The latest edition of Gulfood , touted as the largest international food and beverage exhibition, was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from the 20th of February to the 24th of February, 2023. Held at the Dubai World Trade Center, this mega-event showcased over 5000+ exhibitors from 125 countries, including leaders & new players in different product categories such as Beverages, Proteins, Pulses & Grains, and World Foods – it is worth noting that over 49% of the exhibitors were first-time exhibitors and/or start-ups, with over 100,000 innovative products being showcased from 8 different product sectors .
Alternative proteins were considered a niche market during Gulfood, with companies specializing in alternative plant-based proteins ruling the roost. Beyond Meat , a well-known player in the alternative plant-based protein market showcased their new as well as their signature products, such as their vegan burger meats and sausages; these products are made from pea protein and surprisingly beetroot protein as well, reportedly for their high protein content as well as for texture.
The predominant trend in the alternative plant-based protein market is that a growing number of companies are moving away from the usage of soy protein; according to reports from World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF, the rates of soil erosion due to soy cultivation is dangerously high and is currently much beyond sustainable levels. Additionally, the agrochemicals and fertilizers being used to grow soy crops are causing serious nutrient pollution in lakes and rivers, and soy production as a whole is causing excessive greenhouse gas emissions . Due to such reasons, companies are increasingly looking into alternatives such as wheat, oat, and even hemp protein.
A major protein being showcased during Gulfood was pea protein ; a large proportion of companies dealing in alternative proteins deal with pea protein as their number one product. For novices, pea protein is extracted from yellow peas and is known to be a highly efficient protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids, and is considered the most easily digestible plant protein in the market today.
Sustainable Planet , a London-based company, also exhibited their innovative protein product – an alternative plant-based protein made from the humble water lentil. A plant indigenous to South Asia, it is a highly efficient protein source that can be regenerated within 24 hours, recycles 95% of the water used, and can be used to make products such as supplements, protein bars, and even falafels! The product was also declared winner of the UAE Food Tech Challenge 2022 - 2023.
Other innovative protein sources that were showcased during the exhibition include rice protein, wheat protein, and even potato protein; these alternatives were being used in a wide range of products, from cereal bars to chocolate bites. Some players in the market were also using other well-known protein substitutes, such as mushrooms, to imitate the umami flavor profile and texture of regular beef.
Despite the promise of growth in the alternative protein field, there are a few competitors in the market who are hesitant to go down the alternative protein path; several meat production companies have released products in the alternative protein space but were, however, not able to gain traction with these products. Some argue it is due to the nascent nature of the sector itself and the affordability issue that generally plagues alternative protein products, making them inaccessible to a regular income consumer.
In other events held during Gulfood, Gulfood Inspire  was the conference segment of the exhibition and was held on all four days – panel discussions on topics such as Sustainable Food Production, Food Safety, and Food Security were conducted by F&B industry experts from all over the globe. Other events in the Gulfood agenda, including Top Table and the YouthX competition, were held over all four days, showcasing innovative culinary recipes and discussions amongst culinary experts regarding topics such as sustainability, and masterclasses conducted by Michelin-star culinary legends in Beverages, Arabian/Middle Eastern Cuisine and much more.
With such an extensive variety of different kinds of products on display, the latest edition of the Gulfood exhibition was certainly a hit with the Food and Beverage community, with deals reportedly upwards of €10 million being negotiated during the same. With the next edition of Gulfood 2024 being held between 19th – 23rd February 2024, it is definitely a great platform for the alternative protein community to showcase their most innovative and cost-effective products to the global market.