DUBAI // A greater awareness of health and exposure to a variety of international delicacies has seen a shift in the kind of confectionery many residents prefer.
The sweet-toothed are now just as likely to bite into European chocolates as they are Arabic classics such as baklava, according to those in the industry.
Tina Memic, general manager for retail operations at Bateel, the gourmet date producer, said there has been a change in what’s popular in the UAE.
“It’s certainly changed over the last 10 years or so as people have become more health conscious and have become exposed to higher quality chocolate from Europe,” she said.
“People generally are more willing to pay a little more if they know they are getting better quality and have it on special occasions now.”
European chocolates use pure cocoa butter rather than the vegetable oil found in most commercial brands, which improves the quality, she said.
“There is always a high demand for Arabic sweets, especially baklava, but people opt for ones that are less oily,” she said.
“The long tradition of these kinds of sweets in this country and region more generally will always mean that they will remain popular.
“We also find many visitors and expats preferring these kinds of sweets.”
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have the largest share of the GCC’s annual spend on chocolate, with the UAE spending $38 (Dh140) per capita on chocolate each year, according to Euromonitor.
Estimates in 2014 projected that the UAE confectionery market would hit $292.4 million by 2017, up from $225.7m in 2012.
Sneha Bhatia, founder of Sugaholic Bakeshop in Dubai, believes many in the UAE have developed a more diverse palette in recent years.
“They are always looking to experiment with new flavours,” she said.
“Whether it is a mix of local and French ingredients or just a different way of eating the same dessert, people here are always on the look-out for something out of the box.”
The most popular products are traditional cakes – cupcakes are still the most popular – with increasing demand for macarons in recent years, Ms Bhatia said.
“Paleo and gluten-free desserts have also gained a small share of the market recently,” she said, adding that preferences between Arab and non-Arab customers are generally very similar.
“The only difference that can be said for Arab and non-Arab clients is that our Arab clients like bigger portions in comparison to the expat crowd and also cakes which tend to be more on the sweet side,” she said.
Rosantina Saraswati, head of confectionery retail at Al Abbar Enterprises, which owns the Candylicious shop in Dubai Mall, said they expect greater demand towards the end of Ramadan.
“People prefer to stay at home with their families during the first couple of weeks,” she said.
“The trend picks up entering the second half of Ramadan, as it is the time people start preparing for Eid, buy Eid gifts and get ready for the big celebrations.”
Among the favourites during the holy month this year are Belgian nougat bars, handmade cake bars from Ireland, organic thin biscuits from Spain and Hershey’s Snackster.
“During Ramadan customers are looking for sweet items to enjoy together during iftar gatherings as well as gifting to families, neighbours and colleagues,” said Ms Saraswati.
Becky Williams, 27, from the UK, enjoys the local Arabic delicacies but continues to enjoy the comforts of home.
“I’ve always been a fan of Cadbury chocolates and thankfully they are available here so I don’t feel as though I’m missing out,” she said.
“I’ve tried baklava and although it was really nice I found it a little too sweet for my taste.”
Emirati Ahmed Al Farooqi, 21, has expanded his list of favourites since travelling in Europe over the last few years.
“I still like the traditional stuff but I’ve developed a taste for dark chocolate during my time in France,” he said.
“I used to find it bitter but, once you get used to it, it’s really nice.”
Source: uae news