Is organic part of the UAE and KSA health conversation?

30th May 2021

FMCG brands in the MENA region are investing in the worldwide organic produce trend with heightened marketing efforts on the shelf and online, communicating the lifestyle and health benefits of buying organic. 

In response, consumers are becoming more conscious, but is the conversation one-sided? 

Collecting ambient feedback via our Arabic AI platform, Sila, and deep-diving with food and lifestyle creators and their followers’ data, we took an audience-first approach and looked at conversations on social media.

There is a trend of health and nutrition conversations falling under the spotlight during the major seasonal period of Ramadan. The cultural practice of fasting and reflecting, naturally sparks discussion around a healthy approach, and a time when consumers are faced with introspection on living better lives for themselves and their families.

The above graph shows how engagements on health-related posts significantly peaks and troughs around Ramadan each year on Instagram in KSA and UAE. 

These peaks provide a window of opportunity for marketers to understand consumer behaviour and feelings toward health and healthy eating. 

During the 2020 Gulfood exhibit held in Dubai, major food importers from Italy and France reported double-figure growth on demand to the UAE, stating that a significant driver in this was consumer interest from families who are more aware of the importance of eating healthy food.

*“This awareness, explained Amedeo Scarpa, Italian Trade Commissioner to the UAE, has led to a sizable increase in the demand of various segments such as organics, non-GMOs, and foods that are free from pesticides.” 

What is evident from looking at the conversations taking place in the region, however, is that organic and natural foods are not a significant factor when it comes to health and lifestyle on social media.

 Although present and consistent, these emerging needs are around 18% of social content when combined. Organic specifically is only 3.2% of the total health conversation.

What is driving the health conversation engagements?

It is clear that if presented with the question, “would you prefer to eat natural produce and lead a healthy and more nutritious life?”, most surveyed respondents are going to say yes, for themselves and for their families. But, when looking at ambient conversational trends and discussions, a more realistic viewpoint comes to light. 

When we look at consumer sentiment, we expect and do see a majority, 91% in fact, reacting and commenting positively within discussions. What is more interesting is to drill into the 10% of negative comments to find out what potential barriers exist to match the consumer’s projected needs against the real-time actions.

When selecting random negative comments to analyse, there are some clear themes coming to light: 

Barriers to adopting a more organic lifestyle in the UAE & KSA: 

  • Price 
  • False claims/advertising gimmicks 
  • Non-trust 
  • Lack of understanding 

Consumers are skeptical of the authenticity of organic claims. Bombarded with organic menus in cafes, organic products where it doesn’t make sense to claim the benefit, advertising using ‘organic’ as an aggressive point of difference, and brands using ‘organic’ as a pricing strategy. These are the resounding impressions regional consumers have who are slow to move to an organic lifestyle.

It is clear that ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are benefits that are generally understood and desired with the regional audience, but the flurry of activity in the FMCG space has made it hard for new adopters to fully understand what makes a product truly organic, why a premium is placed on not only specialty but commoditised items for their household and a general disruption and decline of health conversations is leaving a gap in building equity around moving a non-purchaser into the funnel. 

*Credit article:  ‘Demand for organic products to rise in GCC’; Rohma Sadaqat /Dubai [email protected] Filed on February 20, 2020