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  • Saeid Shokravi

Dairy trends, implications at Gulfood

Talmera was honored to be invited to write a guest column for Cheese Market News detailing our observations at Gulfood this year. The article can be found here and the text is included below.



The Gulfood exhibition takes place every February in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and continues to be the leading regional and global food and beverage (F&B) showcase where global suppliers meet with regional buyers. Activity in this show is closely watched to gauge the pulse on demand and supply as well as key food industry trends. After meeting a record number of current and potential customers including many old friends, we observed several key trends that have both direct and indirect implications for players in the global dairy industry.


On a broader level, we saw two emerging trends this year. Historically, the regional market has been abundant with lower-priced and inferior-quality commodity products. While these products continue to dominate the volume end of the market, we notice a saturation in this business with growth starting to shift in favor of the premium end of the market. This has been fueled by local creative entrepreneurs whose new ideas include local chains and products. Furthermore, for high-quality foods, consumers and operators alike are more informed through increased international travel and a growing appetite for social media. This is driving consumers to demand better and more authentic products. The liberalization of regional society, particularly with massive investments taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is opening new opportunities for dining, be it at home or eating out, with premium and authenticity becoming more important.



Starting with bakery, the industry continues to be a standout in the region with newer and more creative F&B concepts popping up, particularly around coffee and pastries. At Gulfood this year there was an abundance of visually appealing French pastries on display. These were being proudly presented by foreign trained pastry chefs showcasing their wares. Authentic textures and flavors to match that of the European quality are sought after by well-traveled consumers, and outlets are rising to this challenge. As demand for quality on the baking side increases, the implications for dairy are clear: Growing demand for high-quality butter, cream and cheese products will be on the rise, whether these are used as pure ingredient inputs or as inclusions in baked goods.


On to sauces galore! What better way to add flavor to food and life than sauces, right? Sauces, especially flavored mayos, ketchups and spreads, were buzzing at the show. These expanded ranges, far beyond the classic ketchup, mustard and mayo, were showcased spicing up meals at different stalls. Implications for dairy: Sauces continue to be commonly used in fast casual and QSR dining locations and with innovative recipes, especially with burgers and loaded fries — not to mention pairing with delicious American slices and cheese sauces means increasing demand for both.


Of course, good foods with creative sauces need to be paired with amazing drinks, and here in Gulfood, 0.0% alcohol and an emerging mocktail culture was brewing strong. Alcohol-free drinks of every kind, particularly beers and more, were beautifully presented in exotic bar-inspired stands serving 0.0% cocktails using a plethora of new 0.0% liquor brands. Targeting gradually liberalizing regional markets and introducing the social aspects of bar culture to the region provides significant pairing opportunities for all food products. Implications for dairy: Pairing non-alcoholic beers with cheese will be on the rise, not to mention cheese boards, cheese-laced nachos, innovative cheese sauces, cheeseburger sliders and mini tacos will all drive increased consumption of dairy products, especially cheese.


But you still need an entree to top all those appetizers and finish those mocktails! And this is where we observed that burgers continue without a doubt to be the fast casual king of kings and maintain their top spot on the menus of key fast casual outlets. Creativity and innovation are key in a crowded market, and at the show we saw smash burgers, special sauces, unique toppings and presentation, and more! Dairy will thrive in this sector. Traditionally, regional fast food has been dominated by American chains; however, nowadays more locally created alternatives are emerging. Implications for dairy: a broader demand for premium-quality dairy ingredients including American and natural cheese products.


It would be amiss of course if we don’t talk about burger’s equally popular sibling, pizza. A void in the high-quality end of the pizza business is now being filled by the strong emergence of local chains. The pizza sector has been traditionally dominated by multinational chains, and now we see the emergence of more creative, local and small chains with unique offerings, many of which are tailored to the local market and taste. High-quality doughs, toppings and sauces with mediocre pizza cheese won’t cut it any longer. Implications: There’s a growing demand for quality pizza cheese including unique blended options to help new players stand out in a crowded marketplace and go way beyond the cheap fat-filled and analogue products that have dominated the market for many years.


And finally, are vegan alternatives still a key feature at the show? The vegan story seems to have plateaued at Gulfood 2024, at least visually. Gulfood of recent years had focused extensively on vegan alternatives. Thankfully, and for the benefit of true dairy aficionados, the focus seems to have shifted back to clean labeling, high-quality, real and natural ingredients, real meats and cheeses. The implications for dairy are evident: Non-dairy ingredients are losing favor with consumers and producers due to their extensive and complex ingredient lists and questionable product claims. Enquiries abounded from customers looking to replace vegan ingredients with dairy ones.


In conclusion, Gulfood 2024 provided comfort that there is real confidence in significantly more sustained foodservice growth to come in the region. With increasing competition and awareness, consumers are looking for authenticity, elevated quality and creativity. Operators will have no choice but to respond to this new reality, and with that, suppliers who want to grow in this region must be ready and positioned to respond to this challenge.

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