Saudi Arabia: The Changing Trends of the Middle East’s Food Hub

February 18, 2022
min read

Did you know that Saudi Arabia’s Food and Beverage industry is valued at a whopping $45 billion dollars? Not only does this number impact the food and beverage market in the Middle East, but it also contributes to the overall economy of the region. 

In 2018 alone, the F&B industry of the region added a significant 10% to the GDP, according to SAGIA (Saudi Arabian General Authority for Investment).

Hence, let’s look at some of the major food trends in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which will eventually continue to shape the industry’s growth within the region. 

The Shift towards Technology

The F&B industry of Saudi Arabia may be growing by leaps and bounds, but it's not without technology playing a role in its growth. With each passing day, the Kingdom's shift towards technology is only becoming more and more apparent as consumers are also tilting towards well-equipped restaurants.

After all, reinventing the dining experience and boosting revenue is quite impossible without ensuring seamless operations and providing the staff with consumer-friendly devices. So, here are some of the many transformative tech services set to take over the food industry in Saudi Arabia:

  • Digital/QR code-accessed menus
  • Digital feedback forms
  • Digital payment through POS

Sustainable Eating Patterns

As the awareness about health and wellness is becoming mainstream, so is the drift away from fast-food chains. Moreover, the impact this awareness has had on people's food choices has become even more apparent, with a number of fast-food chains introducing healthier menu items. Speaking of prominent examples, several standalone brands have already started capitalizing on health-conscious consumers, giving way for a whole new era to emerge.

The Emergence of Cloud Kitchens

According to a data report by Statista, cloud kitchens are expected to grow at 12% CAGR by the time it's 2024. This model may have emerged recently, but its incessant growth speaks volumes of its potential in the food and beverage industry of Saudi Arabia. 

So, if you’re still wary of stepping out, don’t worry because with more cloud kitchens popping up throughout the region, restaurateurs are ever more prepared to cater to you. Moreover, all this business model requires is a quality chef, a robust management system, and travel-friendly menu items to work. 

What’s more? Restaurateurs who have successfully managed to operate their cloud kitchens enjoy a few benefits. For instance, they have cheaper rent and face no issues with seating limitations as compared to traditional restaurant business models.

Changing Dynamics of the Service Style

Even though the traditional dine-in setup is expected to pick up the pace, takeaway services are also set to take center stage and grow at a rate never seen before. This shift in dynamics has also prompted many restaurant owners to rethink and redesign their service style to cater to a massive consumer base that prefers take-out. Again, it calls for these owners to curate travel-friendly menu items and invest in packaging materials that help keep the food in its place.

Push Towards Casual Dining Setups

Over the last few years, more than the changing preferences towards food and dining styles, a major behavioral shift has also been observed among consumers. This has called for casual dining setups to be brought to the forefront so consumers can be entertained in a safer fast-food dining format.

After all, modern consumers look for convenience as much as they look for experience. This means that there might be a significant shift in the upcoming years with regard to open space food halls as opposed to closed space food courts in malls.

What More Has Changed Over the Last Few Decades?

From small startups to multinational chains, Saudi Arabia has come a long way in establishing its territory over the food and beverage scene across the region. In Riyadh alone, there has been a massive wave of imported food and an influx of restaurants providing excellent food from various cuisines. However, inclination towards international chains isn't the only thing that has changed within Saudi Arabia’s dining experience. 

The growing female consumer base has also turned the business model around. With more spaces becoming safe for female customers, it has become pretty evident that the Kingdom has come a long way from being male-centric only a few decades ago. 

The idea of incorporating family sections within restaurants gained momentum during the 1980s and 90s, shortly after international chains and fast-food restaurants emerged in the region.

The First Hamburger Restaurant

Herfy, Saudi Arabia's first hamburger restaurant, opened in 1981 in Riyadh. It also happened to be among some of the very few restaurants that welcomed families. In fact, the idea of going out with the family wasn’t the norm before the 1980s. This was mainly because there were limited spaces that provided them with the much-needed privacy. 

Even though KFC and Wimpy had established their branches in the 1960s, they hadn’t witnessed much growth until the dining out practices within the Kingdom started changing.

Impact of the Entertainment Industry

With an increasing number of concerts and sports events being organized in the region lately, the impact on the food sector has been nothing short of positive. The growth that started appearing through the increased use of mobile delivery applications has now turned into the emergence of food trucks, local and international restaurants in large cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh. 

In fact, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO Heritage site also has a number of fine dining options, including pop-up cafes such as Anabelle’s, La Cantine du Faubourg, and Sass Café. 

The Bottom Line

While these are only some of the many trends that have shaped the Saudi Arabian dining experience, more factors are expected to contribute towards the evolving food and beverage market. Some of them include drastic behavioral changes and growing numbers of working professionals. 

Moreover, as the world is slowly and steadily opening up once again, the entertainment and tourism industries of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are also expected to pick their pace up and provide additional thrust to the economy.

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