The dietary and wellness supplements market might sound like a marginal export sector but it is becoming big business in the Middle East as the region embraces Western lifestyle choices.
The UK is a leading provider, with one Blackpool company now even supplying vitamin-D tablets to the sun-drenched Gulf. James Wilson, a director of Private Label Nutrition, said the Middle East was now the company’s biggest growth market, with a 35 per cent increase in exports to the Gulf region in the year to February. He explained that, paradoxically, vitamin D deficiency is widespread among the Gulf population due to high temperatures that limit time spent outdoors. Cultural norms, which include covering major parts of the body, especially among women, also contribute to vitamin D deficiency.
The UK Department of International Trade said it had helped the company secure two new contracts in the United Arab Emirates after it attended a trade show in Dubai. Paul Stowers, head of the north-west region at the DIT, said: “Success stories such as these illustrate just how profitable exporting can be, with overseas consumers increasingly looking for British products and premium quality brands.”
Supplements and related health products are seen as an increasingly important part of an overall healthcare and medical sector in the Middle East and North Africa which is forecast to grow to $244 billion in 2023 from $144 billion this year.
The lifestyle trend is most apparent among professionals in the affluent countries of the Gulf. It is accompanied by an above average rise in the switch to health-oriented and wellness products. Bayt, the region’s leading job-seeker site, spotted the trend in 2016, in a survey that indicated healthier lifestyles, including exercise and a better diet, were increasingly important to Middle East professionals.
An April report published by MarketResearch.com said dietary supplements are an emerging market in the Middle East and Africa region, driven by growing health awareness, increasing self-medication, expansion of distribution networks, and the entrance of new brands.
It said the sector was expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 8.2 per cent between now and 2025. The value of the Middle East and North Africa supplements market has grown steadily from an estimated $8.6 billion annually as of 2014.
The report listed the UK’s sector leader Vitabiotics, which manufactures the Wellwoman and Wellman range, as one of the top international suppliers. In 2015, the company partnered with Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals to promote and distribute its products in the Middle East.
CurePharma, a Yorkshire-based company founded by two Iraqi-born, Bradford-trained pharmacologists, opened its first overseas office in Doha in 2018 after developing its own range of food and dietary supplements and multi-vitamins. Co-founder Mustafa Al-Shalechy said at the time that British pharmaceutical and healthcare products were recognised for their quality in Iraq and that British brands were highly sought after.
From the retail market, John Bell & Croyden, the luxury pharmacy of London’s upmarket Harley Street medical district since 1798, sent a team to Arab Health 2020, the largest healthcare trade exhibition in the Middle East, held in Dubai in January. The pharmacy, which supplies a range of health and beauty supplements, estimates more than 60 per cent of its overseas customers come from Middle Eastern countries.
It is now seeking to expand its services to the region. “We are delighted to be able to offer [products and services] to Middle Eastern hospitals and patients,” according to general manager Alexander Johnston, “to ensure they have access to the finest healthcare products.”
Exhibitors at the annual Arab Health events have included the Kent-based Supplement Factory, which said it regarded the Middle East as a rapidly expanding marketing for its health and sports nutrition supplements. With that market in mind, the company obtained a halal certificate from The Halal Trust to appeal to consumers “who want to adopt a modern lifestyle in keeping with their spiritual values”.