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Abu Dhabi’s Switch feeds appetite for meat alternative

  • Switch Foods opens Abu Dhabi factory to produce plant-based meat
  • Demand for meat substitutes is forecast to rise in Emirates
  • UAE’s ‘Year of Sustainability’ includes promoting meat-free diets

UAE consumers are some of the biggest meat eaters in the world, so it might seem an unlikely place to open a plant-based meat factory.  

The Emirates’ average annual consumption of meat per person is 73kg – more than double the global average of 34.1kg, according to Statista.

But Edward Hamod, founder and CEO of Switch Foods, is bullish. 

“I think the demand is already here,” Hamod told AGBI. “Until now the price of the products on the shelves has been too high and that’s mainly been because of the high import and supply chain costs.”

He points to the American brand Beyond Meat. In the US, it retails at around $22 per kg (AED80). In the UAE, it costs $50 to $60. 

Switch’s products, Hamod says, are cheaper and more sustainable as it focuses on localisation.

They are stocked in two UAE supermarket chains, for $22 per kg, and are being rolled out to other retailers. 

The products are tailored to local tastes and include kebab, soujuk and kofta, as well as burger patties and minced meat. 

Switch began production on May 1 at Kezad in Abu Dhabi. Dubai’s first plant-based meat factory opened in March, operated by Thryve at Dubai Industrial City.

Edward Hamod Switch Foods
Switch Foods founder Hamod is an adviser to the UAE’s minister of state for food and water security
Growing demand

The global alternative foods market has recorded strong growth since 2018, with data intelligence company PitchBook reporting that more than $400 million was invested last year.

The demand for meat substitute products in the UAE is growing, according to Statista, with a forecast compound annual growth rate of 27.19 percent from 2023 to 2027. 

“I believe that with the right product offering and the right price point, the market can be three, four, five times its size today,” Hamod said.  

The UAE has declared 2023 the “Year of Sustainability”. A nationwide campaign is encouraging plant-based diets, reduction of water use and avoidance of fast fashion.

Switch has been chosen as a strategic partner when Dubai hosts Cop28 in November.

“The UAE sees us as one of the catalysts of the development of the sustainable food industry locally,” said Hamod, who formerly sat on the executive council of the Abu Dhabi Food Security Centre, which was set up in 2010 and tasked with ensuring food security for the emirate.

He also serves as an adviser to Mariam Bint Mohammed Almheiri, the UAE minister of state for food and water security. 

“I’ve always advocated investing in food assets at home rather than abroad. But we still had to address the problem of needing to import the raw materials." 

After raising $6.5 million in seed funding in March 2022, Switch is now in talks with both regional and global VC organisations. 

“We will be raising a new round very soon to expand our operations,” Hamod said.