Trends in Kuwait’s F&B sector

Trends in Kuwait’s F&B sector

While the restaurant scene in Kuwait is diverse, many argue that there is still room in the market for new concepts. We delve into the latest trends and how homegrown brands are finding their niche.

A mature market

Currently, there are around 12,000 restaurants in Kuwait. Of these, 5,500 fall within the dessert segment, while 3,000 are cafes. Indeed, Kuwaitis, spend a considerable amount of time eat out, which goes a long way to explain why the F&B sector continues to grow.

Amal Chahine, founder and managing partner of OVO Food Restaurant Company, said that the market continues to grow, with new concepts and there is still space. These words were echoed by Khaled Naga, CEO of the restaurant division at Al Thiqa Food Group, who stated that Kuwait ranks second highest worldwide in terms of annual restaurant revenues and that the country has the highest number of repeat diners in the GCC, averaging four visits per guest per month.

William Zitto, head of culinary at Alshaya Group, added that the group recognizes that there are still opportunities, and the market is yet to reach saturation. Indeed, Alshaya will be launching Chipotle Mexican Grill in Q2 2024.

Given Kuwaitis’ high purchasing power and passion for food and novelty, not to mention dining out being a form of entertainment, it is highly likely that Kuwait’s F&B sector will continue to grow.

Franchises versus homegrown concepts

Kuwait is widely considered a test market and incubator, with many concepts breaking into the market and expanding according to how successful they are in the country.

Robeir Sarofeem, sales manager for Nestlé, stated that the restaurant scene in Kuwait has undergone significant transformation. A decade ago, things were very different, and it was more of a frnachise market. However, nowadays homegrown brands are showing how competitive they can be. Some, like Shrimpy, have even expanded in the region.

According to Naga, Kuwaitis are educated and always eager to try new things. Kuwait was one of the first countries in the region to bring international brands, especially well-known American franchises. Today, the focus is on homegrown concepts, of which Al Thiqa boasts 12 unique brands.

Trends shaping the market

Chahine’s homegrown concept OVO opened nine years ago. Today, there are two branches, which she believes is down to not only quality and consistency but also the demand for vegan and vegetarian options as well as greater awareness on health and plant-based cuisine.

Al Thiqa acquired Gia, a homegrown Mediterranean concept, in 2018. Since then, it has expanded from two locations to 12, highlighting the desire for healthier, greener options.

Zitto also mentioned that Alshaya caters to health-conscious diners, even where least expected. At The Cheesecake Factory, for instance, the Skinnylicious menu features around 40 items that are around 500 calories.

In terms of other trends, sustainability continues to be a major concern. However, it remains to be seen how operators can adhere to sustainable practices while providing quality and value for money.

Challenges and opportunities

One of the greatest challenges for restaurants is finding and retaining talented employees. Often, it is difficult to find experienced chefs, as they often move to other parts of the region.

While French cuisine is not popular in Kuwait, other cuisines have the potential to take off. Zitto mentioned that the market could accommodate more Vietnamese and Mexican options, but this largely depends on the willingness of talented chefs to come to Kuwait.

Sarofeem added that South American cuisine, especially Peruvian, has great potential. In addition, to cater to the sweet tooth of Kuwaitis while offering something healthier, protein snacks and soft-serve ice creams are gaining momentum, as are dry drinks, such as Heineken 0.0.

Chahine said that authentic Kuwaiti cuisine is missing in the market, but a great deal of effort is required to take it to the next level, as the traditional dishes are generally eaten at home. Opportunity exists if a talented and respected Kuwaiti chef champions the development of this segment.

Insights from HORECA Talks 2024 at HORECA Kuwait, co-organized by Hospitality News Middle East, Leaders Group and Hodema Consulting Services. Session moderated by Nada Alameddine, managing partner at Hodema Consulting Services.

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