Middle Eastern food is ‘leading sales growth’ in US consumer markets

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Updated 25 August 2023

Middle Eastern food is ‘leading sales growth’ in US consumer markets

Middle Eastern food is ‘leading sales growth’ in US consumer markets
  • Strong rise reflects integration of Arab culture into American society, argue industry experts
  • Official data needed to confirm overall impact in US, say Marissa Ziyad and Matthew Jaber Stiffler

CHICAGO: Eating Middle Eastern food has become far more acceptable and popular today than it was more than 20 years ago, say experts in the industry.

Although it appears that the popularity of Middle Eastern food is growing at a pace faster than many other ethnic food products in America, no one is collecting data in a comprehensive manner to demonstrate how impactful that increase has been.

Appearing on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, Middle East food experts Marissa Ziyad, marketing director for Ziyad Brothers Importing based in Chicagoland, and Matthew Jaber Stiffler, research and content manager at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, said that despite the lack of official data, they believe the growth is strong and reflects a robust integration of Arabs and their culture into American society.

“In the late 1880s and early 1900s, wherever there was a concentration of Arabic-speaking folks, there was at least one cafe, coffee house, restaurant. You knew where the community was concentrated,” said Stiffler, who is also director of the Center for Arab Narratives, a national research institution through ACCESS, the largest Arab-American community non-profit in the country.

“Why would you put a place that serves Arab food in an area where there are no Arabs who are going to come eat. This is back, you know, the early 1900s … before the general American palate was interested in ethnic food and exploring different food options. So, if you had an Arab restaurant it was to serve the community. Some of the first businesses that Arab immigrants opened, besides their dry good stores and things like that, were cafes and restaurants to serve the community.”

Stiffler said there is an absence of comprehensive, nationwide research on Middle Eastern food sales and restaurants, unlike the abundance of data and statistics for products from the Italian, Polish, Jewish, African and other ethnic communities.

The history of the Arab community in America, however, has shown the process by which the popularity of its food and restaurants has spread to the American public.

As the Arab community grew and the economic value of their businesses became recognized, they began serving their food to non-Arabs.

“Part of it is the economic stream. The idea … in the early 1900s (was that) Arab restaurants served the Arab community. But then they realized we could make more money if we served everybody. So, they started marketing the kinds of food they had in different ways. They didn’t call it Arab food, they called it Mediterranean. They called it Middle Eastern. They called it Lebanese. And it made it more palatable to the American public,” Stiffler told Arab News.

“And then what happened in the 50s and 60s it became more fashionable in America to sample ethnic cuisine. You think of the mall food court where there is like a small restaurant from every kind of nationality. Arabs were really in the mix in there in making sure they had restaurants that related to that.

“It is still happening. You see it in every community. But because Arab communities are not as concentrated around churches and mosques and things as they used to be, they are much more spread out except in certain places in the country, you now find Arab restaurants just randomly. There might not be in an Arab community at all. It might just be one Arab family in a town but they opened a restaurant because they knew that nobody else could serve that food in the way they could so they are bringing their culture to the general public while also making some good money, hopefully.”

There is no data on Arab restaurant growth, numbers or locations in America. The National Restaurant Association, the largest foodservice trade association in the world which manages data on eateries, acknowledged they did not have enough data to discuss the topic on the radio show.

“There is no data on this. No one is tracking it,” Stiffler said. “Nobody is tracking how many of those restaurants exist in each city. Food entrepreneurship in the Arab community is huge and has grown in the last 20 years.”

Stiffler said that a common question from visitors to the Arab American National Museum is where they can eat Middle Eastern food. Dearborn, he said, has over 100 options, including Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Yemeni and Palestinian food.

The growth of the Arab restaurant symbolizes the presence of “a thriving community” and demonstrates that a community has “economic strength.”

One of the leading distributors of Middle Eastern food to ethnic retailers, major grocery store chains and restaurants is Ziyad Brothers Importing which is based in a western suburb of Chicago.

