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Consumer Profile – The United Arab Emirates

May 2019

Executive summary

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates with a population of 9.5 million people in 2018, 8.5 million (89%) of whom are expatriates (non-UAE nationals). In 2030, the UAE's population is expected to reach 10.5 million, an increase of 21.9% from 2015.

The increase in the UAE's population can be attributed mostly to the high demand for labour in the two main cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Ongoing construction and demand for labour has attracted workers from the region and around the world.

Dubai ranked the sixth most visited city in the world in 2017, with 16.5 million visitors.

Dishes forming part of the Emirati cuisine include Al Jabab bread, camel meat, dates, fish and Kabsa (mixed rice dishes). However, the combination of so many foreigners within the UAE and the affluence of a number of Emirati residents have created a country with an international palate demanding a wide range of international foods.

In 2018, consumer expenditure per capita was US$14,544.8, 12.3% of which was spent on food.

Driven by the UAE's increasing income and affluence, and by the global trend toward healthy eating, including natural ingredients and quality food, UAE customers increased their consumption of health and wellness products at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% from 2014 to 2018, in particular in the naturally healthy (NH) products category, which posted a CAGR of 8.0%.

Key demographic indicators

The UAE's population in 2018 was 9.5 million people, 8.5 million (89%) of whom were expatriates (non-UAE nationals), most of them from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as shown in the table below. In 2030, the UAE's population is expected to reach 10.5 million, an increase of 21.9% from 2015. This population is predominantly urban.

The age groups that exceeded 1 million in 2015 were between the ages of 25 and 39, most of them expatriates. The growth rate for all age groups from 2000 to 2030 ranges from a 6.0% CAGR (ages 5-9) to a 73.4% CAGR (ages 70-74). The 70-74 age group is recording the fastest growth among all age groups in the UAE, but will only represent 1.5% of the total population in 2030. Population growth in 2015-2030 will be driven by the 60+ age group, which will grow by 497%, albeit from a low base (Euromonitor, 2018).

The increase in the UAE population can be attributed mostly to the high demand for labour in the two main cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Ongoing construction and demand for labour has attracted workers from the region and around the world. As the population of the UAE continues to grow, demand for services such as health care and education will increase. The UAE authorities have generated strong expectations from their residents by putting forward the Emirates' "Vision 2021," a long-term plan that aims to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world by 2021, when the UAE will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of its formation as a federation.

The United Arab Emirates' population in '000 by five-year age group
Age group 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2000-2030
0-4 259 234 343 407 404 397 404 7.7
5-9 283 226 324 332 408 408 401 6.0
10-14 271 239 331 314 334 415 415 7.4
15-19 231 283 499 399 374 403 424 10.7
20-24 310 462 1,034 726 686 665 558 10.3
25-29 368 639 1,477 1,262 1,213 1,134 1,022 18.6
30-34 361 520 1,499 1,476 1,451 1,429 1,325 24.2
35-39 327 402 1,065 1,345 1,252 1,339 1,398 27.4
40-44 245 301 696 946 1,081 1,058 1,272 31.6
45-49 138 181 467 609 793 843 963 38.2
50-54 79 99 246 399 537 644 681 43.2
55-59 36 57 109 207 373 501 545 57.3
60-64 18 24 59 93 192 357 480 72.8
65-69 14 12 24 50 84 178 336 69.8
70-74 6 10 12 20 44 76 163 73.4
75-79 5 4 9 9 16 36 64 52.9
80+ 4 4 6 8 11 17 36 44.2
Total 2,956 3,697 8,200 8,604 9,253 9,902 10,490 23.5
Median age 26.8 28.1 30.3 33.0 34.1 35.3 37.4 5.7

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / United Nations (UN)

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Expat population of United Arab Emirates in millions and its breakdown, 2018
Nationality Population in millions % Breakdown
India 2.6 27.5
Pakistan 1.2 12.7
Bangladesh 0.7 7.4
Philippines 0.5 5.6
Iran 0.5 4.8
Egypt 0.4 4.2
Nepal 0.3 3.2
Sri Lanka 0.3 3.2
China 0.2 2.1
All other countries 1.7 17.9
Total expat population 8.5 88.5
Source: Global Media Insight 2019

The United Arab Emirates' vital statistics

In the UAE, the fertility rate was 1.8 children per female in 2015, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. It will, however, fall to 1.6 children per female by 2030, which is much lower than it was in 1980, when the rate was 5.4. The UAE's population growth in 2015-2030 will be slower than it was in the 2000s due to falling birth and fertility rates and increasing death rates. At the same time, net migration will no longer be the main driver of population growth as annual average net migration levels will be much lower in 2015-2030 than they were in the 2000s. Women giving birth to children started younger, from age 29.5 in 2000 to age 27.2 in 2015, and this rate is forecast to remain at around age 27 from 2020 to 2030.

