x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE food industry 'should work together and better cater for customers'

Imports to the UAE are vulnerable to environmental and political problems, with shoppers often suffering as a result.

DUBAI // More coordination between groups in the food industry is needed to ensure consumers' needs are met, experts says.

"There is a gap between supply and demand, both in the UAE and globally, because the relevant bodies don't work together enough," said Virgilio Martinez Veliz, the owner of Central Restaurante in Lima.

"Cooks, restaurant owners, farmers, hotel owners and food authorities should be able to communicate to ensure the consumer's satisfaction," he said on the sidelines of the Gulfood conference in Dubai.

But Mr Veliz said that could be hard to achieve in the UAE, which imports food from a large number of countries.

"There is a huge demand for different ingredients in the UAE because the country imports 85 per cent of its food, so it's bound to be complicated," he said.

The dependance on imported goods makes the UAE vulnerable to supply problems, either environmental or political. And when these occur, shoppers suffer.

In 2010, supplies from Pakistan suffered because of flooding, while shipments from the US, Europe, Canada and Russia were hit by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

"It happened to me a few times when I'd go to the supermarket and not find my usual 1kg bag of Thai sticky rice," said Isra Chai, 42, a mother of three who shops at Choithrams supermarkets in Dubai.

"It can be frustrating sometimes not to have your usual food available, but this was mainly when the floods hit Thailand pretty strong last October."

Figures from the Ministry of Foreign Trade showed the UAE imported 6 per cent of its rice from Thailand in 2009. But the problem can also affect locally sourced products.

"Buying local milk from supermarkets in Dubai can be tricky if you don't get there early enough," said the Dubai resident Gary Channing.

"I get a litre of Al Rawabi milk every few days because it expires quickly, but if I get to the supermarket at the end of the day I rarely find the milk I want, if any at all."

The range of food imported has also led to shoppers becoming more health-conscious as they become more aware of a wider range of products, said Mr Veliz.

"Consumers are adopting a much healthier lifestyle in the UAE compared to how they used to be because they are growing more aware, and that's very important to reduce obesity and diabetes in the country," he said.

cmalek@thenational.ae