Country Profile

Saudi Arabia Country Profile

Discover more about the Saudi Arabian market including overviews about the retail, food service, and food processing sectors. Events, resources, and more are linked throughout the profile.

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Market Overview

Over $100k in New Export Sales
$559.6 Million
in U.S. consumer ready products imported in 2020
Market Access Program (MAP) Fund Utilization
2nd
highest imports of U.S. consumer ready products in the region
Over $100k in New Export Sales
$435.4 Million
in imports of U.S. processed foods in 2020

Euromonitor reports that Saudi Arabia was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp decline in oil prices.  The economy is forecast to reach pre-pandemic levels by 2023, supported by monetary stimulus, recovering global demand, and structural reforms. However, low oil prices led to a sharp deterioration in state revenues, prompting the government to focus on fiscal consolidation in the medium term. 

 

The prolonged pandemic, geopolitical tensions and volatile global oil prices may hinder economic recovery.  Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will bounce back to growth of 2% in 2021 and will grow to around 2.3% per year by 2027.  Real GDP fell by 4.1% in 2020 after growth of 0.3% in 2019. 

 

  • Over 2021-2040, the economy is projected to expand by an average annual real rate of 2.2%, which is below regional and global averages.
  • In the second half of 2020, inflation soared, as the government raised the value-added tax (VAT) rate from 5% to 15%, but this is likely to decrease gradually and settle around 2.5% by 2025. 
  • The country focuses on export diversification and aims to boost the share of non-oil exports in non-oil GDP to 50% by 2030.
  • The removal of foreign ownership limits in various sectors, a large privatization program, and labor market reforms are expected to support foreign investment growth in the foreseeable future.
  • Public debt increased from 22.8% in 2019 to 31.8% of GDP in 2020 and is anticipated to rise further over the medium term.

 

Today, Saudi Arabia is dealing with a series of economic challenges. They include high levels of unemployment, a large fiscal deficit and a fast-growing population. Unemployment is the highest among Saudis in their twenties.  Government figures suggest that approximately 175,000 new jobs are being created each year but the number of new job entrants (which is almost exclusively male) is close to twice that figure.

 

Saudi Arabia’s population is growing at a brisk pace.  The total number of inhabitants was 34.7 million in 2021 – an increase of 13.3 million since 2000.  By 2030, the country will be home to 39.3 million – more than four times the total for 1980.  Although the population is still relatively young, an ageing process is underway.  Median age was 30.8 years in 2021, up from 21.3 years in 2000.

 

USDA’s Office of Agricultural Affairs (OAA) in Riyadh hereinafter referred to as “Post” reports that Saudi Arabia is a significant market for U.S. food and agricultural products with direct U.S. exports of US$1.2 billion in 2020, a decline of 7%, despite some hiccups related to COVID-19 and lower oil prices in Saudi that depressed overall sales.  However, there are still plenty of opportunities for a wide range of new U.S. products to enter Saudi Arabia, especially healthier products aimed at a generation with more disposable income.  Unfortunately, there are also significant impediments to trade including several halal related restrictions on meat and poultry products.  Despite these issues, U.S. food products are generally viewed as a higher quality product and are well positioned to meet Saudi Arabia’s changing dietary habits over the next several years.

 

U.S. Exports of consumer ready products to Saudi Arabia decreased 5% US$559.6 million in 2020.  That is the 2nd highest total in the region after UAE.  The Kingdom is an active importer of U.S. processed foods as well, the top market in the GCC-6 bringing in some US$435.4 million in 2020, an decrease of 12% from the prior year.  Top U.S. processed food exported to Saudi Arabia in 2020 included:

 

  • Processed/Prepared Dairy Products
  • Condiments & Sauces, Jams & Jellies
  • Snack foods  
  • Fats & Oils
  • Processed Vegetables & Pulses
  • Food preparations & ingredients  
  • Non-Alcoholic Beverages
  • Chocolate & Confectionery 

Advantages:

  • The United States is considered a supplier of quality food products. 
  • Saudi Riyal (SR) is pegged to the U.S. dollar at the rate of US$1 to 3.75 SR, which currently benefits U.S. exports.
  • High per-capita income and purchasing power helps increase demand for healthy, organic products.
  • Hypermarkets are popular destinations for shopping as well as family outings. 
  • The United States is recognized among the business community as a reliable supplier.
  • Government regulations and awareness campaigns are driving more Saudis to opt for better diet and healthier food products (low in salt and sugar, high fiber, or added vitamins).
  • The increasing number of pilgrims and tourists creates demand for institutional food products.
  • More than 12 million expats live in Saudi Arabia thus creating demand for ethnic foods.
  • Saudi retail outlets are equipped to carry all types of items, including fresh and frozen items.
  • Major retail chains are constantly looking for new-to-market U.S. products.

