Interview with Mr Scott Hanna, Senior Business Development Manager, UAE, Oman & Bahrain at Invest Northern Ireland

Qn: How many Northern Ireland food and drink companies are here in the UAE?

Northern Ireland has a long and prosperous relationship with the UAE. Over the course of the last few years Invest Northern Ireland, also known as Invest NI, has helped about 50 to 60 Northern Ireland companies promote their products in the UAE market.  We have also advised many others on how to export to the UAE and the wider region as well as how to establish a physical presence in market. There is huge demand for our produce from across the region as the Northern Ireland brand is known for ethically farmed and quality food products, robust food traceability guarantees and reliable supply chains.   

What is Dubai’s role in relation to the global food industry and trade, especially in light of the challenges of the pandemic?

From the perspective of Invest Northern Ireland, Dubai is a hub for the wider India, Middle East and Africa region. With business-friendly policies, a world class regulatory framework and trade access to key markets in Asia and Europe, Dubai plays a pivotal role in the global food industry and wider global trade network.

What are the main food exports from Northern Ireland to the UAE?

UAE’s largest food import from Northern Ireland is dairy products, especially powdered milk and cheese. The other products include healthy snack foods, bakery products and seafood.  This has been underpinned by the strength of the Northern Ireland brand representing quality and its reputation as a world leader in food traceability and security.   

I am also delighted to add that Northern Ireland food and drink regularly features in global awards for outstanding taste and in 2020, Northern Ireland companies racked up 172 awards.

We are exceptionally proud of our reputation and accolades, which for a country with a population of 1.8 million people, is a significant achievement on the world’s stage.

How important is the UAE food and drink market for Northern Ireland exports?

The UAE and the wider India, Middle East and Africa region is a very important market for Northern Ireland’s food exports, recognising the strong relationship between the UAE and the UK that dates back decades. Invest Northern Ireland recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in the UAE and we have been supporting Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry find opportunities in the UAE for many years.

Specifically, the GCC is one of the fastest-growing global markets for Northern Ireland produce and in recent years, Gulfood has proven to be a key enabler for Northern Ireland food and beverage exports to the Gulf region. Last year, for example, White’s Speedicook Ltd, a producer of porridge oats and granola across the UK and Ireland secured contracts in the Middle East estimated to be worth over £1 million.

We also see a growing awareness among consumers on the impact of natural and organic foods to our diets. Consumption patterns are changing, and the industry now is working on premium menus by introducing natural, organic ingredients and ‘free-from’ options. This in turn has created more demand for such products from Northern Ireland.

What are the most important changes imposed by the pandemic on the food and drink sector and how do you see the future of the sector in the post-pandemic world?

We have seen a lot of the food and drink companies in Northern Ireland move from food service to retail operations, a trend which will remain even after the pandemic. Retail provides an additional source of income for companies that typically provided food service and offers opportunities for both innovation and evolution.

We believe the future of the food and drink sector after the pandemic will be focused on food safety and security, traceability, and sustainability.  Queens University Belfast Professor Chris Elliott has had a direct impact in the work being done here in the UAE on food safety – he spoke at the Dubai Food Safety Conference at the end of 2020. Professor Chris Elliott is the founder of the Institute for Global Food Security, based in Queens University Belfast.

As discussed, Northern Ireland has a very close relationship with the UAE.  Our team at Invest Northern Ireland remains committed to strengthening this relationship for the long term and to showcasing the best of our globally respected food and drink industry to the UAE and the broader region.  

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