x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Green food a growth industry

A new supermarket coming to Dubai will sell fresh, organic produce that is grown in the UAE.

:Customers look for healthy eating at the organic vegetable stalls of the Bumble Box Market at Dubai Garden Centre.
:Customers look for healthy eating at the organic vegetable stalls of the Bumble Box Market at Dubai Garden Centre.

DUBAI // UAE consumers are bucking a western trend by eating more organically grown food.

There was a 15 per cent increase in organic greenhouse farming last year. The Ministry of Environment and Water says more than 5,000 tonnes of organic produce was generated, and that figure is rising.

In the UK, by contrast, only 51,000 hectares of land were being converted to organic farming last year, a declining trend from a peak of 158,000 in 2007, figures from the department for environment, food and rural affairs show.

The Soil Association, the UK organisation that certifies organic food, says sales of organic produce have fallen from £2.1 billion (Dh12.77bn) in 2008 to £1.84bn in 2009 and £1.73bn last year.

Analysts blame the recession and the rising cost of food for the decline in organic produce, which is almost always more expensive.

But Becky Balderstone, the founder of Ripe, a new organic food market and delivery business that begins selling to consumers next month, remains optimistic.

"It's all about getting back to basics by growing local, eating local and supporting local," Ms Balderstone said.

"Ripe is passionate about fresh, healthy and local produce to spread the benefits of going organic."

Proponents of organic food argue that producing it is less harmful to the environment because it uses fewer pesticides.

And Ripe's produce is hand-picked and delivered to consumers no more than 48 hours later. "The freshness is unbeatable," said Ms Balderstone.

The company works with three farms so far, close to Al Ain and Abu Dhabi city, and will soon begin a trial of produce from other farms in the region.

The UAE imports more than 80 per cent of its food, and spent Dh25.5bn on imports last year.

Food consumption is expected to increase by almost 5 per cent by 2014, meaning the Emirates will need to import or grow more.

"Consumers are not aware of the beautiful produce available in the region," Ms Balderstone said.

The Ripe market will open at Dubai Garden Centre on September 17, from 9.30am to 1pm.

In Abu Dhabi, it will be launched at the Desert Garden Centre in Khalifa Park on November 18, also from 9.30am to 1pm.

Shoppers can choose boxes with preselected items, costing between Dh80 and Dh130, or buy produce by the kilo from a seasonal selection. At this time of year, boxes contain tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, lettuce, peppers and onions.Other produce available includes beans, aubergines, leeks, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, pumpkins and courgettes.

Next month Ripe will launch its box delivery system, with produce ordered online and delivered to drop-off points in Dubai including Milk & Honey on the Palm Jumeirah and Optimal Fitness in Studio City.

Ms Balderstone said there were plans to expand the service to Abu Dhabi and offer home deliveries later in the year.

cmalek@thenational.ae