People across the UAE have increasingly been making healthier choices when it comes to their food. Whether at home or when eating out, this shift in behaviour towards eating healthier, more natural food, and being more mindful of what is on the plate was especially prominent during the early days of Covid-19.
The pandemic opened the eyes of many in terms of making conscious choices, including maintaining a nutritious diet. Early on the pandemic, during the global lockdowns, and as seen even here in the UAE, people started to cook at home more often. This led to more people following recipes, looking for ingredients and becoming much more focused on the quality and benefits of the food that they were eating.
It is hardly surprising that this increased focus on nutrition came at a time when everyone had a heightened mindfulness of their own personal health. But even apart from this trend, consumers have for some years now been placing importance on how their food is produced.
When the lockdowns eased and as a relatively more normal way of life returned, there was a key question facing the food producing industry: are these food consumption behaviour changes here to stay, or will people fall back to old habits?
In exploring this further, Bord Bia, the Irish food Board, this year conducted a global survey of 11,187 thought leaders’, consumers’ and trade buyers’ attitudes to sustainability, including 514 participants from the UAE.
And the results from the UAE were revealed shifts in attitudes of consumers. There was enthusiasm for sustainability in the UAE, with a growing focus on healthier food choices; 84 per cent of those surveyed said they tried to limit their consumption of artificial additives last year, which is significantly higher than the global average of 75 per cent.
We found that, when it came to food and drink choices, UAE consumers are heavily influenced by the health aspects of sustainability. Nearly 60 per cent said the naturalness of the product influenced their grocery-buying choices, the highest of all markets surveyed. And it is important for people in the food producing industry to understand why people feel sustainability is essential to purchasing decisions.
In the UAE, we found that this behavioural shift is strongly linked to a desire for better health and well-being. The survey also showed that nutrition and quality of produce are on the top of people’s minds. This will be music to the ears of the food producers back in Ireland, who export a range of food and beverages to the UAE.
With a shift in priorities of consumers, Ireland has an advantage, thanks to its sustainable food system. By collaborating with over 55,000 farms and 324 leading Irish food and drink companies, the Irish sustainability programme, Origin Green, is helping the industry meet the evolving needs of customers across the world, including here in the UAE.
For the food producing industry, it is important to plan the best approach to meet changing priorities and demands of buyers and consumers to ensure they remain competitive.
The topic of sustainability is a high priority for food producers, who are already working hard to revise working practices and deliver greater sustainability gains. A greater effort, however, is required to deliver against a challenging climate agenda. Doing nothing around sustainability is no longer an option. Companies need to be mindful of the needs of the more attentive, aware and conscious consumers who are demanding action.
Therefore, there is a strong imperative for organisations to integrate sustainability into their business strategies and pay attention to their eco-scores and carbon numbers.
As we see from the shift in consumer attitudes to food consumption in the UAE, buying higher quality produce that is natural and high in health benefits – besides being produced sustainably – is an opportunity for the food industry to meet those expectations.