AUSTRALIAN beef exports to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) look set to increase in coming years as consumer tastes change, incomes grow and a cold chain is developed to handle chilled beef.
That’s the message from Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) international business manager – MENA, Nick Meara, who provided a market snapshot as part of MLA’s Global Markets Forum at Beef Australia 2018 in Rockhampton.
While MENA is a small market for Australia by volume, taking 29,220 tonnes of Australian beef last year, Mr Meara said it had an appetite for quality, a message backed up by MLA panellist and Stockyard Beef chief executive officer, Lachie Hart.
“Our relationship in the Middle East was through a chef that was working in the Shangri-La in Singapore, and moved to Dubai.”
“He was a fan of our product, and we had to figure out how to get beef into that market.”
Mr Hart said Stockyard Beef’s sales to the Middle East started around 10 years ago with airfreighted chilled tenderloins, a cut which was in high demand.
“Now we can’t keep up with the growth in the market.”
MLA’s MENA group is made up of 19 countries with an annual per-capita beef consumption of 5-15 kilograms.
He said the diversity of the region made it unfeasible to research all markets, and that the latest MLA Developing Cities report would show the industry where the best opportunities laid.
“That has looked at 31 cities, and we’ll deep dive into six,” Mr Meara said.
Current MENA consumption is made up of 24 per cent chilled grassfed, 17pc chilled grainfed, 50pc frozen grassfed and 8pc frozen grainfed.
“We represent about 4pc of the beef market up there.”
Mr Meara said 80pc of MENA’s beef came from Brazil and India, and Australian beef was more than double the price of Brazilian product.
Poultry, dominated by frozen chicken from Brazil priced at around $4/kg, is MENA’s major protein source, followed by fish, with beef third and lamb fourth.
“We have to target what we can do best, and that’s high-end.”
He said the retail and food-service sectors both offered opportunities, as did a resurgence in tourism.
That included expansion in the four and five-star hotel market, with more than 200 in both Istanbul and Dubai already, and a further 30 more in each due to be built by 2020.
Mr Meara said MENA countries had a young and diverse population which was travelling for work and leisure, leaving their home countries to study, and returning with altered protein-consumption ideals.
“The biggest opportunity I see is in changing consumer behaviour.”
“They see different foods and culture, and when they come home, they want that.”
He said rising affluence and international influence was seeing the rise of quick-service restaurants and casual-dining establishments serving beef in hamburgers and other menu items.
“They don’t want to use Brazilian beef or Indian buffalo.”
Mr Meara said large retail and small boutique stores were catering to walk-in customers and online orders.
“These guys are catering for home delivery into palaces and villas.
“They want organic and that’s us.”
He said the establishment of cold chains was vital to enable MENA markets to access chilled beef, and money was already being invested in refrigerated road transport and cold stores and to back up what airfreight was already able to delivery.
“People want better, fresher food. The biggest challenge for us is shelf life.”
MLA has said Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with a large and growing base of wealthy consumers would remain the main area of opportunity in the Middle East.
Mr Meara said GCC member countries were working as part of the trade bloc, and independently, with the Australian Government to address market-access issues.
He said building the Australian brand relied on the Halal message to reinforce trust in Australia as a supplier of certified beef.