At the start of the year, many of us look to make healthier choices whether it's being more active or trying to watch what we eat. Dubai is famous for its many international and home-grown restaurants in beautiful locations. But recently there's been a growing appetite for food to eat at home.
Dubai is a city powered by home deliveries from laundry to lattes. Convenience is king, even if you have to pay for it. Jessica and Kurt Davis are regular meal plan customers. They say that prices vary and that some meal plans can be quite expensive, but they change providers so they can get variety because "sometimes it can get boring". They say that diverse plans exist but often the plans operate on rotations. To them, changing providers to "try something different" is the way to go.
The United Arab Emirate's food and beverage market is worth more than 10.8 billion euros. This includes restaurants, hotels and delivery services. 60% of smartphone users in Dubai have a food-related app, and half of them actively use it. With this increase in popularity, consumers are being presented with a vast amount of choice of meal plans. Measured macronutrients are being prepared fresh and delivered to your front door daily.
Vegan food subscription service, Root'D, launched in November and it already has over 100 users. Its founder Roy Koyess says "we've seen an increase in number of consumers joining plant-based at least for a couple of weeks, to kind of detox from the animal-based products. I think the reason for that is they're getting a lot of information about the health benefits behind cutting out certain ingredients and they're trying out vegan meals".
What are the health benefits of meal plans?
Maria Abi Hanna is a dietitian and describes people's new outlook on food to us:
"This whole holistic approach that people now are taking, which is the wellness approach, and it's not just, you know, calories in, calories out, it's really the whole combination of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and the way of eating, whether you should be following a plant-based plan or a low carb plan. It's a huge science behind it. People are beginning to realise the importance of it for sure".
Another subscription-style that is growing in popularity is meal delivery kits, where you make the food yourself. Olivia Manner is the founder of Hello Chef. She agrees with our meal plan customers, Jessica and Kurt Davis, that sometimes recipes can get a bit repetitive. She says that's why people enjoy discovering the meals they have on offer because "you're discovering something new every week, but you have your familiar favourites as well. And we tend to be more geared for the weeknights anyway. So then on the weekend, you still have plenty of room to cook your own roast".
On average, meal plans cost between 450 to 900 euros a month per person. They include 20 days of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Meal kits are in the region of 250 to 350 euros for 20 dinners. An average monthly grocery shop for one in Dubai costs between 200 to 300 euros.
A learning experience
Putting cost aside, meal kits have another upside. Keith O'Malley-Farrell is a meal kit customer. He thinks that the meal kits have helped him learn how to cook. He says "it's really easy. The first day I did it, I was a bit like, read the thing, go back, forget what it said, go back, read it again. But the second time it was like I was a professional". It also means he doesn't have to go and find the ingredients and get anything wrong. He strongly feels that he would have given up if he had to shop for the ingredients himself.
Food during the pandemic
During the coronavirus pandemic, many restaurants pivoted with new and established meal kits, seeing a swell in demand as they offered consistent food access and minimal to no contact delivery methods. It's all very practical, but as Jessica and Kurt put it, "it was great during the lockdown, but it kind of increases the monotony of the days because basically, you work, you get up and work at your desk, you get your food delivery. Food delivery is actually probably, it seems more convenient, helpful when you actually have a lot more going on outside the house".
Though the long-term profitability has some experts sceptical, there's no denying that there's a healthy appetite for meal plans in Dubai with lifestyle, dietary requirements and convenience being the driving factors.