Exclusive preview: Behind the scenes of Gulfood Manufacturing 2022

With record attendance expected for this year’s Gulfood Manufacturing equipment and processing event in the UAE, editor Neill Barston speaks exclusively to show’s director Mark Napier on its key prospects ahead

As one of the most dynamic and fast-evolving food and drink sectors in the World, Dubai has continued to carve out a strong position for itself within the sector. Its confectionery segment is no exception to this in seeing a raft of trends take root regarding new product development. This has been backed by rising demand for equipment and automated systems spearheading a continued pattern of growth.

See our exclusive video interview with Mark Napier here, in which he expands on a number of themes for this year’s event.

The region’s continued success has been underpinned by research from Statista that has placed the UAE’s sweets and snack sector at a value of $6.6 billion in 2022, with a CAGR rate of 6.17 per cent, it is a region that remains a focal point for innovation and creativity. Last year’s Gulfood Manufacturing, attended by 36,000 people, was testament to this, with over 90 per cent of its visitors reportedly having a budget of over $500,000 for equipment – with the event being renowned for the level of individual trade deals being done directly at the show.

Notably, Dubai was one of the very few locations around the world which managed to maintain its strong roster of global events during the pandemic (with the exception of Gulfood’s postponement in 2020), and has proved exceptionally resilient. The 2021 event also took place amid the pandemic-delayed Dubai Expo event, delivering a key platform for wider industry technology, sustainability and innovation across industries.

Its sister event, ISM Middle East (see our linked article), also attracted a strong degree of interest from the sector, with developments from major brands and regional speciality businesses across the show.

As Mark  Napier, show director for Gulfood Manufacturing, revealed in an exclusive show interview, this year’s event promises key developments across packaging, processing, supply chain solutions, as well as control and automation advancements.

“This is going to be an amazing show – there’s been so much change in the market. Dubai has been a fabulous place to operate from during those difficult times of the pandemic, as there’s huge pent-up demand for attending physical events. We’re seeing huge opportunities in this market,” he explained of the event, which will feature a total of around 1,600 exhibitors from dozens of countries.

Its diversity has traditionally ensured a vibrant, engaging atmosphere that has seen the region embrace global trends with enthusiasm. As Mark noted, with considerable changes afoot within the market – which has also seen a strong level of global tests to business conditions, meeting up in person is more critical than ever. Having been involved with the event’s organisation for many years, one of its key drivers in his view, is a continued focus on delivering industry innovation, that marks it out as a significant annual highlight.

“This year’s show is going to be 40% bigger than last year, which was already a record-breaking year, so it’s going to be our largest one yet, and I am sure that as manufacturers look to solve the enormous challenges that they have from price pressures, inflation and tightening consumer demand, but along with new exhibitors coming to us, they will be looking for opportunities at our event that they are perhaps not finding in their domestic markets,” revealed the show’s director, setting the stage for its return between 8-10 November at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Underlining its devotion to celebrating latest industry breakthroughs, he explained there has already been strong focus on its new business start-up area of the show, as well as harnessing an inspirational volume growth of key market ‘free-from’ and plant-based product ranges, and healthier eating that will be on show in Dubai.

For its accompanying conference programme there will be a number of keynote presentations covering the big debates on tackling rising energy costs, plus raw material and labour shortages, that will feature global consultancy Oxford Analytica. There will also be presentations from major businesses including Kerry, Tetrapak
and General Mills, addressing a host of core topics including tapping into plant-based trends and circular food manufacturing, to exploring protein product options.

Investment momentum
As the show director enthused, while the industry may well be facing considerable external pressures, this has not in fact significantly dampened demand for engaging with trade shows, and making capital investments. “We are seeing a lot of investment in the region, looking at new plant equipment, new innovation and consumer markets. We’re very lucky here that we touch some areas that there’s fast-growing population growth, which has meant these are busy times for all,” he asserted, noting that last year’s edition aligned with the Dubai Expo helped put the UAE on the map even more, resulting in some extremely strong partnerships being formed at intergovernmental level.

Turning his thoughts to its main event conference programme, he revealed it will include topics relating to supply chains – including relationships with Africa, which plays a critical role in the global agricultural sector, particularly with commodities including cocoa, that are vital to the confectionery sector.

“There will be a big focus on Africa this year, and I know that many of our leadership and trade and agricultural leaders have spent a lot of time over there, cementing those relationships to ensure that supply chains are robust as the can be,” noting the overall event should offer a dynamic platform for exchanging ideas as well as trading partnerships.

On major trends in the region, he notes that “We’re seeing a huge focus on healthier product trends within the region at government level,” but the sense of product innovation is also being impacted by the impact on commodities such as fats and oils, which have faced supply shortages amid major market tests such as the ongoing war in Ukraine that has significantly disrupted traditional supply chains for a number of key ingredients.

Despite such significant hurdles, he added that playing a core role within the region’s events sector was something that he regarded as a distinct privilege and pleasure, with a wealth of opportunities presenting themselves in the industry.

“Dubai is a place that makes doing business a pleasure,” he concludes, welcoming anyone new to the show, which he anticipates will be packed full of intriguing developments. Its projected record attendance of over 40,000 will mean it will be destined to be anything but dull during the extravaganza’s bustling three days.


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