The United Arab Emirates' vital statistics, 2000-2030
Category 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2000-2030
Birth rate 17.4 15.7 9.6 10.6 9.4 8.5 8.3 −11.6
Live births ('000) 53.7 64.6 79.6 92.2 88 85.3 88.4 8.7
Death rate 1.7 1.5 0.9 1.1 1.4 1.8 2.4 5.9
Deaths ('000) 5.4 6.4 7.4 9.7 13.2 18.4 25.4 29.4
Natural change ('000) 48.3 58.3 72.2 82.5 74.8 66.9 62.9 4.5
Rate of natural change 15.6 14.2 8.7 9.5 8 6.7 5.9 −15.0
Net migration ('000) 84.7 350.8 −8.1 21.6 60 55.2 51.9 −7.8
Rate of net migration 28.6 94.9 −1 2.5 6.5 5.6 5 −25.2
Fertility rate 2.6 2.1 1.9 1.8 1.7 1.6 1.6 −7.8
Age at childbirth 29.5 27.6 27.5 27.2 26.8 26.7 27.1 −1.4

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / UN

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Note: Birth and death rates and the rates of natural change refer to the number per '000 population and fertility rates to the number of children born per female. Age at childbirth refers to average age of women in years.

Household structure in the United Arab Emirates

The increase in the UAE's population does not affect its structure in terms of household types. Couples with children make up the largest group, followed by other (couples with children and extended families), single-parent families and couples without children.

Mixed marriages between UAE nationals and non-nationals are uncommon. According to the UAE's National Bureau of Statistics, 88.6% of non-national husbands married non-national wives in 2014, while 77.4% of national husbands married national wives. Couples with children and extended families (classified as "Other") are the key consumer groups in the UAE, driving demand for food, education, transportation and housing.

Number of households by type in the United Arab Emirates ('000) historical, 2014-2018
Type 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 CAGR* % 2014-2018
Couple with children 890.9 918.8 949.9 978.7 1,004.2 3.0
Other(1) 287.2 297.0 307.4 316.9 325.0 3.1
Single-parent family 181.9 188.4 195.4 201.7 207.3 3.3
Couple without children 67.9 73.7 84.7 95.7 105.0 11.5
Single person 48.5 53.3 62.3 71.7 79.8 13.3

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

(1): Couples with children and extended families

Number of households by type in the United Arab Emirates ('000), forecast, 2019-2023
Type 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 CAGR* % 2019-2023
Couple with children 1,029.7 1,054.2 1,077.5 1,100.4 1,122.9 2.2
Other(1) 333.0 340.7 347.8 354.9 361.7 2.1
Single-parent family 212.8 218.1 223.1 228.0 232.8 2.3
Couple without children 115.2 125.1 134.4 143.7 152.7 7.3
Single person 88.9 97.8 106.4 115.0 123.5 8.6

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

(1): Couples with children and extended families

The United Arab Emirates' urban population versus rural population

The UAE was predominantly urban, with 86.4% of the population residing in urban areas in 2015. The urban population is expected to increase rapidly to 91.4% by 2030, reaching around 9.6 million people. The rural population fell from 20.4% in 2000 to 13.6% in 2015 and is forecast to decrease to 8.6% by 2030.

In terms of geographic differences, the income gap between urban and rural households remains relatively modest. Nevertheless, the gap is anticipated to widen due to the country's urbanization and immigration of affluent individuals, who typically reside in urban areas.

The United Arab Emirates' urban population versus rural population ('000), historical/forecast, 2000-2030
Population 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2000-2030
Total 2,956 3,697 8,200 8,604 9,253 9,902 10,490 23.5
Urban population 2,352 3,029 6,913 7,435 8,169 8,905 9,587 26.4
Rural population 604 669 1,287 1,169 1,085 997 903 6.9
Urban population % 79.6% 81.9% 84.3% 86.4% 88.3% 89.9% 91.4% 2.3
Rural population % 20.4% 18.1% 15.7% 13.6% 11.7% 10.1% 8.6% −13.4

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / UN

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Most of the urban population lives in the top three cities: Dubai (2.3 million 2015), Sharjah (1.6 million) and Abu Dhabi (1.1 million). These three cities are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 27.7%, 32.0% and 23.9% respectively, from 2020 to 2030.

