With its futuristic architecture and desert clime, Dubai seems a world away.

But with its centralized location on the Persian Gulf and its penchant for growth and glamour, the city has earned recognition as a business hub for the Middle East and beyond.

That’s why Dubai is the perfect host for Yummex Middle East, formerly known as Sweets & Snacks Middle East. The show — coordinated by Koelnmesse Group and the aptly-named Dubai World Trade Centre — celebrated its 10th anniversary in November, as well as continued growth.

Organizers said Yummex brought together 364 exhibitors, up 16 percent from 2015. More than 8,100 attendees walked the show’s bright pink carpets, representing a 3 percent increase from last year’s attendance.

And mirroring Dubai’s international status, Yummex attracted exhibitors from 47 countries, with 20 countries represented at national and regional pavilions, including Germany, Italy, Egypt, Turkey and the United States. Nearly a dozen U.S. companies attended the show, including Jelly Belly, Bazooka, Original Gourmet Food Company, YumEarth, Leaf Brands, Baron Chocolatier, Sugarpova, Jel Sert, Color Brands, Y3K and Beanfields.

Further growth doesn’t surprise Fabian Ströter, Koelnmesse Group project manager for Yummex. While taking a brief reprieve at Koelnmesse’s booth, Ströter noted Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) buyers — and by extension, consumers — are seeking quality confectionery items and unique experiences.

“There are so many innovative, high quality and good products which are in demand here, so I hope that we could satisfy that hunger or demand for it,” he says.

Research shows there is plenty of demand. Euromonitor International reported the chocolate market in the United Arab Emirates swelled to AED $1.4 billion in 2016, thanks to a 14 percent increase in retail value and 10 percent growth in retail volume.

Meanwhile, the value compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the UAE’s gum market was expected to reach 7 percent in 2015, while the volume CAGR was estimated at 6 percent.

Euromonitor also reported that Saudi Arabia’s chocolate market saw an “aggressive pace” of new product development in 2015, likely helping to lead to a projected CAGR of 8 percent. The country’s sugar confectionery market was also expected to post a 5 percent value CAGR that year.

Egypt was also expected to have considerable growth in its chocolate market in 2015. Euromonitor reported the chocolate market would see an 18 percent increase in value and 7 percent increase in volume. Egypt’s sugar confectionery market was projected to grow by 11 percent.

Meeting that demand requires connecting buyers with suppliers hoping to expand or break into MENA markets. Among the suppliers at Yummex was Al Yanbou, a Dubai-based biscuit manufacturer.

Bassel Oweni, one of Al Yanbou’s spokesmen, says the show helps the 23-year-old company build its customer base and distribution footprint, which includes Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Al Yanbou hopes to move into Egypt and other parts of Africa soon.

Oweni says the company’s products, made with sugar, flour and wheat fiber, can fit into most consumers’ diets, particularly if they have faith-based ingredient restrictions.

“Biscuits are a global product,” he says. “It’s acceptable in every religion.”

In a similar vein, Kfarshima, Lebanon-based Master Chewing Gum and Candies Sal produces Cheque, a line of sugar-free gum in flavors including Birthday Cake, Frozen Lemonade and Mojito, which contains no intoxicating alcohol. Nael Shaar, the company’s marketing strategist, says that’s important to Middle Eastern consumers.

“We are supplying them with this new solution in the region,” he says.

Despite a propensity for sweets, consumers in the MENA markets are paying increasing attention to sugar content, calorie intake and clean ingredient use, says Xavier de Lame, ceo for California-based YumEarth’s European, Middle East and Africa division.

De Lame says greater awareness of sourcing and ingredients, as well as issues with obesity, diabetes and allergens, could help the organic confection manufacturer double its reach in Europe, the Middle East and Africa by 2018.

“It is very sensitive, and I believe we have the right timing to answer some of those concerns,” he says.

Part of Yummex’s success comes from hosting it in conjunction with other food and beverage exhibitions, including The Specialty Food Show, Seafex and Gulfood Manufacturing, the Middle East’s largest food manufacturing, processing and packaging, logistics and materials-handling show.

This year, however, the shows will take on a different schedule, given continued growth at all exhibitions. Under the umbrella of The Specialty Food Festival, Yummex, Seafex and Gourmet Foodex (what previously existed as the Specialty Food Festival) will be presented Sept. 18-20 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. That will run alongside GulfHost, a hospitality food service and equipment expo.

