Keys to success in UAE for Australian lamb and beef

13 November 2017

A unique melting pot

In less than 50 years of existence, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has established itself as one of the key transport, tourism and trade hubs of the Arabian peninsula. It’s a market with unique conditions, one of them being the fact that the majority of residents are emigrants, and not citizens. It’s a highly stratified society, with many workers drafted from subcontinental Asia to fulfil the booming demand for construction and civil works.


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In MLA’s 2017 Global Consumer Tracker, we focus our attention on three main sub-groups of the population: local Emirati, Expat Arabs from elsewhere in the region, and Western Expats. These groups exhibit many differences in their meat purchase and consumption habits and attitudes, but also many similarities. One thing that all participants in our survey have in common is that they are relatively affluent, part of the top socio-economic strata, who are likely to employ service personnel who may be involved in the preparation of food, if not the decision-making.

Lamb is a premium protein choice

Amongst our survey audience, it’s clear that lamb is the prime meat choice for most consumers. Although beef and chicken are consumed more often, these meats are seen more as staples; lamb is seen to have advantages on taste, premium perceptions, and it is more likely to be a family favourite. This is especially the case amongst local Emirati, where lamb is more likely (than beef) to be bought for a special occasion or on impulse. Lamb is an important part of the local culture, and Emirati take pride in their local (Naemi) lamb industry.

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In a competitive market, Australia is well-known and well-regarded amongst importers

U.A.E. residents are used to many food products being imported, and so are well aware of imported lamb and beef. This includes Australian lamb, which is seen as tender, nutritious, and superior, and is the most-consumed imported lamb. However, local lamb is preferred.

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It’s a competitive market, with competition increasing at the lower end, from the likes of Sudanese and Somali lamb, and at the top end from local and New Zealand. Local lamb has natural advantages: U.A.E. buyers tend to prefer freshly slaughtered meat, and Halal certification is important for the majority Muslim population.

The True Aussie brand has strong recognition, especially amongst respondents in the top income bracket, and Western Expats.

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The major sources of recognition of the logo are from posters and signs in store, such as branded cut charts, and from packaging.

Fresh is best

Given a choice between frozen, chilled, or freshly slaughtered lamb and beef, most consumers would prefer what they believe to be freshly slaughtered. This stems from a rich tradition of wet markets and both traditional and modern butchers, amongst both local Emirati and Expat Arabas. Western Expats prefer chilled or frozen, but they will also visit wet markets to make their purchases.

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However, modern retail i.e. hypermarkets offers an opportunity to capture large portions of all three groups, and it’s expected this channel will grow faster in future. Consumers around the world seek more convenient shopping options – especially when the temperature is above 50 degrees outside.

An opportunity to differentiate based on what makes Australian lamb and beef special

The U.A.E. market is extremely competitive, but offers great opportunities for Australian lamb and beef for providers willing to address local needs and differentiate from the competition on important factors. For instance, many shoppers are looking for ‘natural’ cues when purchasing. There is a general preference for meat to be a little pinker than in Western and Asian markets. Many consumers are suspicious of large cuts, and there is a preference for lean meat.

Australian meat, like all other imports, also needs to find a way to communicate freshness in chilled or frozen product, and emphasise safety, traceability, and Halal certification is also crucial.

The key to success in the U.A.E. market is to understand the unique local environment: the stratified society, the retail landscape, and the regional idiosyncrasies - and to plan accordingly.

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