The Future Food Forum 2023, the Middle East's largest annual gathering of industry leaders under way in Dubai, highlights the country's advancement in the F&B sector and the innovations driving the 'Made in the UAE' products.
Focusing on regional food security, sustainability, innovation and consumer wellbeing, the forum was inaugurated by Abdulla Al Saleh, the Under Secretary of Foreign Trade and Industry at the UAE Ministry of Economy.
With theme of "Inspiring Sustainable Wellbeing," the forum has brought together the F&B industry, government officials, and business leaders to emphasise the importance of fostering self-reliant food supplies and harnessing agri-tech for enhanced food security in the Middle East.
Working with the private sector
Mohammed Ali Al Kamali, Executive Director of Operations - Industry and Export Development at the Dubai Economic Development Corporation, one of the institutions of the Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai, said: “The Department continues its support to various economic sectors in the emirate. As the food and beverage industry is considered one of the most important economic sectors, we are continuously working with the private sector to ensure the sustainability and the global expansion of companies and factories, which supports the achievement of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 goals."
Al-Kamali added: “In this year’s edition, we have tried to work with the Food & Beverage Group to focus on strategic issues that drive the transformations and developments in the sector, whether related to technological advancement or focusing on international developments that would support international supply chains.
“The department also attracted a group of international buyers to network with local factories and is organising business meetings during the Forum. This reflects the department’s efforts to promote international connectivity and develop the emirate’s exports to other diverse markets.”
The two-day event, hosted at Le Meridian Hotel Dubai and organised by the UAE Food & Beverage Business Group (F&B Group) under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Economy, Dubai Chamber, and with support from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Food Tech Valley.
UAE Food Platform
It also saw the official launch of F&B Group's UAE Food Platform, which is supported by stakeholders and the government, seamlessly integrates UAE food data into a single platform promising strategic decision-making.
Meanwhile, the Emiratisation remains a top priority for the group, driven by the 'Ishraq Programme' and the 'Innovation Lab,' which were introduced to cultivate a competitive local talent and environment.
Welcoming the gathering, Saleh Lootah, Chairman of the UAE Food and Beverage Business Group, said: "It is a pivotal moment for the F&B sector in the region, one where the sector is taking a new strategic direction to ensure UAE's position as regional food hub of excellence. This transformation is underpinned by visionary government directives, a testament to our commitment to promoting 'UAE-made' food products, not just for local consumption but also for global market access."
He added: "The global challenges of our time have pressed the urgency of food security, particularly given the UAE's reliance on food imports. Geopolitical events like the Ukraine war have underscored the significance of strategic partnerships for sustained food security.
Strong government backing
“Technological innovation has received strong government backing, particularly in agri-tech and vertical farming. There's also a renewed focus on boosting our own food production to achieve significant market penetration, both locally and internationally. Moreover, the government actively supports in-country value projects within the food sector, fostering enterprise and innovation.
“As technological evolutions and cost dynamics reshape partnerships and spawn new business models, the food sector is also adapting. E-commerce dynamics have pressed manufacturers to establish direct relationships with end-users."
He noted that this multifaceted approach, interwoven with local production, innovation, and Emiratisation, is carving a distinct and ambitious path for the UAE in the global food landscape. It's a journey made possible through collaborative efforts that harness digital and tech breakthroughs, steering the sector towards resilience and global prominence.
The opening session featured speakers including Ebtesam AlKaabi, Head of Sales, JAFZA; Yerlan A Baidaulet, the Director General of the Islamic Organisation for Food Security (IOFS); Youssef Mohamed, Alibaba.com MEA Managing Partner of JSC Middle East & Africa; Andrey Dvoychenkov, Managing Director - Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan, Nielsen; and Dr Ashraf Mahate, Chief Economist - Trade and Export Market Development, Dubai.
Industries and exports
Speaking on the evolving role of free zones in boosting Food Security and Driving Environmental Sustainability, Ahmed Al Shaibani, Project Head of Food Tech Valley, said in a panel discussion: "Today's landscape differs greatly from past decades, the provision of specialised programmes by economic zones should accommodate a wide range of businesses and their unique operations. At Food Tech Valley, we are capturing the whole F&B value chain we are capturing it from the preproduction production, processing, packaging, distribution, and even waste management.
“Thus, we become an enabler, bringing all stakeholders together to collaborate and allow a structured setup for the sector to grow by delivering customised environments. We basically recognise that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to success in this dynamic ecosystem."
The first day of the event welcomed around 900 participants, and featured focused sessions on India and KSA, shedding light on topics such as the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and Saudi Arabia's F&B industry in line with Vision 2030.
Additionally, various sessions delved into strategies for promoting locally-grown produce, addressing critical issues related to climate change's impact on food security, and exploring opportunities to foster a circular economy in the food sector.
Commenting on their support to the event, Abdulla Al Hashmi, Chief Operating Officer for Parks & Zones at DP World GCC, said: "At DP World, we are committed to working with the industry to build a more resilient and sustainable F&B sector for the future. Our focus is on both strengthening our international partnerships to diversify sourcing venues and creating port-centric infrastructure that is tailored to the needs of emerging F&B and agri-businesses in the UAE and the GCC.
“With our state-of-the-art infrastructure in Jebel Ali Port and our economic zones, coupled with our global connectivity, we have the ideal platform to import, process, and distribute food to the region. The Future Food Forum is a great way to come together with other stakeholders in this space to pave the way forward for the sector."
The "Free From Food" exhibition, co-located under the Forum, showcases the thriving Healthy, Organic, Vegan, Plant-Based, Functional, and Free-From food sectors across Middle Eastern countries. Supported by leading organisations and international business councils worldwide, including the International Islamic Food Processors Association (IFPA), the event is backed by key sponsors in the sector, including IFFCO, AGTHIA, Al Ghurair Foods, Almarai, SGS, Emirates Development Bank, Sadia, and Hayatna as leading partners. Industry organisations such as IFPA added their expertise and insights to the discussions.-- TradeArabia News Service