The United Arab Emirates' population by city in '000, historical/forecast, 2000-2030
City 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2000-2030
Dubai 868 1,171 1,771 2,327 2,884 3,366 3,759 27.7
Sharjah 418 581 1,435 1,636 1,858 2,051 2,208 32.0
Abu Dhabi 475 600 912 1,119 1,339 1,538 1,716 23.9
Al-Ayn 253 270 377 478 585 679 763 20.2
Ajman 148 181 370 365 374 386 397 17.9
Ras al-Khaimah 88 101 218 229 242 256 268 20.4
Al-Fujayrah 45 53 72 92 116 138 156 23.0
Khawr Fakkan 29 40 95 106 120 133 144 30.6
Umm al-Qaywayn 27 30 61 58 57 57 58 13.6

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / UN

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Population by language

Since 2015, 69.2% of the population has been using Arabic and that figure is forecast to decrease slightly to 68.6% by 2030. Hindi is the second most common language, used by 14.3% of the population in 2015, and that figure is forecast to increase to 17.1% by 2030. English is mostly used in business.

Population by language, historical/forecast, % breakdown, 2015-2030
Language 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2015-2030
Arabic 69.2 69.0 68.8 68.6 −0.3
Hindi 14.3 15.3 16.3 17.1 6.1
Other 16.5 15.7 15.0 14.3 −4.7

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / UN

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Population by religion

UAE nationals are 100% Muslim; the majority are Sunnis, with a minority being Shi'a.

Non-nationals have different religious backgrounds, with the largest groups being Hindu and Christian.

Population by religion, historical/forecast, % breakdown
Religion 2015 2020 2025 2030 CAGR* % 2015-2030
Islam: Sunni 55.9 55.7 55.7 55.7 −0.1
Islam: Shi'a 10.3 10.2 10.1 10.1 −0.7
Other religions 33.9 34.1 34.2 34.2 0.3

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics / UN

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate based on every five-year period for this table

Business environment and dynamics

Despite being a small nation, the UAE has emerged as one of the wealthiest and most dynamic countries globally. The total proportion of consumer spending on essential items (food products, clothing and housing) remains above regional and global levels. The country's demographic dividend adds to its long-term competitiveness, but its low female workforce participation rate and heavy dependence on expatriates concern businesses. Although in the short term soft oil prices might limit infrastructure spending, in the medium term World Expo 2020 (to be hosted in Dubai), the first World Expo in the region, is expected to drive infrastructure investment in the country, thereby boosting the country's overall competitiveness. The UAE has made starting a business easier by improving online registration. The UAE has also made getting electricity easier by eliminating all costs for commercial and industrial connections of up to 150 Kilo Volt Amperes (kVA). And it has made registering property easier by increasing the transparency of the land administration system.

According to a 2019 World Bank report, the UAE climbed 10 spots to 11th place in the World Bank's annual ease of doing business ranking following a package of reforms in the past year that boosted the country's economic competitiveness. The Emirates has the highest-ranking economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and joins the World Bank's top 20 ranking out of 190 economies for the first time.

According to Euromonitor, individuals aged 40-44 are predominantly the highest-income earners, but by 2030 individuals aged 45-49 are forecast to dominate among the highest-income earners. The latter age cohort will drive demand for luxury goods and family-oriented services. Average gross income for all working ages has started to increase, from US$24,179.6 in 2015 to an estimated value of US$32,510.8 in 2023. The unemployment rate in the UAE was low at 1.72% in 2017.

Historical average gross income in United Arab Emirates, US$, 2014-2018
Average Gross Income 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 CAGR* % 2014-2018
All working ages 28,871.2 24,179.6 24,202.6 24,628.1 26,111.5 −2.5

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecastgross income in United Arab Emirates, US$, 2019-2023
Average Gross Income 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 CAGR* % 2019-2023
All working ages 27,506.1 28,961.6 30,212.7 31,366.9 32,510.8 4.3

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Food and beverage preferences and expenditures

Due to the global economic slowdown in more recent years, per capita consumer expenditure on all products decreased at a CAGR of -3.3% from 2014 to 2018. In 2018, per capita consumer expenditure was US$14,544.8, 12.3% of which was spent on food.

