The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News
  • Making Friends in Middle East/North Africa

    By USDEC Staff March 10, 2014

    Middle Eastern dairy buyers put a premium on personal communication and one-on-one contact.

    Whether you are talking about love life or business, long-distance relationships are much tougher to make work than those with frequent face-to-face interaction. That is certainly the case with dairy exports to the Middle East/North Africa.

    Middle Eastern dairy buyers put a premium on personal communication and one-on-one contact. The lack of it gives the impression that a seller may just be looking for a quick profit rather than to establish a long-term partnership.


    “U.S. suppliers have exhibited interest in the Middle East, but for many, because of the political situation, that interest has been based on doing business from afar,” says Kristi Saitama, USDEC vice president, export marketing ingredients.

    That was a big reason behind USDEC’s U.S. Dairy Business Conference in Dubai late last year. The multifaceted conference, USDEC’s single largest marketing event, included educational sessions, two separate supplier showcases with tabletop displays, a U.S. dairy farmer mission and a culinary conference.

    “We wanted to create a face-to-face opportunity—a forum where U.S. suppliers of both cheese and dairy ingredients could demonstrate their interest and explore further areas of opportunity. They did just that,” says Saitama. “The pro­ducer mission helped put a farmer face on the U.S. dairy industry, humanize it and show that there was U.S. interest in the Middle East throughout the dairy supply chain.”

    A current of “collaborative innovation” ran throughout the conference. Both buyers and suppliers indicated a desire to engage on multiple levels—from pricing to technical support to product specifications to new product development—in order to foster understanding and facilitate a long-term vision rather than spot-buying scenarios. Buyers showed great interest in consumer research and for U.S. suppliers to understand the varying needs of their customers.

    Filling the nutritional gap

    One place Middle Eastern buyers are looking to U.S. dairy suppliers for help is nutrition. The relationship between diet and health is an increasingly vital issue in the Middle East/North Africa.

    The region’s vitamin D deficiency ranks worst in the world, with rising prevalence of younger patients having lower bone density levels. Adult diabetes rates in Gulf Cooperation Council countries are among the highest in the world and are rising. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain rank among some the nations with the highest obesity rates on the planet, with well in excess of 30 percent of the adult population technically obese.

    The region’s growing health consciousness, especially among the young population, is a big contributor to rising demand for dairy products. At the Business Conference, Dr. Carla Habib Mourad, project coordinator for Nestlé’s Healthy Kids school program, host of a popular television show on nutrition and distinguished lecturer on health and diet, pointed out opportunities for dairy to help address the region’s nutritional concerns.

    Foods rich in protein and low in fat, such as protein bars and dairy shakes, are future growth segments in the Middle East. Consumers are very interested in dairy products that offer multiple health benefits, such as anti-oxidants and probiotics.

    “Going forward, health, the changing role of women in society and the bulging youth population will drive Middle Eastern food and beverage consumption,” says Nina Bakht Halal, USDEC’s Middle East office representative.

    U.S. suppliers can play a bigger role. At the Business Conference, customers clearly indicated they are look­ing for supply security and wanted to buy more U.S. dairy products—in part because of the U.S. reputation. The U.S. food industry is seen as an innovative product developer with strong consumer insights, willing and able to collaborate and invest in continuous improvements to facilities, products and marketing.

    In other words, great qualities on which to base a relationship.

    (This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of Export Profile.)

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products. 



    Global Marketing Middle East Middle East/North Africa
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