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Food and Beverage

Due to limited farmland, the UAE was ranked as the 15th biggest food importer in the world in 2012 by the WTO, and amounts for 1.1% of the world’s total food import. And imports are expected to increase even more. 

Food import
According to the UAE Ministry of Economy, the total food imports is expected to increase to a value of USD400bn in the coming decade, compared with USD100bn recorded in 2014. The UAE currently imports 85% of its food, and between 2014 and 2019, the amount of food and drink imported are forecast to increase by 35.9%.


The massive amount of food import is due to the limited farmland in the harsh desert climate with extreme weather conditions, which makes agricultural production very limited – not only in the UAE but also in the rest of the GCC. Only a small amount of food is produced within the UAE, the largest produce being dates with more than 200 tonnes in 2011. Hereafter follows vegetables, as seen in the chart by Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAOSTAT). 


Imports for essential commodities such as meat, poultry and eggs are therefore vital. The UAE's food-processing sector has been undergoing a period of significant expansion over the past several years; however the country is still highly dependent on food imports to fill the gap between domestic production and the demands from a growing wealthy population.


The top imports of the UAE were according to Global Trade Altas, canola seed, butter, eggs and fruits, as shown in the chart. Statistics from Euromonitor shows, that the top food retail sales was packaged food such as baby food, dairy products, frozen food, canned processed food and bakery items.  

Consumer behaviour
In terms of consumer culture and behavior, the UAE, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi, can be divided into three distinct consumer classes: UAE nationals, high-spending expatriates and relatively low-income expatriate laborers. Expatriates are believed to comprise more than 86% of the UAE's population.

While UAE nationals have the greatest spending power, the buying power of the country's expatriate residents is the major source of success. Between 2014 and 2019 the Business Monitor International (BMI) estimates that the total food consumption will grow by 60.7% to reach a value of UAD12.2bn in 2019.


Per capita food consumption growth in local currency terms is expected to reach a value of USD1196 in 2019 – a growth of 27% from USD941 in 2015. In line with this, the BMI predicts, that the demand for imports continues to be propped up by significant demand from expatriates for food products from their home countries. 

Health issues calls for better food
The UAE government is faced with a rising health issue, due to the fact that more and more children and adults suffer from overweight and obesity. According to the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi, the UAE has the second highest level of diabetes in the world with 20% of the population being diagnosed – and is expected that this level will rise to 24% by 2025. For this reason, a growing health-consciousness has significantly increased the opportunities for food producers that are able to introduce healthy options. This in turns means that the demand for organic food is steadily increasing.

Senior Commercial Advisor

Ms. Edith Christmas
+971 50 189 4194