It is well-known that the Middle Eastern region is emerging as one of the fastest-growing consumer markets due to rising incomes and population demographic changes.
In parallel with this has been the growth of health consciousness amongst consumers due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has culminated in many consumers in this region now looking for products that are able to provide them with the luxurious, indulgence experience they seek – yet are also satisfactory on the health and nutrition fronts, and to have the assurance of being able to ascertain this for themselves.
“All of this has led to the rising importance of clean label in the Middle East, with more and more consumers now looking at the back of their products to check the ingredients list to see for themselves that the ingredients they see are ones they recognise and know the safety of,” ofi VP of Innovation Dr Antony JIX told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The key to note is that these consumers want to be able to indulge in their favourite foods and beverages, but to not feel any guilt about it – which means seeking that fine balance as well of a bit of indulgence, perhaps 25% and then 75% health.
“But the reason clean label is so important is because the consumers can check this for themselves on the labels, and in a region like the Middle East where spices are so important in local cuisines this is also a very crucial area to focus on.
“It is why we have made all our items here clean label, including the spices, and partner brands that design their relevant products with our clean label ingredients can also be assured of the clean label aspect.”
Other food and beverage trends being driven by this healthy indulgence theme in the Middle East are a rise in demand for natural ingredients as well as plant-based ingredients, with supermarket shelves already starting to reflect this shift in consumer preference.
“Stepping into a big supermarket like Carrefour in Dubai, there is already a clear increase in plant-based products and this highlights that there are consumers that are buying these and there is a demand,” he added.
“We do know that there has been significant growth of nearly 50% for the plant-based industry in this region over the past few years, and with taste and texture technologies continually improving, this is likely to grow further moving forward.”
Nuts the way forward
The firm also sees a great deal of potential for the nuts sector in the Middle East moving forward across various product formats.
“As it is the plant-based milk sector has been exploding over the past three to five years, and where the potential was initially centred on oats this has now increased for nuts such as almonds, cashews and more,” he said.
“Outside of beverages, there are also many opportunities to be found in nuts as combinations to form all sorts of products - some of our innovations include trail mix crackers, spreads, snacks and more.
“This potential broadens even further when you look at the flavour opportunities – here in the Middle East for example, we have created snacks such as tahina coated cashews as well as a golden white chocolate spread made with turmeric, pistachio and cocoa, which are both very local flavours.”