Food forum in Dubai explores innovation and novelty

MENA industry titans recently converged at the Uaerg Food Service Forum and Images RetailME Food Business Forum, at the JW Marriott Hotel Marina in Dubai, to explore novel prospects and foster innovation within the Hotel, Restaurant and Catering (HoReCa) and Food and Grocery Retail sectors.

The events gathered over 400 attendees, 100 speakers, and 20 sessions.

Acknowledging the importance of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food business landscape, Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Noon, said: "We are blessed with a very safe and secure environment for the industry to grow, thanks to the leadership of the country.

“So, we should take greater care of the country’s economy.  SMEs account for approximately 70 percent of the 30,000 food outlets in Dubai, forming the bedrock of our economy. We must encourage the growth of local, home-grown brands."

Amitabh Taneja, Editor in Chief of Images Retail ME said: "The UAE’s food service market is expected to grow at a remarkable CAGR of 17.09%, potentially reaching $43.98 billion by 2029. We believe that the food business at large is a critical part of the overall retail ecosystem.

“Moreover, the Food & Grocery retail business in MENA is set to touch the $216.3-billion mark by 2026. This is an opportune time, and we clearly see that the consumer is evolving faster than ever.

“The Food Business Forum and the UAERG Food Service Forum are a culmination of our efforts to create a podium for the industry to innovate, collaborate, and nurture best practices and ideas for success.”

The conference delved deeper into understanding the nuances of the food business through the lens of industry leaders such as Panchali Mahendra, CEO of Atelier House, a global hospitality chain, who highlighted the importance of enhancing customer experience by balancing technology implementation with human touch.

On the other hand, George Kunnappally, Managing Director of Nandos-UAE, spoke about the choice of implementing technology, only if necessary.

While the industry leaders from the food service industry shared their culinary secrets to success, the food and grocery industry leaders touched upon the trends dominating the MENA region and how the CEOs and their teams are navigating the ever-changing grocery landscape with the right strategies and actions.

Muhammad Adeel Anjum, the CEO for Circle K Arabia, said: “The MENA grocery retail sector is undergoing a significant transformation, with an increased focus on technology and consumer convenience.”

Mohamed Al Hashemi, Chief Executive Officer, Union Coop, said: “Sustainability and local sourcing are at the forefront of our strategy. By prioritising these aspects, we not only support the local economy but also ensure the long-term viability of our operations. Our aim is to lead the way in providing high-quality, locally-sourced products to our customers.”

Images RetailME Food Business Forum, the varied aspects of the MENA grocery landscape were brought under the spotlight. While key leaders discussed role of technology and artificial intelligence in proliferating business growth, a special session was held on the growth of online grocery in the region.

While experts from the grocery industry of MENA discussed fast evolving customer preferences, warehouse automation, turning seamless across channels, food security and much more through the day, food service industry experts brought forward the idea of expansion, serving to a global audience, menu management, and marketing as a pillar of strength.

Explaining the concept of people power and community-building Amit Nayak, Vice Chairman of UAE Restaurants Group & Vice President of HAMA MEA, said: "Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality sector in the UAE has experienced a robust recovery, with a significant 22 percent increase in occupancy rates.

“The sector is projected to grow to $10 billion by 2029. As a community-founded, nonprofit organization, Uaerg is committed to closely working with governmental bodies to sustain and enhance business opportunities. This forum represents a pivotal moment for collaboration and innovation within our industry in the UAE."

Panels at the event brought #HealthyHabits under the spotlight and key leaders and chefs highlighted the importance of integrating health-conscious options into menus to cater to the growing demand for healthier lifestyles.

The power of homegrown brands and how the fusion of local and global is redefining palates became a highpoint of discussion at the forum and the panel had local businesses talking about the art of mastering customer expectations by offering personalized experiences, all while catering to diverse tastes.

Osamah Alawwam, Co-founder, Roasting House touched on the concept of ‘Made in Saudi’ and said: “Local brands have a unique opportunity to showcase our rich cultural heritage and flavours. By emphasising quality and authenticity, we can create a strong identity that resonates globally.”

Louay Moursel, Regional Director of Operations, Gastronomica, said: “Understanding local preferences and integrating them into global culinary trends is key to our success. By doing so, we can offer a unique dining experience that appeals to both local and international customers.”

Dr Sadeddine Mneimne, Chairman, Access Group International (AGI) Holding, said: “Food Business Forum’s dedication to nurturing growth via community involvement and collaborations with governmental bodies aligns seamlessly with the core principles of AGI.

“We are steadfast in our conviction that through our alliance with Images RetailME, we can effectively catalyse constructive transformation and foster sustainable advancement within the MENA region's food industry and globally.”

Sadique Ahmed, CEO of Pathfinder and Founder of RetailGPT, said:  "As a partner, RetailGPT is thrilled to have been part of this event. The interest in AI within the industry has been exceptional, underscoring the value of our partnership. We extend our best wishes to all the participants and look forward to continuing these fruitful collaborations."

One of the key highlights of the day was the Images Golden Spoon Awards Powered by Allezz and the Food Service Awards by RetailME— the debut edition of MENA’s most authoritative recognition for the food & grocery and food service industry. – TradeArabia News Service