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Explainer: Is the booming healthy snacks sector in the region well regulated?

Explainer: Is the booming healthy snacks sector in the region well regulated?

As consumers in the GCC increasingly focus on adopting fitter lifestyles, the regional health food industry has seen massive growth, suggests Mahmoud Adham, founder and CEO, Munchbox

With an increased focus on wellbeing, has the health food industry seen a rise in the region in recent years?
Yes. With the new generation in the GCC being much more health conscious and aware of what they put in their bodies, we have seen a tremendous increase in the demand for healthy snacking. Covid-19 has also played an additional role in increasing this demand because people are staying at home with
little opportunity to go out or workout. This means they need to be extra careful with what they eat so they do not gain weight and face health problems due to the lack of movement.

Are there specific segments within the sector seeing stronger growth?
With the faster lifestyle people have adopted, the time for sit-down meals is no longer a priority as it was before.

This means people are getting more and more of their food intake on the go, while snacking. We can see this in the growth of the number of products on
the shelves of retailers and the space they give in their stores to healthy snacking products.

Are you seeing more local companies mushrooming to meet demand for health snacks?
We see many players come into the market due to the growing category. However, only very few manage to survive for more than one or two years mainly because of the difficult nature of the business when it comes to securing good quality manufacturing and fulfilling the demanding needs of customers.

Customers are now much more educated, they have many more options and are hence extremely picky about what brands they choose to trust. The building of this trust takes time. It took Munchbox six years to reach where we are today.

There are a lot of products claiming to be ‘healthy’. Are there regulations to monitor the market?
Dubai Municipality has world-class regulations and measures in place to ensure that products sold in the country deliver on what they promise and are actually healthy for the consumer. Having said that, there are of course many soft claims which some companies use to seem healthy, for example, ‘reduced sugar’, or ‘now with less sodium’ which are difficult to quantify.

Munchbox follows a puritan approach, and we only make claims that are absolute and leave no room for interpretation, like ‘no sugar added, ‘zero preservatives’ and ‘zero artificial colouring’.

The pandemic has led to people cooking a lot more at home. Has this impacted the industry?
Yes, but for the better. Speaking specifically about our products, with reduced footfall in supermarkets, petrol stations and coffee shops, we have seen a decline in retail sales. But on the other hand, our customers have shifted their purchasing habits to ordering from our online platform and our online grocery partners.

Although people are spending time at home cooking, they’re also now snacking while cooking, watching TV, and working on their laptops at home.

Lastly, what is the outlook for the future? Will the post-Covid-19 era see major changes in the sector?
We are very optimistic about the future. Since the pandemic began, we have seen a tremendous surge in online sales. We have also noticed that there is a significant shift towards lower calorie snacks as people are spending less time exercising. With people spending more time at home, they will continue shifting their habits towards ordering online.

We have prepared for this new normal by launching 44 new snacks sold exclusively online to cater to this demand.

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