Dairy products still remain a viable export commodity for the United States. TLME spoke to Nina Bakht Halal, Director Middle East, US Dairy Export Council, to discuss prospects for import of US dairy products into the Middle East region.
What is the current status on imports of US Dairy products into the UAE?
Despite the last few years being challenging, GCC markets continue to show promise for US dairy exports. In 2018 (Jan-November), the USA exported roughly 11,000 MT of dairy to the UAE worth about $45 million.
We have high expectations in 2019 and believe that exports will grow in the short-term. With ongoing government initiatives and just under a year for the start of EXPO 2020, supported by conducive trade and investment policies, the UAE will only continue to grow as a retail, import and re-export hub.
How is the Middle East demand likely to grow in the next 5 years? Any particular countries that stand out?
Recovering crude oil prices will encourage positive demand. At the same time with rapid economic diversification and a rise in population, especially within hospitality, retail, food service, and food manufacturing segments, the demand is only growing.
Dietary habits in the region are also changing, showing an increasing tendency to consume dairy products. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are the largest importers by volume, with the UAE and Kuwait showing the most promise for value-added products.
What are main logistical challenges of transporting dairy products from the US into this region?
A key logistical challenge is extended freight times sometimes resulting in major losses, due to price fluctuations; therefore finding more cost-effective and time-efficient ways to move large volumes is an area that we are keen to explore opportunities to apply innovation within.
How is USDEC engaging with local industry in the MENA region?
We meet consumers and industry partners where they are, whether it is trade visits or culinary partnerships. Our work has been primarily focused on matching the correct suppliers with local buyers.
For example, our recently launched Cheese Trial Program that balances a combination of awareness-building and education also seeks to support the exporter, importer, and retailer, by providing a one-stop solution that outlines costs such as fees and air freight along with cross-promotional opportunities and training.
On the consumer level, we participated at the Cheese Fest in Dubai where we introduced US specialty and artisan cheeses. Plans in the pipeline include engaging in around 600 promotions in partnership with several key retailers in the region and with higher frequency.
On the culinary side, in late 2018, USDEC launched the USA Cheese Specialist Certification Program. In partnership with International Center for Culinary Arts (ICCA), Dubai-UAE, an academic course on U.S. cheese was introduced.
This was the first step of a three-tiered certification program. The course covers various aspects related to U.S. cheese, including the history of cheese and aspects of production, its variants and best practices within handling, blending, usage and tasting.
Courses are being offered in 2019 in the following months: February, April, September and November. Master level graduates become members of the USA Cheese Guild. In 2019, deli/retail staff in selected retail outlets will undergo training which will also allow them the privilege of being part of the USA Cheese Guild.
What is the role technology can play in enhancing this engagement?
Technology is boosting communications in a way previously unimaginable, whether it is listing the most up-to-date product and nutritional information, direct marketing to a specific target group and for business-to-business resourcing, to name a few possibilities.
How was your experience at Gulfood 2019? And what would be the key takeaways from your participation in this event?
Gulfood has consistently provided a platform for our team and the suppliers to connect with new and existing customers along with opportunities to meet with other businesses, partners, consumers, influencers from across the region and beyond. With every passing edition, the event has offered unique insights into segment-specific shifts in a rapidly changing landscape. We are eager to return for the 2020 edition.
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