is on the plate, but also needs to take into account the ‘environment, the restaurant, and what it looks like in photos’.
Social media and technology
Social media was deemed to be something of a life-changer for women in the Middle East, and was particularly hailed by Al Alem, a celebrity in her own right on various social media channels including Youtube and Instagram with over a million followers.
“Social media really changed our lives, especially in food,” she said.
“Having these social media tools changed many habits, changed [women’s] focus for the kitchen and family [even while] cooking for the family and maintaining the family heritage.
“It has also become a solution to improve income for the family, for example creating [and showcasing] new recipes, being able to do their own business via this way.”
Wright added that: “[Females in Saudi Arabia] now have a sense of empowerment not only by being able to now drive but also via social media, by being able to access it and put themselves [and their entrepreneurship] online.”
When it comes to the youth segment, social media was also mentioned as an important factor in helping them understand and gain awareness about health and wellness.
“[Whether it comes to ] gluten-free or sugar consumption, the youth are learning more about these things via the media, which has given them exposure to information on these and they are now more aware and conscious,” said Bolos.
That said, Kessler added that even though the youth were becoming more health conscious, some misconceptions still remain.
“Over 50% of the Saudi population is below 25 years old, showing the huge potential of the youth. These youth are becoming increasingly health conscious when it comes to their healthy needs and choosing food products,” he said.
“At the same time, the question is: what is healthy? There is still a big gap of misconception amongst the youth.”
Kessler cited past examples he had witnessed of these misconceptions by youth-range consumers, which included thinking that fresh foods served in a fast food chain were definitely healthy, and that sugar is good because it provides energy.
Bolos concurred with this, adding that ‘health’ still needs to be defined so that it is truly understood, rather than just followed because it is a buzzword.
The panel recommended that food manufacturers intending to make strides in the region be sure to do their homework when it comes to the different segments and truly ‘understand what people want to hear’.
“Those best at capturing the trends will have the greatest chance at being successful in capturing market share,” said Kessler.
He also highlighted that price sensitivity is a big thing in the region, especially amongst the youths who tend to compare prices online. Citing Uber as an example, he recommended that companies use this to their advantage, whether by creating individualised promotions or other means.
“Promotion and offer individualization is all set to be the next trend to target consumers,” he added.