Spreads for example were by far the most popular sector in 2003, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of volume. Paper and foil packaging for these products usually has to be imported for locally-produced brands, and well-established western companies such as Fromageries Bel, the maker of the 'La vache qui rit' brand, Bongrain and Lactalis now take up a good slice of the portion spread sector.
"Many packaging formats in this region are different," said Proteus insight director John Meropoulos. "In the Middle East for example, you can get a 64-piece family pack of cheese portions, which you wouldn't get in the west. This shows how packaging can be utilised to suit the market."
Canning is a form of cheese packaging that is quite peculiar to the region. Sales of canned cheese remain fairly strong as the products are popular in Gulf countries where the severe climate and lack of chilled distribution network requires reliable shelf life.
It's a climate thing," said Meropoulos. "Canned cheese has been around the region for years, and in Australia too."
However, he predicts that sliced cheese will take market share away from the canned cheese sector. According to the report, sliced cheese consumption is rising, partly as a result of greater acceptance of innovations.
"These markets will continue to expand, but what will likely bring a further boost to the MENA region as a whole is the development of markets such as Iraq, Yemen and even white cheese consuming nations such as Iran and Turkey over the next five years," said Meropoulos.
If western packaging and cheese processing firms can successfully transfer these innovations to the MENA region, then they stand to gain an early foothold in a growing market. "All the innovations are coming from the snack category in the west," said Meropoulos. Indeed, as he points out, spreads in the west are in 'trouble' and sliced cheese sales are 'struggling'.
In contrast, the MENA region is becoming more competitive. The Proteus Insight report suggests that local companies in the region are starting to increase their capacity and to challenge the previously established multinationals such as Australasian suppliers Kraft (Australia) and New Zealand Milk that have a wider produce range, including jar spreads, canned and slices.
"In Saudi Arabia, Almarai has made significant investments in its capacities over the past few years and a focused marketing strategy has seen them increasing their share in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC," added Meropoulos.
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