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It isn't only foreign import products that 'make the case' in Saudi Arabia.

It Isn't Only Foreign Import Products That `Make the Case' in Saudi Arabia

A number of domestic producers are very active in developing markets throughout the Kingdom. From ethnic chicken kebbeh balls to pizza, their lines run the cuisine gamut.

While traditional open air wholesale centers and suqs are still the preferred place to bargain for fresh vegetables, fruits, coffee, tea and spices, the people of Saudi Arabia have become just as used to shopping for other foodstuffs at modern, Western-style supermarkets. And although it is true that many Saudis remain partial to procuring meat by personally selecting livestock for slaughter at butcher shops, others -- especially those of the younger generation -- have taken a liking to packaged prepared foods sold at stores such as Safeway and their local counterparts.

The retail leaders in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam are second to none globally in appearance and variety of inventory. As a matter of fact, their shelves are apt to be stocked with more different kinds of products than most supermarkets in Europe, North America and Japan. In addition to offering imports from all corners of the world to feed the foreign appetites of contract workers, there are, of course, wide selections of popular Arabian foods. And the frozen section showcases this diversity as well as any other department.

Quick Frozen Foods International recently visited a Safeway operation in Dammam to check things out first hand. From U.K.-produced Birds Eye brand cod fish fingers, to the Choice Pack label from Plyms, to imports from Findus, there was plenty in the way of frozen fish to choose from. This is not to mention the local brands of frozen fillets and whole fish from Saudi Fisheries Co.

`Sweet' Competition

For the consumer with a sweet tooth, desserts ranged from Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers, to Lyons raspberry jam sandwiches, to Mr. Kipling Cakes coconut treats, to Birds Eye arctic rolls.

Emborg, which is going head to head with Pillsbury's Green Giant in the vegetable case, dominated the value-added meat segment hands down. However, a very strong presence of Saudi-made products provided evidence that locally-manufactured prepared foods are rising to give imports a run for the money.

Chicken Kebbeh Balls, for example, are marketed by M. Munir & Mohammed Halwani Co. Ltd. of Jeddah. Made of chicken, burghol, salt, spices, pine and onion, ten balls are packed per 350 gram box. Retail price is 11.25 riyals, or about US$3.

Also available from the Halwani Brothers is Hummus with Tahina, an ethnic Middle Eastern favorite made of boiled chick peas, crushed sesame seeds, lemon, garlic and salt. A box of two 250 gram casings sells for five riyals, or $1.33.

Another Jeddah-based concern, Nashar Fresh Meat Co., is producing frozen Kofta Burgers under the Mr. Butcher label. The halal-prepared beef patties come four per 227 gram container. Retailing for 6.75 riyals ($1.80), other

ingredients are eggs, onions, herbs, salt, spices and breadcrumbs.

The art of making pizza -- a product which caught on among Saudis during the construction boom years of the 1970s when demand from foreign workers brought in frozen brands by containerloads -- has been mastered locally. Sunbulah Party Pizzas are being turned out by Food & Fine Pastries Manufacturing Co. of Jeddah. It recently introduced convenient, small sizes packed four per 340 gram box which go for 12.75 riyals ($3.40). Along with halal-slaughtered beef, the topping includes mozzarella cheese, peppers, mushrooms, olives and tomato paste.

Indeed, Saudi supermarkets have just about everything. An exception, of course, is pork products. They are strictly prohibited by Islamic law. However, soy- and vegetable-based bacon substitutes, chicken franks and similar items are readily available.

But while frozens abound, retailers still have a long way to go to convince older Saudis and homemakers of their merit.

Image Problem

"Some people are shocked to learn that such foods have been preserved for several months' time or more," explained one retailer. "So, for now most frozen foods are purchased by non-Saudis...The problem is that for many people in the Kingdom the only experience they've had with frozen food was by way of freezing leftovers at home, in which case the quality was not good. We have to educate our customers about the superior technology of quick freezing."

It should also be pointed out that in a country where almost every Saudi household has a live-in maid to handle chores, the attraction of convenience foods is hardly what it would be in the industrialized West where often both husbands and wives work outside of the home. Here domestics prepare all the ingredients for Saudi women to cook, so time is not a factor.

The future, nonetheless, is bright as young people keep coming back to supermarkets for more pizza, ice cream and other desserts. Who knows, maybe tomorrow frozen lamb recipe dishes and microwaveable gyro sandwiches will find a way into the bountiful frozen food cabinets of Saudi Arabia.

PHOTO : Prepared beef- and chicken burgers from Emborg compete against Saudi brands such as Mr.

PHOTO : Butcher and Al Kabeer.

PHOTO : Hummus with Tahina, packed by Halwani Brothers of Jeddah, sells for five riyals (about

PHOTO : $1.33).

PHOTO : Pizza is a convenience food gaining in popularity throughout Saudi Arabia. This Sunbulah

PHOTO : brand party pack features halal-slaughtered beef, peppers, mushrooms and olives.

PHOTO : Frozen Kofta Burgers sold under the Mr. Butcher label are produced in the Kingdom by

PHOTO : Nashar Fresh Meat Co.

PHOTO : European labels seem to dominate the range of imported frozen foods found in Saudi

PHOTO : supermarkets. Fish fingers from Birds Eye and Findus are commonplace, as are chicken

PHOTO : meatballs from Emborg.
COPYRIGHT 1990 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:frozen food industry in Saudi Arabia
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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