Yes, they do buy in Dubai

Being such a competitive market, it’s vital to understand the importance of brands as well as local trading conditions, says long-time biscuit and confectionery exporter Fitzpatrick International. And to do that means having a local distributor who has intimate knowledge of what sells where in this heavily segmented market.

With strong rivals in the biscuit business from Germany and France as well as India, your local agents need to be kept motivated to effectively service the huge ex-pat community which makes up 90 per cent of the Gulf state’s population. Expats are predominantly Indian, Sri, Lankan and Pakistani where sweet confectionery and biscuits are popular.

“Dubai is also seen as a shop window for the Middle East generally,” says the founder of the business Ernie Fitzpatrick. “We first got into Dubai in 2005 but we’ve found that you can’t just parachute goods into the market place and hope they’ll sell. If they don’t know it, they won’t buy it.

“You need to have servicing and merchandising facilities and the only way to do that is through a local distributor. Brands are king in Dubai. Everything is deal-led and the distributors and retailers are very promotion conscious.”

Fitzpatrick International sells around £200,000 worth Fox’s more up-market biscuits into Dubai each year via its UK distributor which in turn deals with the Dubai representatives.

“It’s important to incentivise the distributor with promotional tools such as branded key rings, pens and small gifts,” adds business development controller Ruan Clayworth. “They’re often very powerful tools in promoting your brand.

“The reason we go through someone in the UK is for their expertise in knowing the buyers in the market place. It’s also because all products have to be unpacked and then re-stickered and labelled with a production and expiry date and ingredients in Arabic before being re-packed. You have to be careful with ingredients to make sure there is nothing pork- or alcohol-based or for that matter even poppy seeds.”

Although opportunities abound in this rich Middle Eastern country, so do obstacles in the form of things you probably don’t even know you don’t know. Why is why in this market local knowledge is essential.