‘Keeps us on our toes’: Canada’s Rubicon Exotic sees innovation opportunities in UAE’s competitive yet stricter sugar beverage market

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Rubicon highlights innovation opportunities in healthier, cleaner products, as well as localized flavours such as red grape and dragon fruit to appeal to UAE consumers. © Rubicon Exotic
Rubicon highlights innovation opportunities in healthier, cleaner products, as well as localized flavours such as red grape and dragon fruit to appeal to UAE consumers. © Rubicon Exotic

Related tags Beverage industry beverage trends Uae sugar tax Middle east

Rubicon says that healthier, cleaner products, and localized flavours are driving beverage growth in the UAE as it seeks to stand out in ‘a very demanding market with well-travelled consumers.’

Rubicon is an international exotic beverage brand with presence in over 30 countries worldwide. Its product range spans still and sparkling juices, spring water and energy drinks, and has an average of eight to ten flavours.

Its international trading office is in Dubai since 2016, and began distribution across the UAE region in April this year.

With the help of a local distributor, its products are made available in major supermarkets, self-service stores, petrol stations, as well as on e-commerce. It also has a selected presence in food services such as hotels, restaurants, and catering.

In an interview with FoodNavigator-Asia​, its sales and marketing director Jose Jacob said that the brand has been eyeing the UAE market “for many years​” and pointed out political and economic stability and high tourism were driving market growth.

Tackling barriers of entry

Due to stricter F&B standards around added sugar and carbonated beverages​ in UAE, such as a 50% excise duty on the aforementioned products, the brand has limited its product range in UAE to organic juices with no added sugar.

However, it chose to retain its sparkling juices range due to existing demand for carbonated beverages in the region.

Aside from regulations, the brand is facing immense competition from other beverage brands due to favourable trade conditions in UAE.

The competition is extremely intense. We’re not competing with only juice brands, but with almost every beverage in the chiller – whether it’s an energy drink, malt beverage, dairy-based drink, or flavoured water. A consumer has too many choices when they are thirsty or want to refresh themselves.

“A lot of new products are coming in all the time as it’s not very difficult to import into the region. If I may put it, there is constant chaos in the beverage category with a lot of new products coming in. Brands will come and go, and it’s only the survival of the fittest.”

Therefore, the brand is channelling its resources into developing localized flavours, such as red grape and dragon fruit.

It boasted its competitive edge to produce these flavours in smaller quantities to test the market: “There’s not a lot of companies who have the flexibility to customize products for this market as there is a minimum order size and they tend to manufacture huge quantities for single products. However, we can afford to be doing smaller volumes as long as the business is consistent.”

Its NPD will also focus on developing healthier and cleaner products for the region, and is amid working with regional authorities to get its other existing products approved for sale.

The UAE consumer

Jacobs said that UAE consumers are highly discerning: “People who live in Dubai or the UAE are very well-aware of global trends. They come from all over the world, and are very well-connected with the rest of the world. Therefore, there’s a lot of pressure to really be on our toes, and we can't take it easy.

“Unlike some other markets we operate in globally, consumers are happy that they’re just getting the product. They don’t care about innovation, they don't care about flavours, they don't care about sugar levels, nothing.

“This is a very demanding market and therefore if you really want to differentiate you need to keep it between what the market needs and not just what you have in your home country.”

That said, it emphasised on its high-quality ingredients and production justifying its price premium in the competitive beverage market, as well as on localized NPD for the region. On the former, it will continue to centre its manufacturing in Canada to “maintain the high standards of quality control”​ and “have control over how raw materials are handled.​”

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