Shaping An Industry: Why We Need To Empower Entrepreneurs In The UAE's F&B Sector
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The food and beverage (F&B) sector has been at the centre of attention throughout 2020, and it will continue to do so as the world remains in its battle against COVID-19. Almost every industry, bar a few, were greatly impacted by the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic. However, in the case of F&B, it is unique and diverse in its challenges, as every aspect of F&B and its connected industries were impacted.
From sit-down-restaurants not being able to host their much-needed guests, to food manufacturers not being able to produce at farms or factories, to supply chains being halted due to restrictions: almost all aspects of this sector were greatly affected, or suffered adverse changes. However, the UAE government has had the F&B sector and food security amongst their top priorities for years prior to COVID-19, and thus many within the sector have found the answers to economic recovery.
Regardless of COVID-19, the F&B industry and food producers were coming to a new age where they have been desperately seeking out modern ways to operate. Sustainability and economical operations have never been in higher demand. Ensuring sustainable agriculture practice is in the interest of the entire food chain, from producers to consumers. As the global population rises, food producers need to invest in new ways to produce more food, within the same timeframe, cost, and space.
In this respect, sustainability and working economically are two of the same things- we must operate in a more sustainable way to help preserve the planet and operate in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 11, but we must also work more economically, as we need to develop more food sources from the available land and existing logistical methods. Opportunity cost must remain low, but the output needs to increase. One way to ensure this is by empowering our startups and SMEs to innovate not only from a food production aspect, but also within logistics to enhance global supply chains.
When we empower SMEs and startups, we are directly helping to breed the much-needed innovative concepts and thriving new businesses that go on to shape their respective sectors. For example, take the tech industry, one of the largest industries in the world, comprising of the world’s most renowned organizations and recognizable brands- it’s where it is today due to the support that was provided to startups from two to three decades.
It’s fair to say that the technology industry is inherently innovative. New technology is a result of innovation. But as we see this industry advance in accelerated measures, elements of it cascades into a multitude of sectors and helps them to grow in unison. One particular sector that benefits from the breeding of innovation and the inclusion of technology is, of course, the F&B sector. Through thorough research and development, entrepreneurs have created new innovations based on scientific research. Beyond Meat is the most notable example of this, as they implemented a plan that comprised of science, research, and innovation to gather funding that would make them amongst the most profitable organizations in their field.
As stated, the F&B sector is unique and wide in its diversity and is impacted by many other branch-off sectors, one of those being the food production industry. In that respect, agritech (agricultural technology) is rapidly changing the game within the agriculture, farming, and food production sectors. The integration of technology into these sectors is ultimately creating a ripple effect on the F&B sector- from simple concepts such as home delivery, to cloud kitchen networks that allows F&B brands to expand their reach, and even food supply chains being enhanced, these are all integral business concepts that are revolutionizing the technological aspect of the sector.
Startups are leading the way in this modern sector, especially so in the region, with Pure Harvest Farms being a prime example of UAE companies which are implementing innovative practices by developing and operating high-tech, climate-controlled farms to grow a variety of crops and sell products directly into the markets in which they operate. It’s these businesses that we must support in order to place the UAE amongst the world leaders in providing sustainable solutions to global food security challenges.
When investment is put into startups, a chain reaction begins where innovation commences and leads to the birth of concepts that provide the world with ground-breaking solutions, which can then be brought to market for the benefit of consumers. However, supporting startups, SMEs, and entire sectors goes beyond writing a cheque. It takes strategic thinking in the form of providing training, giving guidance and creating platforms that will both seek out and excel talented entrepreneurs.
As part of Khalifa Fund’s ever-present efforts towards enhancing the UAE’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, the organization has recently launched the F&B Innovation Lab, alongside the F&B Manufacturers Business Group (FBMG). The program will incubate Emirati talent who have F&B concepts rooted in sustainability, health, and convenience, with industry leading manufactures who can develop and promote successful product-market fits, with the aim of transforming their F&B concepts into internationally available products.
The F&B Innovation Lab is set to become the first-of-its-kind program, which aims to create the early foundations for ideation, innovation, and an ecosystem for UAE talent in the F&B sector, while actively contributing towards the further enhancement of our advanced food security levels. I believe that creating platforms such as the F&B Innovation Lab will play an integral role in further elevating our prosperous F&B sector and national economy. We’re making an invaluable investment by empowering our SMEs and startups. Empowerment comes from many places- creating opportunities, teaching skills, and learning knowledge.
As long as we continue to encourage innovation, we will forge new creations that will shape the future of sectors, and place the UAE amongst world industry leaders.