Sweeter times ahead for Gulf confectioneries

Sales expected to continue rising in region where candies and chocolates are "part of the culture" in celebrating life events.

Sales are about to warm up further for certain retailers in the Gulf - and it's all going to be confection-heated. The market researcher Euromonitor International says sales of sweets and chocolates across the Gulf are expected to rise by as much as 16 per cent by 2014 as the region's economy recovers from the downturn. But any increase in sales will merely be more icing on the cake.

The researcher says the confectionery market in the UAE has already grown 94.7 per cent in the past six years, far ahead of other big markets such as China (40.3 per cent), the US (19.6 per cent), and the UK (18.6 per cent). Euromonitor predicts confectionery demand in the region will be driven by gradual economic recovery. And a wider range of premium confectionery, such as high-quality chocolate, becoming available to middle-class consumers will also raise the value of sales.

"From our point of view there is a increasing demand at the top end of confectionery items with a growing number of customers being more aware of quality aspects of chocolate," says Martin van Almsick, the general manager of Al Nassma Chocolates. Mr van Almsick said people in the region were buying top-end chocolates as souvenirs as well as gifts. Zainab Khalfan, a chocolate lover from Abu Dhabi, said it was no surprise chocolates were such a rich attraction in the region.

"It's part of the culture here to distribute sweets and chocolates for any good thing or event that happens in people's lives," Mr Khalfan said. Last year, sales of sweets for the Middle East and Africa reached US$6.6 billion (Dh24.24bn), a 10 per cent increase from 2008 and more than double the world growth of 4 per cent to $161.9bn for the same period. South Africa, Iran and Saudi Arabia led this relatively robust sales growth in the region. The three countries accounted for about 50 per cent of total confectionery retail value. About $450 million worth of sweets and chocolates were sold in South Africa alone last year.

The report showed that even though there was an increase in the demand for healthy, fat-free and sugarless confectioneries, 94 per cent of the products in countries such as South Africa were still made with sugar. But it is not all good news for the dentists. Rising awareness of health benefits, especially oral health among adults and children, was a catalyst for high demand of sugar-free gums in Saudi Arabia, a major market.

"Sugar-free is becoming the byword for success in the Saudi gum market," said Francisco Redruello, a senior industry analyst for Euromonitor. Worldwide, the retail volume of sweet snacks is expected to reach 15.1 million tonnes in 2014, a 7 per cent increase from 14.1 million tonnes last year. @Email:business@thenational.ae