Per capita expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages had a negative CAGR (-3.5%) from 2014 to 2018. However, this expenditure is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.6% from 2019 to 2023. Per capita expenditure on alcohol grew from 2014 to 2018 at a CAGR of 4.9% and will continue to grow at a CAGR of 4.4% from 2019 to 2023. Per capita expenditure on meat accounts for the largest share (25.1% share in 2018) of what UAE consumers spend on food, although this amount decreased to US$449.9 in 2018 from US$516.9 in 2014, a negative CAGR (-3.4%) during that period. Expenditure on meat is nevertheless forecast to bounce back to US$541.0 by 2023, a CAGR of 3.5% from 2019 to 2023.

Historical annual per capita expenditure on food and beverages, in US$, 2014-2018
Expenditure 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 CAGR* % 2014-2018
Total consumer expenditure on all products 16,646.3 13,628.8 13,600.4 13,763.1 14,544.8 −3.3
Expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages 2,299.2 1,875.8 1,869.4 1,889.4 1,994.2 −3.5
Expenditure on food 2,069.2 1,687.5 1,681.2 1,698.6 1,792.2 −3.5
Meat 516.9 423.3 423.1 426.3 449.9 −3.4
Bread and cereals 338.2 277.4 277.8 283.4 301.0 −2.9
Milk, cheese and eggs 292.0 238.5 237.9 239.6 251.2 −3.7
Vegetables 264.2 214.7 213.2 213.8 224.1 −4.0
Fruit 241.5 198.4 198.8 200.2 210.6 −3.4
Fish and seafood 201.0 164.8 165.0 166.7 176.2 −3.2
Sugar and confectionery 125.7 102.8 102.7 104.5 110.7 −3.1
Oils and fats 69.5 56.5 56.2 56.5 59.4 −3.8
Other food 20.3 11.2 6.6 7.6 9.1 −18.2
Expenditure on non-alcoholic beverages 230.0 188.3 188.2 190.8 202.0 −3.2
Expenditure on alcoholic drinks 99.7 102.2 107.6 112.4 120.9 4.9

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Forecastannual per capita expenditure on food and beverages, in US$, 2019-2023
Expenditure 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 CAGR* % 2019-2023
Total consumer expenditure on all products 15,272.8 16,018.3 16,640.5 17,225.7 17,819.1 3.9
Expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages 2,090.4 2,186.9 2,264.8 2,337.2 2,411.3 3.6
Expenditure on food 1,878.0 1,964.0 2,033.3 2,097.7 2,163.6 3.6
Meat 471.5 492.9 509.9 525.4 541.0 3.5
Bread and cereals 316.4 332.0 345.3 357.7 370.1 4.0
Milk, cheese and eggs 262.6 274.4 283.8 292.8 302.0 3.6
Vegetables 233.5 243.1 250.8 257.9 265.1 3.2
Fruit 220.4 230.4 238.5 246.4 254.6 3.7
Fish and seafood 184.8 193.4 200.2 206.7 213.5 3.7
Sugar and confectionery 116.1 121.5 125.7 129.6 133.8 3.6
Oils and fats 62.1 64.8 66.9 68.8 70.7 3.3
Other food 10.5 11.6 12.2 12.5 12.7 4.9
Expenditure on non-alcoholic beverages 212.4 222.9 231.5 239.5 247.7 3.9
Expenditure on alcoholic drinks 126.2 133.1 138.4 143.5 4.4

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Consumer trends

Food and beverages

Dishes forming part of the Emirati cuisine include Al Jabab bread, camel meat, dates, fish, Kabsa (mixed rice dishes), Maqluba (meat, rice and fried vegetables placed in a pot), Shuwaa (slow cooked lamb, roasted nuts, raisins served over rice), Khabees (sweet dish made from flour and oil), Harees (boiled, cracked or coarsely ground wheat, mixed with meat), Asida (a dish made from a cooked wheat flour lump of dough, sometimes with added butter or honey), Khamir bread and Machboos.

Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. The UAE cuisine is a reflection of a great Arabian heritage and vast exposure to civilizations over time. Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in Arab menus. Meat, fish and rice are the staple foods of Emirati cuisine. Lamb and mutton are more favoured meats than goat and beef. Hotels frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers (veal bacon) on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labelled on the packaging. Specific supermarkets may sell pork, but it is sold in separate sections.

Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be supplemented with cardamom, saffron or mint to give them a distinct flavour. Other beverages are camel milk, soft drinks, water, juice and Laban (fermented milk). Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). All nightclubs and golf clubs are permitted to sell alcohol.

Halal certification in UAE: Halal means lawful or permitted and "non halal" (haram) means prohibited as per Islamic law (Sharia). Having traces of pork, slaughtering animals in a non-Islamic way and the presence of alcohol in food products, among other things, are not allowed according to Islamic law.

