UAE health food market booming but is it getting too fat?

With many players at the same table, are healthy food delivery services the next bubble to hit the UAE?

There is a growing demand for healthy eating in the UAE and companies such as Right Bite filling up the need. Pawan Singh / The National
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Companies that deliver healthy food in the UAE are hungry for international expansion – but some warn there are already too many players at the table.

A raft of services – including Kcal Extra, Healthtrendz and Live’ly – specialise in delivering prepared meals to homes and offices, with a focus on healthy eating and weight loss.

Variants include DinnerTime, which offers weekly deliveries of ingredients for home-prepared meals, and Detox Delight that creates strict diets of juices, soup and vegan dinners.

One of the most established players is Right Bite – founded in 2004 – which offers customised meal plans based on nutritional consultations at its centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Full 28-day packages, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, start at Dh3,615.

Nathalie Haddad, Right Bite’s founder and managing director, said the company plans to expand to markets outside the UAE. “We can do this through partnerships, and we’re also open to offering franchises,” she says, adding that there is a growing demand for healthy eating in the UAE – a country with notoriously high levels of obesity and diabetes.

However, the entrepreneur was not concerned about the newcomers in the food delivery business, saying that increased competition is healthy.

“It makes us strive to do better,” she said. “There is really a growing awareness on maintaining good health, and healthy eating is given emphasis … so we don’t think this is just a fad.”

Right Bite is not alone in seeking to expand outside the UAE, with several other players looking at international franchising.

But some believe there is too much fat in the UAE market, which they say is likely to look much slimmer in the near future.

P K Gulati, a Dubai-based technology investor, said many entrepreneurs have rushed into launching healthy food delivery businesses, with the less successful ventures inevitably set to fail.

“Dubai usually fawns on such ideas,” he said. “It’s the flavour of the season and we see a lot of similar ideas fighting for the small pie … The inherent size of the market is pretty finite, and the speciality food market at these price points is even smaller. This means that we see culling very soon.”

Still, the wider health food market appears to be booming. The Dubai-headquartered Kcal was founded in 2010 and runs six “healthy fast food” restaurants and a delivery service in the UAE. It plans to open more branches here, as well as 14 restaurants under franchise in Egypt.

Andreas Borgman, the co-founder of Kcal, said the brand also plans franchises in other Middle Eastern countries – and will even open an office in New York.

“We have had almost 1,000 franchise requests – everywhere from Japan to Peru. It is quite mad actually. We have several franchise requests every day, from all over the world,” Mr Borgman said.

But while Kcal plans franchised restaurants in other markets, it is not yet launching its food delivery service – Kcal Extra – overseas. “We are franchising the restaurants first,” Mr Borgman emphasised.

In the UAE, Kcal says its delivery arm serves “thousands of meals per week”. Mr Borgman acknowledged that there are several competitors in the market but dismissed the idea that a “bubble” is emerging. “There are a few players in the market, but there are a lot of people here,” he said.

Yet the competition is undeniably tough. Similar players include Healthtrendz, part of the Dubai World Trade Centre, which launched in 2008 and offers meal plans starting at Dh1,980 a month. Subscribers attend an initial consultation with a nutritionist, who helps them select an appropriate plan.

Lovely Ranganath, a senior nutritionist at Healthtrendz, acknowledged the greater competition, but said her company’s offering stands out from the crowd.

“Regular restaurants are also banking on this trend as they are offering healthier options,” she says. “But our strength is in the fact that clients in need would still prefer to choose our nutritionist-backed monthly lifestyle meal plans.”

DinnerTime, launched by three female Swedish expats in 2011, has a focus on convenience rather than counting calories, says Cecilia Braidy, one of the partners.

Subscribers pay for weekly dinner packs, delivered every Sunday, which contain fresh ingredients to be cooked in the home.

Packages containing four dinners for four people start at Dh380 with a weekly subscription.

Currently operating in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, DinnerTime is looking at expanding in “two or three neighbouring countries” on a franchising basis, said Ms Braidy.

“We have taken the concept from Sweden, where there are about 30 companies doing this. We were the first ones to start that here, and it’s really catching on.”

But as with the health-focused delivery services, competitors are catching on too. “Two old customers of ours [have] started the same concept,” added Ms Braidy.

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