As the western world, especially the US, continues to jump on the bandwagon of plant-based “meat” products, one can easily question whether the rest of the world will follow. The question is even stricter in regions such as the Middle East, where meat is not just food but a way of living.
The consumption of meat in these countries is tied to folklore customs as well as religious sentiments and those who do not consume meat are often considered sub-par. In this Muslim-dominated portion of the world, meat is a symbol of abundance and generosity. And thus, it is an extremely challenging task to change the mindset of the people or to even ask them to try out vegan options.
Recent trends around meatless burgers in the region, particularly in the UAE, have, however, been showing a different picture. Meatless burgers are not so much science-fiction in this part of the world anymore. So, how did this change occur, and is it sustainable? Read on to know more.
It is harder to change one’s way of eating when it has been imbibed through their growing up years. However, awareness around global warming and health concerns with continuously eating meat have somewhat found its reception in the Arab world as well.
The younger generation is more flexible and wants to give plant-based options a shot. This change has been seeping into the older generation too, but some are still reluctant to try foreign-produced plant-based items because they are not sure whether the ingredients will harm their faith-based dietary practices.
All that being said, market statistics state that there is a clear-cut growth in the meatless sector in Middle Eastern countries. The wave of change is coming through, slowly but surely.
The Market Statistics
Of the global meatless market of $18.6 billion in 2019, Middle East contributed a whopping $176.5 million (figures from Euromonitor)! This comes at a time when the per capita meat consumption in the UAE is more than 70 kg a day, with Saudi Arabia hitting close to 50 kg. These numbers are way above the recommended 18 kg per day from the world health organization (WHO).
Despite such a large amount of meat consumption, the Middle Eastern plant-based market is expected to grow annually at about 5%. Thanks to a plethora of efforts from local entrepreneurs as well as international ventures, the shift from meat to meatless has become a booming reality.
So, who are these local geniuses that have taken up the daunting task of bringing meatless meat to the forefront and lure even the staunchest meat-lovers of the region?
A lot of credit goes to Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed from Saudi Arabia, who is a well-known investor of firms that think about the global impact of their products. He has been raising awareness among the people of the regions. Interestingly, he is also one of the investors in Beyond Meat, one of California’s meatless meat pioneers.
Spread across UAE are other local outlets that have begun to promote their vegan offerings. Veganity, which is the world’s largest vegan restaurant, opened in Dubai with over 200 vegan items on its menu.
There are other local initiatives such as the incubator program from Spinneys, a supermarket chain in UAE, which promotes local vegan manufacturers by placing their products on its shelves.
Al-Islami, another local producer, has gone one step ahead in producing frozen vegan patties similar in texture to beef patties for customers in the Gulf. Nabati burger is an example of a restaurant in Kuwait that is promoting its house-made plant-based patties with remarkable success.https://www.instagram.com/p/CLBi2HlA6f-/
Where does this leave the international plant-based food manufacturers? Well, they have a fair share in the Middle East, too, thanks to several collaboration opportunities.
Starbucks, for instance, has launched patties from Beyond Meat in its outlets spanning UAE and Kuwait. The Vegetarian Butcher, a Unilever company, has also stepped on the gas and began offering its Rebel Whopper through Burger King outlets in Dubai.
Other collaborations include Black Tap that serves the Impossible Burger in the UAE and BurgerFuel, which has joined hands with Beyond Meat to serve customers in the same region. Dubai has also seen Formula One Champion Lewis Hamilton’s venture Neat Burger serve Beyond-Meat patty-based veg burgers. One such brand is JOMO which offers a wide variety of plant-based patties on its menu.
According to Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, the technology that provides the meatless patty the same texture as a beef patty is astounding, and it is time for dealers in the Middle East to take full advantage of it. It is no surprise that he plans to open at least 30 vegan restaurants in this part of the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-6SfqWEwQUvideo courtesy of PBN
As for the staunch non-believers of veganism, it is going to take time, but the change is in the wind for sure. New helpful policies are being framed to ensure meatless meat products receive a halal certification so that consumers would not hesitate in incorporating such options in their meal plans.
Policies are also taking shape to promote plant-based nutrition to ensure investors in this domain do not hold back while setting up shops across Middle Eastern countries.
With the growing awareness around health, food security, and the environment, Middle-Eastern plant-based options are expected to gain mainstream popularity in the next few years.