With rapid expansion in its supermarket and restaurant sectors, the Middle East is a region of tremendous interest for food suppliers from across the world. Gulfood 2013, held last week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), is one of the world’s largest food exhibitions. Now in its 18th year, Gulfood attracted more than 4,200 exhibitors from 110 countries. USMEF participated in Gulfood with support from the Beef Checkoff Program and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).
Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president for marketing and communications, reports that each year Gulfood attracts more and more buyers interested in high-quality grain-fed beef.
“The overall tone at Gulfood was very upbeat,” he said. “Demand is really booming in a lot of these markets, and that’s not only indicative of population growth but also of the rapid expansion in many of this region’s economies. The Middle East is like a ‘United Nations’ of beef suppliers, with beef originating from all parts of the world – from India to Brazil to Somalia to Ethiopia to the United States. But the overriding theme is that even with all these different sources of beef, the United States is the only major supplier that is able to provide high-quality grain-fed beef. This represents a long-term opportunity for the U.S. to further expand export value to the Middle East.”
Last year U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports to the Middle East fell short of the record set in 2011, but this was due in large part to Saudi Arabia closing its market following the U.S. BSE case announced in April. Beef exports to the region still topped $330 million, led by mainstay market Egypt. Other key destinations for U.S. beef in the Middle East include the U.A.E., Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain, but Halstrom notes that Gulfood draws food industry representatives from well beyond the immediate Middle East region.
“There are areas across Africa that show some long-term promise for beef, such as Angola, Senegal and Sudan, but demand is still in the very early stages,” he said. “Gulfood also has strong representation from Russia, Eastern Europe and central Asia, so the territory served by this event is enormous.”
While political unrest has created logistical challenges for exporters shipping beef to the Middle East, demand remains very strong and product flow has been reliable.
“There is certainly some turmoil – especially in Egypt – and this has caused issues for U.S. exporters and their customers,” Halstrom explained. “But the basic demand patterns are still there. Demand is growing and supply is not, and this creates an opportunity for us.”
Mark Boyd, a USMEF Executive Committee member who directs export sales for Protimex/Porky Products, first attended this event in 2012 and speaks highly of the value Gulfood delivers for his company.
“The Middle East has developed into a very strong market for us, and Gulfood is an outstanding venue for growing our business contacts in the region,” Boyd said.
In addition to strong demand for U.S. beef, several buyers attending Gulfood expressed interest in grain-fed U.S. lamb. Superior Farms, a USMEF member company, showcased a variety of lamb cuts at the event.
“It was great to see such a positive response to U.S. lamb,” Halstrom said. “Superior Farms attracted a lot of interest and seemed to develop some excellent leads. Despite higher pricing as compared to global competitors, U.S. lamb shows great promise due to its higher quality and rich flavor profile.”