UAE authorities have increased efforts to raise the country's self-sufficiency levels. The country's desert region with arid land has made this task challenging. However, as Euromonitor reports, the results of these efforts are positive. The UAE produces 95% of all the dates consumed in the country, 79% of its fish, 25% of its vegetables, 18% of its red meat and poultry products, and 95% of its fresh milk. While improvement in domestic production has been significant, there is still much room for development, as 80% of food bought in the UAE still comes from abroad. The food manufacturing industry relies heavily on imported ingredients. About 80% of the UAE's supply of fresh fruit and vegetables is imported.

An international country with an international palate

The UAE is an international country, as 89% of its residents are foreign citizens. The large number of foreign nationals is reflected in the demand and the variety of foods available in the country. A large percentage of foreign residents are affluent with a demand for international products as well as for luxury or over-the-top food items. For example, Dubai offers the world's most expensive truffle, known as "La Madeline au Truffe" from the chocolaterie Chocopologie. The truffle retails at US$250 and is a favourite among Emiratis. Chocopologie also offers other varieties of chocolate, and customers have private lounges where they can enjoy their purchases in absolute privacy. The overall retail market size of chocolate confectionery in the UAE was US$395.1 million in 2018 (Euromonitor International).

While opportunities are available for affluent foreign residents, a large number of UAE foreign residents work in the construction industry, which pays workers lower wages. Many might be employed temporarily in the country. This new consumer group will have their own needs and consumer food service preferences, such as easy-to-prepare and economical meals.

Demand for health and wellness products is on the rise

There is an increasing demand for healthy food and organic products. Supermarkets and grocery stores have started to accommodate these requests by creating separate sections within their stores for healthy and organic products. Consumers are also seeking products for specific food intolerances such as diabetes and celiac disease. Supermarkets have also created space for diabetic and gluten-free products on their shelves.

The composition of the UAE's population will continue to play a role in demand for products in supermarkets. It is expected that over the next few years, ethnic food will continue to grow and gain market share in supermarkets as workers seek food from home and residents seek to try new products.

Driven by the UAE's increasing income and affluence and by the global trend toward eating healthy, including natural ingredients and quality food, UAE customers have increased their consumption of health and wellness products at a CAGR of 9.7% from 2014 to 2018, in particular in the naturally healthy (NH) products at a CAGR of 8.0%, followed by fortified/functional food (FF) at a CAGR of 11.3%, better for you (BFY) at a CAGR of 8.7%, organic at a CAGR of 17.9% and free-from at a CAGR of 19.2% from 2014 to 2018. All five categories in the HW sector will grow from 2019 to 2023, with organic food growing the fastest at a CAGR of 18.2%.

Health and wellness retail market sizes, US$ million, historical, 2014-2018
Category 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 CAGR* % 2014-2018
Total health and wellness 1,327.1 1,461.0 1,581.3 1,723.5 1,920.1 9.7
Naturally healthy (NH) 671.3 736.3 795.9 851.0 913.1 8.0
Fortified/functional (FF) 523.9 577.7 625.0 692.3 804.8 11.3
Better for you (BFY) 101.3 110.3 117.7 128.2 141.5 8.7
Organic 16.3 19.0 21.6 26.0 31.5 17.9
Free from 14.4 17.7 21.1 25.9 29.1 19.2

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Health and wellness retail market sizes, US$ million, forecast, 2019-2023
Category 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 CAGR* % 2019-2023
Total health and wellness 2,020.1 2,143.8 2,276.1 2,428.0 2,574.6 6.3
Naturally healthy (NH) 981.7 1,056.8 1,134.4 1,224.0 1,308.0 7.4
Fortified/functional (FF) 820.3 849.9 883.4 920.5 955.8 3.9
Better for you (BFY) 149.4 159.3 169.0 179.5 188.8 6.0
Organic 35.7 40.9 47.8 57.4 69.8 18.2
Free from 33.0 37.0 41.5 46.7 52.2 12.1

Source: Euromonitor International, 2018

*CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

Conclusion

Consumer income and expenditure growth are forecast to sustain momentum until 2030 in the UAE due to recovering commodity prices, new construction projects, tourism growth and an increasing population from a diversity of cultures, which create and demand different market and food service needs. However, the migration of workers is forecast to result in growing numbers of low-income consumers in the country and, consequently, wider income inequality. Slower income growth of low-income consumers and increasing housing costs are forecast to limit discretionary spending.

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Resources

Consumer Profile – The United Arab Emirates
Global Analysis Report

Prepared by: Hongli Wang, Market Analyst

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