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Healthy fast food startups aim to tackle growing GCC obesity

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Health food company Under500 is expanding across the GCC
  • Kitopi-acquired Under500 expands to Qatar
  • Mealzap health platform plans to grow across the GCC
  • Region has among the highest obesity rates in the world

Following its success in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, health food eat-in and home delivery company Under500 is set to expand to Qatar. 

The firm’s low-calorie meals – served in franchised venues across the UAE and Saudi Arabia and via online delivery services such as Talabat and Deliveroo – are to be ordered by customers in Doha through delivery platforms Rafeeq and Snoonu.

Under500, launched in 2016 by Emirati entrepreneur Mahmoud Bartawi, was taken over by Dubai cloud kitchen startup Kitopi last year after it gained ‘unicorn’ status by raising over $700 million through investors including SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2.

Bartawi has since launched Mealzap, a food and fitness platform that connects people seeking a healthier lifestyle with a network of professionals in the fitness industry from coaches to nutritionists and meal plan providers. He also plans GCC expansion in the coming year.

Person, Human, Man
Emirati entrepreneur Mahmoud Bartawi sold Under500 to Kitopi and then founded Mealzap

Kitopi is now starting to operate on an ‘omnichannel’ basis, with dine-in restaurants, food halls and cloud kitchens that prepare food solely for home delivery.

“Our omnichannel offering allows us to build deeper connections with our customers and leverage what we learn about our customers in one channel to improve how we serve them through other channels,” said Imad El Fay, VP for Growth at Kitopi. 

“The food service and restaurants sector brings in $100 billion plus in annual revenues in the region and we’re just getting started. Our focus is to maintain our rapid growth in our existing markets, especially Saudi Arabia.” 

The UAE is forging the trend towards a healthier lifestyle gaining traction among residents. 

The Dubai 30×30 fitness challenge happens every year in November. Abu Dhabi, Ajman and the other emirates have also seen an increase in gyms and sports events.

Dubai-based airline Emirates is introducing a vegan menu to passengers and, in a food sustainability push, is serving fresh greens harvested from Bustanica, the world’s largest vertical farm – a newly-opened $40 million joint venture investment through Emirates Flight Catering. 

That said, the GCC has among the highest obesity rates in the world. Up to 31 per cent of women in the UAE and 25 per cent of men are in the obese category. In Saudi Arabia the obesity figures stand at 31 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women, according to data compiled by the World Obesity Federation.

Under500 and Mealzap founder Bartawi said: “Poor diets and fast-food consumption are the leading causes of the year-on-year increase in obesity rates and unhealthy diets are a significant risk factor for depression and anxiety.

“Mealzap is taking on the challenge of making a change, starting with Dubai, with plans to expand across the GCC.”

Person, Human, Restaurant
Saudi Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed’s KBW Ventures invests in vegan enterprises

Saudi Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed is another entrepreneur in the region promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The son of billionaire investor Al Waleed bin Talal – dubbed the ‘Arabian Warren Buffett’ – invests through his own company KBW Ventures in vegan enterprises including Beyond Meat and Eclipse Foods, which produces plant-based dairy products.

Prince Khaled told AGBI: “KBW Ventures decided to invest in Eclipse based on a number of factors, including their point-of-sale footprint, the innovative approach to creating a milk replacement with proprietary technology, and the positive customer response to the product taste and texture.”

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