“We have seen an increase, I think we have seen 7 to 8 percent annually outpacing dry grocery stores, where the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean category fits. And I really do think that COVID had something to do with it. I think that a lot of consumers were being a lot more adventurous with different cuisines and of course during that time we were pushed to have to cook at home and try new things,” Marissa Ziyad said.

“But even people discovering the Mediterranean diet over the last couple years has really grown our food category as well because the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest and most popular diets in ways of eating that a lot of people really follow. All the ingredients, all the products that you need for that kind of cooking, that kind of eating, that is us. And grocery stores are recognizing that. They are recognizing the need for different ethnic products, and just a larger variety.”

Ziyad Brothers Importing was founded in 1966 as the Syrian Bakery & Grocery, one of the first pita bread bakeries in the country. Today, the company is an ingredient-based distributor of 90 percent of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food options in the US retail market. That includes Ziyad-branded products, along with more than 20 other Mediterranean brands that they distribute exclusively .

“There is one thing that holds in our brand. It really is the authenticity of the products, of the flavors and the tastes that have remained consistent and true to what all of you are used to eating back home. We are proud to represent that. We really did start out as a small bakery, grew into a distribution company and then grew larger into the largest distribution company of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean foods,” Ziyad said.

She said that the company has seen a 7 percent increase over other brands in the mainstream US market. The company began with about 20 products, she said, “but today have over 900, close to 1,000 ingredients and products.”

“Now as we grow, we will be encompassing more companies like ours to make sure we are covering different parts of that world. So we are going into Turkish food, we’re going into North African, Eastern European, but mainly of course, Middle Eastern Mediterranean food.”

Ziyad said that Middle Eastern food became popular over the past 30 years due to several factors, including the presence of American soldiers who served in the region — especially along with the Saudi-led coalition that expelled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the 1990s. American soldiers tasted the food there and wanted more when they returned home.

Another factor was the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020. Ziyad said that during that nearly three-year pandemic, Americans sought to explore more exciting recipe options and turned to Middle Eastern foods. Ziyad maintains an exhaustive recipe list on Arab and Middle Eastern food on the company’s website at Ziyad.com.

The third major factor is the rising popularity of healthy dieting. Ziyad said the Mediterranean diet “is one of the most popular” and is based on staple Middle Eastern ingredients and foods including legumes, olive oil, hummus and lentils.

Ziyad said the company’s top sellers in the US market are tahini, ghee, red/green lentils, falafel mix, chickpeas, orange blossom and rose water, and labneh and yogurts including jameed, a key ingredient in mansaf.

Hummus is the number-three seller in the country behind Mexican chips, salsa and guacamole, she said.

More needs to be done to produce data on the fast-growing Middle Eastern food market, which both Ziyad and Stiffler agree reflects the growth and advancement of the Arab community in America.

Ziyad and Stiffler made their comments during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast Wednesday Aug. 23, 2023, on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

PIF-owned Cruise Saudi sets sail with tech investment in AROYA Cruises 

PIF-owned Cruise Saudi sets sail with tech investment in AROYA Cruises 
Updated 14 sec ago

PIF-owned Cruise Saudi sets sail with tech investment in AROYA Cruises 

PIF-owned Cruise Saudi sets sail with tech investment in AROYA Cruises 

RIYADH: Public Investment Fund-owned Cruise Saudi has announced its investment into various tech organizations for its AROYA Cruises. 

In a press release, the company announced that the project has entered its inaugural phase of technology stack development, solidifying partnerships with globally renowned tech companies. 

These strategic collaborations, featuring Monitor Deloitte, Alibaba Cloud SA and theICEway as well as SourceToad, Otalio and Versonix Seaware, underscore Cruise Saudi’s commitment to providing passengers with a seamless journey from booking to boarding and beyond. 

Cruise Saudi’s IT and digitization team is leading the technology stack development, signaling their dedication to delivering a cutting-edge passenger experience. 

