F&B suppliers take stock amid coronavirus sales slump

UAE-based companies have been hit hard by the ‘brutal’ restaurant shutdown

There's been a steep decline in demand for Dibba Bay oysters
There's been a steep decline in demand for Dibba Bay oysters

With the Middle East’s F&B industry at a virtual standstill due to the closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not just restaurants and bars who are feeling the strain.

Suppliers have seen their orders fall massively, with East Coast Shellfish, which produces Dibba Bay Oysters, founder Ramie Murray saying it has seen a “dramatic decline” in its horeca business.

While most chefs are quick to play up the need to use fresh local produce whenever they can, UNS Farms CEO Grahame Dunling told Caterer Middle East that the current situation has seen “a lot more hesitancy to stock fresh produce”, with its horeca sales going down “severely”.

Adapting to this ‘new normal’ may take some time, and, as Murray highlights, the timing of it couldn’t have been worse with the shutdown coming just ahead of the annual summer slowdown in the Middle East, with most companies now unable to take advantage of the pre-summer boom in spending.

He said: “The current level of shut down is brutal for the F&B industry as even if we come out of lock down relatively soon we are then rolling into the summer period and it will take time for the rest of the world to normalise and tourism to build again. I can’t see things starting to get back to normal before September so it’s going to be really tough for everyone.”

Instead, Murray has turned his attention to marketing Dibba Bay oysters to the consumer market, saying its “retail business with supermarkets and online delivery portals is climbing rapidly”.

Murray believes this enforced diversification will serve the company better in the long run, and he expects Dubai’s horeca market to bounce back “as it always does” once this crisis is over.

The big concerns of the moment for many people revolve around hygiene and Dunling says that UNS Farms’ focus on “traceability and trust are truly important” and believes that “the transparency individuals can have with a local company can be much stronger than with imports.” He added: “We believe it is in moments like these that the importance of local, freshly available produce truly shines.”

He concluded: “The shutdown is not good for anyone. At the end of the day, how well companies adapt to the new landscape, whether it’s short term or longer, will determine their sustainability. We think as long as people cooperate with the authorities, this issue will be solved quickly, and we can go back to business as usual.”

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