Gulfood: Opportunities abound for Irish companies in the Middle East

This week’s Gulfood event, one of the largest food trade shows in the world, saw 21 Irish companies exhibiting on Bord Bia’s Origin Green stands in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

For the first time ever, Bord Bia had two trade stands at the event – one in the main hall and one in the dairy hall.

Among the Irish companies at the show were Glanbia, Dairygold, Ashbourne Meats, Golden Irish Eggs and Dawn Farm Foods.

Kieran Duggan, Regional Sales Manager at Glanbia Ingredients Ireland (GII), has been in the Middle East region for just over four years. Glanbia established a foothold in the market seven years ago.

“Senior management saw the need to open up new routes to market. The Middle East and north Africa region has always been an area that has imported significant volumes of dairy solids – primarily milk powders, cheddar and lesser amounts of butter.

“It is a significant home for exports from the key dairy-producing regions. Traditionally, they have sourced from Oceania and the USA.”

Rafic Hasbini of Glanbia, Abdelhafid Brahma of Falait and Kieran Duggan of Glanbia at Gulfood
Rafic Hasbini of Glanbia, Abdelhafid Brahma of Falait and Kieran Duggan of Glanbia at Gulfood

Post-quota and since opening offices in the region seven years ago, Duggan said that Glanbia has had significant success in developing routes to market for its cheese business and, in recent times, it has made progress in milk powders and butter.

“It certainly hasn’t been an easy path and in the early years, we required support from our senior management to maintain sustained supply. We’re in a world market situation, so you’re not necessarily protected. This region can look out to the four corners of the world to secure its raw material.”

It’s a milk-deficit region and it will remain so but they also, despite the challenges such as oil prices, will continue to import and take significant volumes of dairy ingredients.


Also exhibiting at Gulfood was Dairygold, whose Head of Commercial and Business Development Conor Galvin, said that the company sells business-to-business in the region.

Cheese for pizzas, cheese for reformatting, milk powders and bakery products are exported by the company to the Middle East.

“The Middle East is a very important part of the world for us. We’re exporting out here since the 1970s.

“Our focus now is on milk powder and cheddar cheese. Our number one product in the region is cheese.”

Dairygold exports a significant portion of product to the region and Galvin said that it’s a region that there is a lot of potential in.

“Dairy consumption in this part of the world is high and it is growing. We feel that there are opportunities for the Irish dairy industry in the Middle East.

“Gulfood is important for us, as we get to meet a lot of customers over the five days. It’s been a busy fair this year. It helps us to meet customers that maybe would be more difficult to meet if this event didn’t happen with the help of Bord Bia.”

Ashbourne Meats

Ashbourne Meats was locked out of the Middle Eastern market after BSE was identified in Ireland in 2000 and is still locked out of some markets in the region as a result, Peter McMahon, Sales Director with the company said at Gulfood.

McMahon said that the the Middle East is a growing market for the company.

“It used to be 100% of our business. It’s only small now, but we do see potential for it to grow.

“Grass-meat is becoming more popular everywhere. But we’re not as competitive as south American countries or Australia and New Zealand (which are mostly grain-fed).

“We have, in our opinion, a better product. Gulfood is a great opportunity to meet existing customers and build on those relationships.”

Dawn Farm Foods

Dawn Farm Foods, suppliers of cooked meat ingredients to the region also had a presence at this year’s Gulfood.

Lorna Gilchrist, Business Development Manager at the company said that Dawn Farm Foods exports its products to strategic customers in the food service business in the Middle East.

“We’ve started supplying the region since 1993. We see the potential in this market. It’s growing, albeit there has been some recent talk of the economic situation in Saudi, one of the bigger markets – so what happens there has a big impact on the performance of some of our customers in the region.

“They’ve had their challenges because of oil pricing but overall the demographic is good, the disposable income is good and the overall signs are good for the market.”

At the moment the company exports to just the UAE, but Gilchrist said that the company has Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar in its sights.

Golden Irish Eggs

Another Irish company which had a presence at this year’s event, was Golden Irish Eggs.

Brian Eivers, Sales Director of the company said that this is the third year that the company has been at the show.

“We’re growing our business here. We started exporting out here in 2013. We had this ambition from 2012 that this was something we wanted to do.”

We investigated a lot of the markets close to Ireland, such as the UK, Germany and Belgium and really found limited opportunity.

It was through that process that exporting to the Middle East came up as an option, he said.

“We got exposure in the market, got a look at it and did some research on it. Then the opportunity to export here came about. Exports are growing here year-on-year.”