The Middle East has rapidly matured from being a destination primarily for U.S. beef livers and other variety meat, to a market that’s very promising for high-quality beef cuts. In order to better tap this potential, the Oklahoma Beef Council and Texas Beef Council recently partnered with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) for major beef promotions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).
Home to more than 2 million people, Dubai is the U.A.E.’s main economic hub. Food sales in the U.A.E. totaled $7.73 billion in 2011 and are expected to increase by 36 percent – to more than $10.5 billion – by 2015. Many factors are contributing to this expansion, including strong economic growth, growing acceptance of modern retail concepts and increasing household consumption by both native and expatriate populations.
The Oklahoma Beef Council recently funded cooking and sampling sessions demonstrating the unique quality characteristics of U.S. chilled beef – including tenderloin, sirloin, ribeye and rump steak – at 16 major retail outlets in the U.A.E. While the response from in-store consumers was very positive, these promotional sessions also served a broader purpose. USMEF invited U.A.E. importers to attend the demonstrations on a daily basis so they could see firsthand the remarkable potential for high-quality cuts of U.S. beef. The importers also discussed sales trends and marketing strategies for U.S. beef with representatives of the three participating retail chains – Lulu Hypermarkets, Choithram Supermarkets and Al Maya Supermarkets.
“These retailers make up an interesting cross-section of the U.A.E.’s supermarket sector,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president for global marketing and communications. “With 70 locations across the Gulf Region, Lulu is a true leader in the hypermarket concept – putting virtually all household needs under one roof. Choithram has 33 locations, but is very much a local chain specializing in high-end food items. Al Maya provides a happy medium – it’s a multi-purpose supermarket, but on a smaller scale than the hypermarket chains.”
The sampling sessions definitely provided a bounce for beef sales at the participating outlets. During the promotional period, U.S. beef sales at 16 participating locations (13 in Dubai and three in U.A.E. capital city Abu Dhabi) surged by 270 percent to 302 percent compared to pre-campaign levels. Results from the week after the demonstrations concluded were still impressive – 166 percent to 200 percent above previous sales.
“The investment made by Oklahoma cattle producers has not only allowed us to better penetrate this market in the short term, it’s also helped us bring together importers, distributors and retailers in ways that will help us grow demand for many years to come,” Halstrom said. “These are principles that will not only help us succeed in Dubai, but can be applied in other key markets throughout the Gulf Region.”
USMEF also recently coordinated a series of Texas Beef Council chef training workshops in Dubai. Two days of hands-on training and demonstration cooking at the Radisson Blu Hotel’s Palm Grill Steakhouse were held in collaboration with Office of Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai.
About 70 chefs from 26 hotels and restaurants participated in the workshops, conducted by chef Uwe Micheel, kitchen director for Radisson Blu Hotels and president of the Emirates Culinary Guild. Representatives of several U.S. beef suppliers and U.A.E. importers were also on hand.
The workshops centered on the quality and affordability of underutilized U.S. beef cuts such as tri-tip, top blade, hanging tender, flatiron and petite tender, as well as tips on complete utilization of the shoulder clod. This gave participating chefs a wide range of ideas for upgrading and diversifying their menus with affordably priced beef items.
Participants created and sampled new beef dishes, fostering an active exchange of new menu ideas and cooking techniques. Chefs also received an information kit including a guidebook of beef cuts for foodservice operators, a bilingual booklet entitled “When Quality Meets Profit,” fact sheets on underutilized U.S. beef cuts and an instructional DVD on profitable menu planning.
“The beef cuts we’re exporting to the U.A.E. command an excellent price, as evidenced by a very strong unit value of more than $4 per pound,” said Halstrom. “But we need to expand our educational work with chefs, consumers and the trade in the U.A.E. and throughout the Middle East, sharing the great tasting experience that comes with grain-fed, well-marbled beef. These training workshops are a great way to do that, and they also help us diversify our merchandising options in the region. With the support of the Texas Beef Council, this program is really top-notch.”
Through August, U.S. beef exports to the U.A.E. surged by 34 percent in value over a year ago to $33.4 million. With four months of results still to be reported, export value is already approaching the calendar year record of $38.8 million, set in 2011. While these results include a small volume of variety meat, more than 95 percent of the beef export value to the U.A.E. is derived from muscle cuts.