Challenges:

  • Price competitiveness of local products and imports from parts of Asia, Brazil, the EU, New Zealand, and Turkey. 
  • Freight costs from the United States are higher than those from export competitors in Europe and Asia.
  • Local importers prefer to initiate business deals with small orders; conditions many U.S. exporters are not willing or able to meet.
  • Saudi Arabia maintains dual date labeling system (production and expiration) for all food products.
  • High markups, listing and other fees that major retailers charge significantly increase the cost of launching new products in the Saudi market.
  • Some food retailers return products to suppliers that are not sold by the expiration date printed on packages in order to get reimbursed.
  • General lack of brand awareness and loyalty by most of the Saudi consumers.
  • Negative consumer attitude towards food containing or made from biotech products.
  • Some consumers perceive U.S. food products as promoting a relatively unhealthy lifestyle.
  • The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) have rapidly issued new regulations and standards, which have closed the market to several U.S. products.

“All of Food Export’s programs were a tremendous help getting us export ready, understanding the challenges that come with international business, and learning how to navigate them.”

Katz Gluten Free

Food Export-Northeast Participant since 2018

Interested in importing from U.S. suppliers?
Contact us to learn more.

Retail Sector

Over $100k in New Export Sales
$20.6 Billion
estimated retail sales in packaged food market in 2020
Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) Fund Utilization
12.6%
increase in sales in packaged food market since 2016
Top Market for U.S. Agriculture Products
$26 Billion
estimated total of the packaged food market by 2025

Euromonitor has estimated 2020 retail sales in the Saudi packaged food market to be US$20.6 billion.  That represents an increase of 12.6% and nearly US$2.3 billion from 2016.  They also forecast sales of packaged food in the Saudi market to reach US$26 billion by 2025, an increase of nearly US$4.3 billion and 20.2%.  High growth products in the forecast include:

 

  • Pet Food
  • Baby Food
  • Rice, Pasta & Noodles
  • Processed Meat & Seafood
  • Breakfast Cereals
  • Baked Goods
  • Soup
  • Savory Snacks

Post reports that the traditional retail sector is being displaced by hyper and supermarkets, and demand for packaged food continues to increase.  Major drivers of this transition include increasing disposable income, a growing population and the creation and expansion of urban centers. In 2020, total retail sales in Saudi Arabia were estimated at approximately US$37 billion, and 59% was generated through traditional grocery stores.  The other 41% passed through modern retail channels, but traditional grocery stores have been declining over the past several years due to rapid expansion of new urban centers throughout the country.

 

There are no specialized food publications or retail journals in Saudi Arabia and as a result, reliable data on food retailers’ sales and floor space is not readily available. The following companies are the major players in the food retail market: Panda Retail Company: The largest retailer in Saudi Arabia.  This publicly traded Saudi company has 230 retail outlets (hypermarkets and supermarkets) in Saudi Arabia.  

 

The firm also has two hypermarkets in Egypt and one in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Most of the company’s purchases are local, but it also imports directly.  Othaim Supermarket Chain: This Saudi company has 227 stores in Saudi Arabia and 46 stores in Egypt.  The company has also several wholesale outlets.  Most of the company’s purchases are local, but it also imports directly.  BinDawood Holding: This Saudi Company operates a total of 73 stores across the KSA, including the BinDawood and Danube supermarket chains and purchases food products locally as well as internationally.

