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Thursday 21 October 2021

NZ F&B at Expo 2020 – validate, enter or grow in the UAE

3rd September 2021 By Bridget O'Connell | | @foodtickernz

Ahead of Expo 2020 kicking off on 1 October in Dubai, New Zealand trade commissioner for the UAE, Kevin McKenna, tells the Ticker about the opportunities for Kiwi food and beverage firms, what the F&B programme entails and how it can help exporters land new customers.

New Zealand trade commissioner for the UAE Kevin McKenna.

Q. What is the opportunity for New Zealand F&B exporters in the Middle East?

A. The Middle East market has been growing very quickly in the past couple of years, with the Gulf countries combined now the fifth largest trade partner for New Zealand globally.

In the past 12 months alone, trade with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council – including UAE and Saudi Arabia – totalled $2.2bn, up from seventh in 2016.

This growth has primarily been driven by F&B exports including increases in dairy, sheep meat, apples, kiwifruit, and honey. Recent research by Kantar commissioned by NZTE found there was further opportunity to tap into increased recognition of New Zealand as a supplier of premium food products.

What have you got planned for F&B exporters at Expo 2020?

The Expo Business Leverage Programme, including the F&B Programme, is a bit different from a regular trade fair with exhibitors.

Expo 2020 isn’t a trade show, but it is a global event and expected to attract strong business representation and visitors, and our response to that was to put together a series of activities to support New Zealand businesses and leverage Expo. The F&B Programme is a significant part of this work.

We’ve been delivering virtual activities this year that support learning about the market. The in-market components of the F&B programme later on during Expo are designed to facilitate new connections and grow awareness of their brand, product or service with relevant trade audiences.

Those components include B2B food events and ‘meet the buyer’ functions, and also a UAE-wide PR campaign and retail activation based on the global Made With Care campaign. 

When businesses express interest in the programme we work with them to understand what they want to achieve and which aspects of the programme are the right ones to support those goals. 

Our approach is centred around connecting businesses to opportunities and fast-tracking their plans, whether those are plans to validate or enter the UAE market for the first time or to push for further growth.

What have you already learned from the in-person and virtual events that have taken place over the four years of planning – including the one year delay – that has gone into this event ?

We had amazing feedback in 2019 when we ran the Discover Middle East – FMCG programme. I remember one company noting how surprised they were by how easy it is to do business here given that everyone speaks English. This being a global trading hub, things can move quite quickly when there is interest from a local partner.

We hope people will be able to travel and reconnect with the markets in 2022 for Discover Middle East – FMCG in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. For new businesses, this programme is an opportunity to test the waters and fast-track their understanding of the region and importantly, experience it in person. 

The postponed Expo 2020 finally kicks off on 1 October and will run for six months.

What’s the interest like from New Zealand F&B exporters?

We’ve had strong interest from both companies new to the market and those already doing business here. This includes companies in the fresh produce space, red and white meat, dairy and of course honey, which has seen significant growth in the Gulf region since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak.

We’re still confirming numbers, but I expect around 30-40 businesses to be actively involved in these F&B programmes, if not more.

There are other F&B businesses involved in the New Zealand pavilion as suppliers and New Zealand at Expo sponsors as well.

What do you expect or hope Expo 2020 will achieve for New Zealand?

Living here, we see the incredible opportunities there are for New Zealand businesses. For instance, when I walk into a supermarket here many of our wonderful products are very visible – the meat, the dairy, the honey and fresh produce are all there.

However, in the short to medium term, the Kantar research identified some interesting areas for growth. Despite some really positive gains in the past few years as a result of the efforts of ‘NZ Inc’ and many New Zealand businesses, there is still room to grow awareness of New Zealand F&B, which we hope the combination of our F&B programming and that of the New Zealand at Expo team will continue to do. 

There is also an opportunity for messaging that helps convert consumer interest into purchase – bolstering positive perceptions already there in consumers’ minds and maybe addressing some of the barriers, such as the perception that our products are expensive.

In the longer term, we’re hoping this event will help exporters that are new to the region to fast-track their understanding of the commercial opportunities in what have been relatively lesser-known markets for many NZ exporters.

For those already present we’re really focussed on building their in-market connections both in the UAE and surrounding markets, so our hope will be to see the continued growth of some of the companies involved as a result of these new introductions.

In many ways, the Expo 2020 Dubai is just the beginning of what we hope will be a broader and deeper relationship between New Zealand and UAE business.

Do you have hard targets for increasing trade?

At this time, we’re focussed on the numbers of introductions we can facilitate for people in the programme – it’s about building new connections and linking companies up to growth opportunities of all shapes and sizes. 

It’s important to note that success looks different for different sized companies. For some companies getting a distributor up here and getting their products onto a shelf, even if that’s a relatively smaller deal in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, makes a big difference to their business and helps them diversify and reduce exposure in other export markets.

I’d expect the trade relationship to continue to grow – as you will have seen in the trade stats we shared, there has been tremendous growth in New Zealand-Gulf F&B trade over the last year or two, so with the number of new companies we have showing interest in this region as a result of Expo, I expect things to continue developing in the right direction. 



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