Ströter says the overlap between the specialty food, confectionery and hospitality industries will provide show attendees with potential business, in addition to the opportunity to nurture established relationships.

“We are just trying to add another very important element which is already here, but to make it even broader and bring more buyers or business potential for our clients to the show,” he says.

“It’s a fast-moving market, and you have to adjust to the market needs, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Innovation Awards

For the third year, Yummex Middle East recognized the creativity of four confectionery and snack companies with the Innovation Awards, designed to celebrate pioneering leadership and innovation in the global food and drink industry.

Using its knowledge of markets and regional trends, Innova Market Insights selects products it feels best represent the preferences and interests of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets. Winning products were displayed in glass cases in front of the Yummex exhibition hall at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Baron Chocolatier, Inc., based in Vernon Hills, Ill., entered its Premium Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Sticks, which earned the Best Chocolate Product. Dan Taylor, Baron director of sales, said the flavor combination and the individually-wrapped portions are particularly appealing to MENA markets.

“It encourages us to continue creating state-of-the art, creative fusions while maintaining the highest quality of confections that our retailers all over the world have entrusted in Baron Chocolatier,” Taylor says. “As the region’s most sought-after accolade in the sweet and savory snacks sector, winning a Yummex Middle East Innovation Award brings industry-wide recognition which resonates far beyond the borders of our operations.”

Based in Kfarshima, Lebanon, Master Chewing Gum & Candies Sal earned the Best Hard & Soft Candy award for its aspartame-free Mastika chewing gum. Flavored with mastic, a tree resin, Mastika has a unique taste and texture. It’s sold in gold-and-white tins, appealing to the MENA market’s interest in luxury, high-quality packaging.

“It feels amazing,” to receive this recognition, says Nael Shaar, Master Chewing Gum marketing strategist.

Van der Meulen, a Hallum, Netherlands-based company, took the Best Snack Product award for Say Yes to No!, crispy bread chips that contain no preservatives or artificial flavors and colors. They’re available in Sour Cream and Onion, Gouda Cheese and BBQ flavors.

Coppenrath Feingeback GmbH, based in Geeste, Germany, earned the Best Bakery Product award for its crispy Vegan Bakery Choco Cookies, which are flavored with cocoa and hazelnuts. The cookies are also packaged in an environmentally-friendly paper case instead of a conventional blister pack.

Fabian Ströter, Koelmesse Group project manager for Yummex, said many global trends — including a desire for premium and healthy snacking products — are reflected in the MENA market. He added winning products were also afforded for the first time additional representation at ISM Cologne.

“They would like to bring their products not only to the regional market — which Yummex is the perfect platform for — but they would also like to put it on the global stage,” he says.

Products we loved

Many products were on display at Yummex Middle East, but here are some that we loved.

Johnny Doodle chocolate bars

Pervasco Export B.V., Rotterdam, Netherlands

Made with rich chocolate and unique inclusions, Johnny Doodle bars are sure to please. They’re available in several flavors: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Fudge & Brownie, Dark Chocolate Salty Fudge, Dark Chocolate Nougat & Cardamom, Milk Chocolate Amaretti, Dark Chocolate Cranberry Granola, Milk Chocolate Mulberry Pecan, White Chocolate Speculoos and White Chocolate Strawberry Meringue. The cheeky, in-your-face packaging will also hold any candy lover’s attention.


Hydrox sandwich cookies

Leaf Brands, Newport Coast, Calif.

First appearing on the market in 1908, these crunchy, creme-filled sandwich cookies are lightly sweet and have a rich cocoa flavor. They are made with cane sugar and do not contain high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.



Aldiva, Istanbul, Turkey

Rotto features crispy biscuits coated in caramel and milk chocolate. The treats are perfect for anyone looking for just a little sweetness.


Bono For You kleija biscuits

Al Yanbou, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Delightfully crispy and slightly sweet, these fiber-rich wheat biscuits pair well with a cup of tea. Available in Original and Cardamom flavors, they are made without alcohol or pork products, making them suitable for consumers with certain dietary restrictions. The clean, simple packaging is also appealing.


Soft nougat

Munch ‘N Crunch, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Made with starch and sugar, this soft, chewy nougat comes in different flavors and mixed with unique ingredients including, dates, figs, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, coconut shavings and other delicious and nutritious ingredients.


Innovation Award Winners

  • Baron Chocolatier
  • coppenrath
  • master
  • van der meulen