Consumer tastes push UAE food firms to sustainability
Major shift being witnessed around concepts such as sustainable agriculture, healthy living, veganism and reducing wastage
An increasing awareness amongst consumers about how the current food system is contributing to climate change has accelerated the rate at which companies across the UAE are adopting and scaling up their sustainability practices.
Experts have noted that there is a major shift in the mindset of the consumers these days revolving around concepts such as sustainable agriculture, healthy living, veganism, and reducing food wastage.
"Awareness campaigns about the use of pesticide, as well as healthy habits, are catching on; consumers are more informed about nutrition, and are becoming demanding in terms of the quality and processes of food production," said Omar Al Jundi, founder and CEO of Badia Farms.
Al Jundi noted that the growth towards eco-friendly practices is being driven a younger generation of consumers including Millennials and Generation Z.
He explained that Badia Farms is the region's first urban vertical farm, which produces a range of micro-greens and herbs for restaurants and chefs all year long. Badia Farms' vision is aligned with the UAE National Food Security Strategy, which aims to achieve zero hunger by 2051. Two of the main aims of the strategy are to develop a comprehensive national system based on enabling sustainable food production through the use of modern technologies, and to enhance local production.
Technology, Al Jundi said, has been a positive disruptor: "In the region, we import more than 80-90 per cent of our food, so we are using the latest technologies and AI to enable us to grow our products locally, pesticide free, and at a competitive price with an optimum yield. These products are available for the consumer fresh all year long and at the highest quality. We recycle more than 90 per cent of our water; we use eco-friendly materials; and we tapped into solar energy to depend less on traditional electricity."
Similarly, Darren Bott, VP of Catering - Global Food & Beverage, Emirates Airline, highlighted that there is a lot more culinary awareness amongst passengers.
"We are seeing a bigger focus on and expectation of healthier options from our customers," he said. "This is why we have a dedicated team devoted to continually developing menus that marry exceptional taste with healthy living so that every passenger can enjoy a healthy but gourmet dining experience."
The airline prioritises suppliers that can demonstrate ethical and sustainable practices, while delivering good value and quality. Where feasible, Bott said that Emirates sources from in and around the region to keep a low carbon footprint. For example, he pointed to the airline's long-term partnership with Dilmah, which has achieved carbon neutrality for its product. Emirates has been serving Dilmah tea since 1992 in all its cabin classes and on all its flights.
"With the rising popularity of veganism among many of our customers, we have significantly increased our vegan options and now have over 170 vegan recipes in the Emirates kitchen," Bott added. "This year in January we included a fixed vegan option on our menus in premium classes. As part of our offering we also have vegan desserts, cheeses, and gourmet vegan chocolate in our premium classes."
Robin Padgett, divisional senior vice president at dnata catering, also highlighted how the company is trying to reduce food waste from its products and services with various strategies. These include food donations, reducing waste to landfill through on-site processing, and using predictive data for pre-ordering to optimise loading for in-flight catering services.
"We have the capability to trace products, particularly proteins, back to their source," he said. "This allows us to showcase local produce and reduce the food miles associated with menus. We are increasingly working with many of our airline customers to analyse consumption trends and use predictive data to optimise the loading of F&B for in-flight catering. We have seen food waste reduce by as much as 50 per cent in one of our operations following the introduction of a food pre-ordering process."
Padgett also pointed out that meat and dairy production alone accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. "This is resulting in many consumers reducing their intake of meat and dairy, and transitioning to more plant-based eating, and we are adopting our menus to offer more of these choices."
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