Leading the charge in project management and digital strategy is Monitor Deloitte, a global leader in strategy and consultancy. They will meticulously craft a data-driven digital strategy to ensure every technological decision is forward-looking and strategically aligned. 

Alibaba Cloud Saudi Arabia, a homegrown Saudi enterprise, will lay the digital foundation for AROYA Cruises, ensuring top-tier security, reliability, and swift digital interactions. 

Simultaneously, theICEway has been entrusted with the task of seamlessly integrating AROYA’s diverse technological domains into a cohesive digital ecosystem, guaranteeing a harmonious experience for both guests and crew members. 

Guests on AROYA Cruises will benefit from an array of features designed to enhance their experience. This digital hub will provide services such as an interactive ship map, daily itineraries, and reservations for shore excursions, dining, and spa treatments. 

Otalio’s Ship Property Management System is set to elevate the experience from cabin to deck, delivering curated experiences. 

On the other hand, Versonix Seaware, renowned for its expertise in cruise-focused Reservation and Revenue Management, will offer an intuitive booking experience. 

Cruise Saudi CEO Lars Clasen said: “We are proud to be working in collaboration with world-leading technology companies to integrate cutting-edge technology into the AROYA Cruises experience. Creating a seamless, modern and comfortable journey for our passengers really is at the heart of our offering, and investing in technology to enhance the cruising experience truly aligns with our future-forward ambitions for this cruise line.” 

Cruise Saudi welcomes cruise lines from around the globe to include Saudi as a port of call on their itineraries and add new destinations across the Kingdom that boast rich cultural heritage, history, and natural wonders. 

Cruise Saudi was officially launched in 2021 to develop the infrastructure and services required to scale a full-suite cruise market in Saudi.  

The company is responsible for the development and operation of cruise berths and terminals as cruise gateways to key Saudi destinations, as well as scaling cruise services, from marketing to Shorex design and coordination and ship operations. 

SVC invests $30mn in IMPACT 46 Fund III to support pre-IPO companies

SVC invests $30mn in IMPACT 46 Fund III to support pre-IPO companies
Updated 24 min 2 sec ago

SVC invests $30mn in IMPACT 46 Fund III to support pre-IPO companies

SVC invests $30mn in IMPACT 46 Fund III to support pre-IPO companies

RIYADH: As part of its commitment to minimize financing gaps for startups, Saudi Venture Capital Co. has invested SR112.5 million ($29.9 million) in IMPACT46 Fund III.

According to a press release, the move is designed to empower late-stage companies in the region by investing in growth and pre-initial public offering phases.

A late-stage company is a business that has been in operation for a few years and has demonstrated viability.

The release added that the trust will aim to allocate a specific amount for early-stage startups, focusing primarily on seed rounds in the broader Middle East.

NVB launches CEO Club in the Kingdom, to work closely with Invest Saudi

NVB launches CEO Club in the Kingdom, to work closely with Invest Saudi
Updated 02 October 2023

NVB launches CEO Club in the Kingdom, to work closely with Invest Saudi

NVB launches CEO Club in the Kingdom, to work closely with Invest Saudi

Aiming to foster a conducive work environment for global leaders, National Vision Business Co. Ltd. launched the first international club exclusively designed for chief executives, chairpersons, board members and diplomatic heads.

Fayez Al-Hamrani, managing director and CEO of NVB, stated that they are delighted to have launched the CEO Club in the Kingdom and will work to invite over 18,000 members worldwide to Saudi Arabia in the coming period.

He further noted that his company aims to promote qualitative local and international relations and create a unique work environment for industry leaders.

Underscoring the region’s solid political and economic position, he emphasized that the Kingdom’s presence in the G20 will enhance the role of the club by highlighting projects launched by Saudi Arabia, including NEOM, The Red Sea, Qiddiya and others.

