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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 9 March 2021

Gulfood: Dubai festival welcomes 2,500 exhibitors in largest event in months

World Trade Centre cut capacity and brought in special 'tasting kiosks' to ensure the food festival went ahead

Food companies from across the globe unveiled their produce on the first day of a major trade show in Dubai on Sunday.

About 2,500 exhibitors from 85 nations are taking part in Gulfood, which was given the go ahead with a series of strict measures in place to keep attendees safe.

With the impact of the pandemic and food security high on the agenda, the five-day event is an opportunity for producers to tap into new markets.

Delegates and company reps must taste before they buy or take deals any further - creating an issue around the removal of masks.

Regrettably we missed out on some countries. Israel, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand. But the imperative for business is very strong

Trixie LohMirmand, Dubai World Trade Centre

"Food sampling is part of the experience, so we have created a series of kiosks around the hall for tasting, as no removal of masks is allowed in the aisles," Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president of Dubai World Trade Centre, told The National.

The halls were busy on Sunday but scaled back compared to previous years.

One-way walking systems were in place in exhibition halls, and safety officers roamed the aisles ensuring everyone wore their masks properly.

Attendees are required to book their passes in advance, no tickets are available on the door. In previous years, the public could visit the event to taste and try what was on offer.

The event went ahead despite various travel restrictions and quarantine measures in place. Many dedicated delegates will enter 10 or 14-day hotel quarantine on return to their home countries.

"Travel restrictions were an enormous challenge," said Ms LohMirmand.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 21 FEBRUARY 2021. Trixie LohMirmand, Executive Vice President, Events Management, Dubai World Trade Centre. Gulf Food Exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center during the Covid-19 Pandemic. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Georgia Tolley. Section: National.
Trixie LohMirmand said Dubai World Trade Centre pulled out all the stops to make the event happen. Antonie Robertson / The National

"Regrettably we missed out on some countries. Israel was unable to come because of lockdown, we miss many of our friends from Saudi Arabia as well, and New Zealand, Bahrain and Vietnam.

"But saying that, out of the 32 countries where there are a lot of travel restrictions and quarantine rules, we have 15 countries here, like Switzerland, France and Germany, which means the impetus, the imperative for business is very strong."

In the World Food Hall, there was produce from all corners of the globe.

Charmaine Mignon Yalong, commercial attaché for the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, is already based in the UAE.

Her country's stand is a quarter of its normal size, with 13 companies instead of up to 50.

"It is kind of difficult to do business, especially when you are used to physical meetings, but we are getting there. This is just how business is done nowadays," she said.

Davine Loh is managing director of Moon Good Taste of Malaysia, which makes pastes and dipping sauces.

She found it hard to travel to the UAE, because Malaysia is locked down again.

"The country only allowed 18 companies to come here. We were very lucky, even though we had government approval, we had to try three times to get immigration to allow us to leave the country.

"We will have to do 10 days quarantine in a hotel when we fly home.

"But it was important to us to come in person, so we could explain our products with more passion.

"We are looking for a distributor for the UK or Africa, and tomorrow we have clients from those countries coming to meet us here."

UAE companies look to go global

Ananya Narayan is the managing director of Hunter Foods, a snack company based in the UAE.

Half of the firm's annual leads on business typically come from Gulfood. Its reps speak to as many as 500 people about potential business, which is then filtered down to 20 or 30 potentials, and about five signed deals.

"Japan is one of our largest markets outside the UAE, and we are sending tens of containers every month to Japan," he said.

"And it started right here in Gulfood, when one of the most premium supermarkets came to see our stand.

"It took 18 months but we are now one of their top imports globally on any item.

"We hope to triple our business in Japan over the next year, thanks to that one lead. But just like that, there are so many more."

Immune boosting food in demand

Adam Ragab is general manager of Bedaya General Trading, which has imported healthy food and drinks into the UAE for 14 years.

"Considering the pandemic, the number of people who are here on the first day, is very encouraging," he said.

Immunity boosting food is proving a major theme of the exhibition this year, along with sustainability.

Mr Ragab said the consumer has moved on since 2020.

"It's not just about food anymore, it's about where this food is coming from, and how this food is affecting the environment," he said.

"Companies are now ensuring they have a vision, so that by 2025 they will have zero cost on the environment.

"These are the companies that are getting more traction with consumers, who are not just worried about their own health, they are worried about the environment and the whole planet itself.

"Especially the new generation - they are asking all these smart questions - where is my food coming from? This is the direction that will keep in growing."

Updated: February 22, 2021 02:05 PM

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