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Gulfood 2015, which took place in February at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), was the biggest and most influential exhibition in its history.

Gulfood has leveraged Dubai’s developed logistics infrastructure and customs service, as well as the region’s burgeoning hospitality and tourism markets, to become a globally-recognised business and investment platform for companies around the world. Spanning more than 127,000 square metres of exhibition space, including a 23,000m², purpose-built temporary structure, the largest-of-its-type regionally, Gulfood 2015 welcomed 84,642 visitors from 170 countries.

The 20th milestone edition of Gulfood attracted 4,800 local, regional and international exhibitors, including hundreds of first-time companies who had been waitlisted for a number of years, thousands of regular participants, and a small of companies who have participated at every show since its inception in 1987.

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Tens of thousands of brands were presented across the full industry spectrum – from finished foods and bulk commodities to beverage products, food service and hospitality equipment, and fresh, frozen, dry and processed food. Among these were more than 1,000 international specialist Halal food brands and companies – from energy drinks, vegan and vegetarian foods to meat and poultry, canned goods, gourmet and fine foods – participating in the second Halal World Food, the world’s largest annual Halal food sourcing event.

With the global Halal food market accounting for a fifth of the world’s food trade (Datamonitor, 2014), and the market predicted to reach US$10 trillion by 2030 (Global Futures and Foresights Study), the growing commercial importance of this particular market category was highlighted at Gulfood.

The international industry fixed its focus on the implementation of Halal standardisation and certification frameworks during the inaugural Halal Investment Conference, while the unveiling of a ‘Halal Mark’ by the Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology (ESMA) reflected Dubai’s vision to become a global Islamic Economy capital. During the show, two UAE based companies were officially certified to use the national Halal Mark: Global Food Industries, a frozen food manufacturer in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi based food and beverage firm, Agthia. At Gulfood 2015, ESMA revealed Australia and New Zealand as the first countries to meet requirements of the new Halal Mark on imported meat products.

The 20th edition of the show also saw the largest-ever South American participation with representation from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. Xavier Larrea, Marketing Manager of PRO Ecuador, the country’s trade and investment promotion organisation, said: ‘’Ecuador started with a small stand at Gulfood three years ago. This year we had nine companies representing different sectors, all of them eager to enter the Middle East market. Through our participation at Gulfood, we want to promote exports and attract foreign direct investment and tourism from the Middle East to Ecuador. After the great results we had last year, we are sure this year will yield further strong results.”

Occupying one of the largest pavilions, the US presence at Gulfood 2015 featured 166 companies across more than 2,000m² – a reflection of the important role Gulfood has played in the exponential growth of US agricultural exports to the UAE over the past three decades, the value of which totalled US$1.5 billion last year.

Quintin Gray, the Regional Agricultural Counselor of the Office Agricultural Affairs, United States Department of Agriculture, said: “Every exhibitor I talked to told me that the USA Pavilion at Gulfood 2015 was the best pavilion; our organisation and support services were the best seen at this show. With estimated on-site sales exceeding US$ $80 million and with sales in the next 12 months projected to be more than USD $265 million as a direct result of the show, Gulfood stands as one of the most important food shows in the world for US agricultural exports. Every exhibitor I talked to is already looking forward to participating in 2016.”

Beyond its role as a trade and business platform, Gulfood 2015 also hosted a series of industry forums and seminars, bringing together government ministers, top level officials, international industry leaders and food business experts to discuss key topics on the global food industry agenda such as food security, food franchising and Halal, highlighting Gulfood’s strategic role as a top-level knowledge sharing and global dialogue platform.

With immediate and long-term food security an on-going priority for countries all over the world, the World Food Security Summit – a Gulfood Leaders Event held on the sidelines of Gulfood 2015 – highlighted the importance of GCC nations being at the forefront of strategic public-private sector partnerships to tackle regional and global food security concerns. Sustainable global agriculture industry, policy reforms, international farmland acquisition, strategies and domestic agriculture initiatives, were among the hotly-debated topics.

Valued at US$79.1 billion and expected to grow 7.4 per cent in the MENA region over the next four years (according to Euromonitor), food franchising is one of the growth drivers of the regional hospitality market. The Food Franchising Forum brought together industry influencers to share best practices and provide insights and expertise on making the right decisions in acquiring and managing franchise networks successfully. Beyond highlighting UAE’s strategic role as the premier point-of-entry for a growing number of international brands expanding into the GCC and the wider region, Gulfood is also the perfect platform for home-grown brands looking to expand internationally.

Elsewhere, the sixth edition of Gulfood Awards, one of the region’s most highly-regarded accolades, celebrated and recognised people and companies pioneering leadership and innovation in the global food and drink industry. In recognition of a company or personality demonstrating outstanding commitment and achievement within the Middle East’s food and beverage industry, the Gulfood Industry Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to His Excellency Essa Al Ghurair, Chairman, Al Ghurair Resources LLC.

The spectacular evening event also celebrated Gulfood’s 20th anniversary edition, with more than 1,000 leading industry decision-makers, celebrity chefs, key exhibitors, customers, media and national groups attending.

A trade-only event open to businesses and visitors from within the industry only, Gulfood 2016 will take place from 21-25 February, 2016, at DWTC.