The Middle East is emerging as a hotspot for plant-based food with rapidly accelerating interest in meat and dairy alternatives, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.
While historically sales of processed meat and dairy products have been relatively low in the region, growing rates of obesity are spurring an interest in plant-based foods as healthier alternative. As a result, alternatives are developing a growing presence in retail environments and restaurants are increasing the number of vegan options offered. Presently, most offered plant-based products are imported, but this is beginning to change as local startups evolve. In Israel, which is believed to have the largest vegan population (by percentage) of any nation, several startups are poised to make major impacts in the market.
For example, Israel based Stray Dog Capital portfolio company Aleph Farms is preparing to launch the world’s first cultivated steak onto the market. Coined the ‘Petit Steak’ the cultivated product combines cell-based meat with plant-based ingredients and is set to be launched under the brand ‘Aleph Cuts.’
As Israel has good relationships with the UAE, another emerging market for alternative protein products, there is potential for food-technology sharing between the nations – broadening the markets for startups in both.
The growth of the plant-based market in the UAE is especially visible in Dubai, a city is widely known for offering cuisines from numerous cultures, making it relatively easy for plant-based foods to gain a foothold.
A report in 2022 predicted “formidable” growth for the alt meat market in the UAE. The country is also promoting plant-based diets throughout 2023 as part of a “Year of Sustainability” initiative as it prepares to host the COP28 summit.
In other Middle Eastern countries, progress in plant-based is also taking place. For example, in Qatar, Eat Just is building what is claimed to be the first cultivated meat facility in the region. While in Egypt, major dairy producer Juhayna Food Industries has launched plant-based milk. According to research from Triton Market Research, the plant-based market in the Middle East and Africa will grow with a CAGR of 8.35% from 2021 to 2028. Gaining kosher and halal certifications for these products has been identified as key for market penetration in these localities.