“The Invest Saudi initiative is one of the key programs our company will work on in coordination with the Ministry of Investment,” he stated.

He said his company is coordinating with the relevant government and semi-government agencies to present the best international CEO award in 2024.

Saudi Arabia to host 12th session of OIC’s statistical committee

Saudi Arabia to host 12th session of OIC’s statistical committee
Updated 9 min 10 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to host 12th session of OIC’s statistical committee

Saudi Arabia to host 12th session of OIC’s statistical committee

RIYADH: Amid efforts to enhance communication and collaboration between countries, Saudi Arabia is set to host the 12th session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation statistical committee. 

According to a statement by the General Authority for Statistics, the two-day meeting will take place from Oct. 3-4 in Jeddah. 

The engagement cements the Kingdom’s standing globally and in the Arab world, given that this is the first time the gatherings have been held outside its headquarters in Turkey.

The primary objective of the meeting is to provide statistical data in support of development plans and facilitate the exchange of experiences among member states.

It also aims to enhance the technical and scientific capabilities of statistical professionals working in official statistical agencies of member countries.

Participants will share expertise and knowledge to improve the production and dissemination of accurate statistical data and indicators, aligning with internationally recognized methodologies and standards. 

The agenda includes discussions on developing a strategic vision to elevate statistical systems through short-, medium-, and long-term plans, enhancing the technical capabilities of national statistical agencies in Islamic countries.

The event is expected to see the participation of heads of official statistical centers from OIC member countries.

In September, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attended a coordination meeting of foreign ministers from OIC member states during the 78th UN General Assembly session in New York. 

During the session at the time, the Saudi foreign minister emphasized the importance of a safe and stable regional and international environment for collective action to address common challenges.

KSA expands coffee production to further diversify economy

KSA expands coffee production to further diversify economy
Updated 14 min 7 sec ago

KSA expands coffee production to further diversify economy

KSA expands coffee production to further diversify economy

RIYADH: In an effort to further diversify its oil-dependent economy, Saudi Arabia is increasing its coffee production to achieve a relative balance with crops that yield high economic returns. The country aims to plant 1.2 million coffee trees by 2026, reported the Saudi Press Agency. 

As the Kingdom ascends to the ranks of the world’s top 10 coffee-consuming nations, the government is prioritizing this commodity through various initiatives, aiming to stimulate sector growth and increase production.  

This shift underscores coffee’s burgeoning cultural and economic significance in a country where nearly 400,000 Arabica coffee trees yield over 800 tons of coffee annually, primarily in the Jazan, Asir and Al-Baha regions. 

In commemoration of World Coffee Day, observed annually on Oct. 1, the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture has released substantial statistics about coffee farming in the southern region. 

Currently, there are over 2,535 coffee farms in this area, including more than 500 model coffee farms.  

The emphasis on expanding Arabica coffee production in 15 additional governorates in the southwestern region aligns with the objectives of Vision 2030, demonstrating the government’s commitment to supporting the national economy through the coffee industry. 

This development underscores the dual role of coffee as a cultural tradition and an economic force in the country. 

The ministry has launched several initiatives to incentivize coffee cultivation, including support from the Agricultural Rural Development Program, to foster Arabica coffee production’s development, processing and marketing. 

Furthermore, the ministry has inked a 15-year investment contract for the Kingdom’s first “coffee city” with the Al-Baha-based Agricultural Cooperative Society in Baljurashi.

In August, this society formalized a SR72 million ($19.2 million) agreement with the Agricultural Development Fund, paving the way for agricultural advancements through cutting-edge technologies. 

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in international agricultural markets and is a significant income source in many countries.

It is cultivated on over 10 million hectares in more than 50 nations, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 125 million people in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Arabica and Robusta coffee types are the most widely grown worldwide, representing around 65 percent and 35 percent, respectively, of total commercial production.

The SPA report concluded by citing statistics confirming that people worldwide consume more than 500 billion cups of coffee yearly.