In Dubai, the realm of lab-grown meat, once a concept akin to science fiction, is becoming a reality, propelled by advancements in cellular agriculture and a rising demand for eco-friendly food alternatives. This innovative approach to meat production, envisioning test-tube T-bones as a staple, is reshaping the culinary landscape.
The global food system faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing vulnerabilities in regional supply chains and underscoring the need for enhanced public health measures and the regulation of novel scientific methods. The pandemic has been particularly pivotal for the Middle East, sparking a critical reassessment among policymakers. Notably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are making strides to bridge their gaps in food science.
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, emphasized the region’s need for food science innovation during a virtual panel at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 18-21). Collaborations with the UAE government are underway to establish an ecosystem fostering this development.
This panel, focusing on ‘The Future of Food: New Tastes, New Priorities, New Technologies,’ highlighted the evolution of global food needs—from combating hunger to addressing obesity—and the necessity to adapt to contemporary challenges.
Gabrielle Rubenstein, co-founder and CEO of Manna Tree, a US-based private equity firm, noted that food science, originally developed for safety, must now address health concerns like obesity and related chronic diseases. In the US, the economic burden of chronic diseases from poor diets is substantial, accounting for about 9 percent of its GDP.
The key to progress lies in scaling up scientific innovations. Startups spearheading new food technologies face scalability challenges, a gap Manna Tree aims to fill through knowledge and innovation. The lack of advanced academic programs in food science in the UAE, particularly at the PhD level, hampers regional startups. Manna Tree’s initiative aims to empower the next generation of food scientists.
The pandemic has also shifted consumer preferences towards healthier and more sustainable food choices. This trend is prompting rapid adaptations in technology and regulations. Retailers, responding to these evolving demands, are increasing their offerings of plant-based products from brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, as consumers increasingly opt for alternatives to animal products.
Prince Khaled acknowledges the significant impact of the pandemic, which has refocused priorities towards health and sustainability. As the world recovers, the food industry in Dubai and beyond is poised for transformative growth, driven by innovation and a deeper understanding of consumers’ evolving preferences.