U.S. beef got a lot of interest from buyers from a very large region at Gulfood 2015. The 20th edition of the Middle East’s premier food exhibition was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and drew more than 80,000 visitors from 150 countries. More than 4,500 exhibitors attended Gulfood, including 120 national pavilions. USMEF’s participation in the event was supported by the Beef Checkoff Program and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).
“Gulfood has really come a long way in the past few years,” said John Brook, USMEF regional director for Europe, Russia and the Middle East. “There was a time when it was really a very regional show, but these days its size and scope rival that of the major European exhibitions such as ANUGA or SIAL. It is now not only the leading trade show for the whole of the Middle East but attracts a lot of interest from Africa and from parts of Asia as well.”
Even with the recent decline in oil prices, the Middle East region’s growing appetite for high-quality proteins has shown no sign of losing momentum.
“With the slump in oil prices, people naturally have concerns about the economic climate in the Middle East,” Brook said. “But in those markets where U.S. beef has been developing very nicely in the Gulf region, those countries have strong sovereign wealth funds, and we’re not seeing any slowdown in the economic situation there. There is still plenty of building going on, including hotels, shopping complexes and a lot of new restaurants – especially family-dining concepts. So the growth in meat consumption continues and demand for high-quality meat is still there, which is very encouraging.”
Brook’s optimism was echoed by U.S. exporters in attendance at Gulfood.
“Our representatives have been attending Gulfood for 20 years, with very positive results,” said Eric Smith, president of Smith Packing Company, a USMEF member based in Utica, New York. “We appreciate the diverse field of buyers Gulfood attracts, and the fact that they come from such a large region of the world, which allows us to feature a wide variety of foodservice items. And the support we receive from USMEF helps Smith Packing define individual country needs in the Middle East and accommodate local customer requirements.”
Although total U.S. beef/beef variety meat exports to the Middle East edged lower in 2014, demand continued to gain momentum in several high-value markets. In the UAE, for example, exports increased 14 percent in volume year-over-year to 5,701 metric tons (mt) and set a new value record of $63.4 million (up 15 percent). In Kuwait, exports increased 12 percent in volume (to 2,935 mt) and 11 percent in value ($28.5 million).
USMEF conducts significant outreach in the region, working closely with chefs to educate them on how to properly cook grain-fed beef to maximize its flavor and tenderness and how to incorporate a wider variety of beef cuts into their menus.
U.S. beef is also gaining traction in the region’s retail sector, even in countries where the economic climate is not particularly positive.
“The situation in Lebanon and Jordan is rather delicate,” Brook explained. “These countries are not as wealthy as those in the Persian Gulf region, and currently one out of every four people in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria – which has put an economic strain on the country. But that said, USMEF has had some fantastic successes in Lebanon. We recently held the first-ever U.S. beef promotions in a Lebanese supermarket chain, and interest was quite strong.”
Although it is still a very small market for U.S. beef, exports to Lebanon increased 8 percent in volume in 2014 to 252 mt, valued at $2.25 million (up 7 percent).
While U.S. beef was the main item showcased at Gulfood, Brook noted there is growing demand for U.S. lamb in selected Middle East markets.