 

Tamimi Supermarkets: An upscale supermarket with 45 branches in Saudi Arabia and one in Bahrain.  The company is one of the largest consolidated U.S. food products importers in Saudi Arabia.  It is the only Saudi supermarket that currently sells chilled U.S. beef.   LuLu Hyper\Supermarkets: A Dubai headquartered retailer with 36 outlets in Saudi Arabia, mostly hypermarkets.  It has more than 150 hypermarkets in the Middle East and Asia.  The company had plans to open five new Saudi supermarkets by the end of 2020. Carrefour Saudi Arabia: It is a subsidiary of Majid Al Futtaim of UAE; the exclusive Carrefour franchisee in 38 countries across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.  They have 18 Saudi hyper and supermarkets, and mainly imports from France.  Post has helped place some U.S. products in Carrefour.

 

Lulu, Tamimi, Danube, and Manual Supermarkets (a chain with nine outlets throughout Jeddah) imports a significant percentage of the food products they sell directly from the United States.  LuLu owns and operates Y International USA, Inc.; a U.S. purchasing and logistics company based in Lyndhurst, New Jersey that will be opening additional U.S. branches.  The logistics company sources and exports U.S. food products and consumer goods directly to LuLu in the Middle East and Asia while the other three retailers make extensive use of consolidators. Some products (like blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and other fresh produce) are shipped by air, but most products are shipped by sea. 

 

Best Product Prospects:

 

Post reports that Currently, more consumers in Saudi are seeking out the following products: healthier lifestyle products (diet foods, organic etc.), beef, poultry meat, beverage ingredients, non-alcoholic beer, tree nuts, dairy products, plant-based meats, fresh fruit and vegetables, processed fruits and vegetables, fruit and vegetable juices, honey, and snack foods. 

Food Service Sector

Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) Fund Utilization
3%
projected long term growth per year
Branded Program Success
$21.7 Billion
total consumer food service revenue in 2019
First Time Export Sale
73%
of revenue in food service sector comes from independent stores & chains

Post reports that Saudi Arabia is home to an over-sized and resilient hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) industry that is a promising market for U.S. exporters.  In addition to local cultural preferences, demand is driven by religious pilgrims and foreign labor.  In 2019, total consumer food service revenue was approximately US$21.7 billion, but the market experienced a sharp contraction in 2020 due to COVID-19 and lower oil prices.  While demand at quick service restaurants has largely rebounded, partly due to home delivery apps, fine dining establishments have been slower to recover.  In 2021, Post expects the HRI sector to resume its long-term growth of approximately 3% per year once the economy overcomes the impact of COVID-19.

 

Meanwhile, some food service companies that operate foreign casual dining or fast food franchises have regional purchasing offices located outside Saudi Arabia.  For instance, McDonald’s uses a Saudi company based in Dubai as its exclusive supplier of imported food products for its Middle East operations.  On the other hand, the Al-Ahlia Restaurant Company, which operates KFC, Hardee’s, TGI-Friday’s, Chicken Tikka, Krispy Kreme, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster in Saudi Arabia, has a regional purchasing office in Cairo, Egypt.

 

Regional offices are responsible for purchasing food service food products and ingredients from approved suppliers worldwide.  These and other large fast and casual dining firms import directly, between 30%-85% of their food products.  The food products that are directly imported include: beef, poultry, cheese, sauces, French fries, potato wiggles, frying oil, mix buns, ketchup, deserts, salad dressing, seafood (shrimp, salmon and other fish) and syrup.

 

Independent stores and chains account for approximately 73% of total revenue in the consumer food service sector.  Recent trends in the Saudi consumer food service includes smoke houses, Turkish fine dining steakhouses, fine dining restaurants, high-end sandwich outlets, and food trucks.  In recent years, local investors have also developed new home-grown QSR chains along with expanding their franchises.  The Maestro pizza chain, established in Riyadh in 2013, has become a household name in a span of seven years.  With nearly 170 outlets, the pizza chain is preferred by many Saudi and Arab consumers for its quality and price, and the firm has become a formidable competitor to several U.S. pizza chains such; especially, Domino’s and Pizza Hut.  

 

Best Product Prospects:

The Saudi HRI sector is constantly seeking suppliers for high quality and competitively priced of high value and intermediate food products such as dairy products, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, red meats, condiments and sauces, beverage and other coffee shop ingredients baked frozen pastries, and frozen sandwich bread.

Food-Processing Sector

Market Access Program (MAP) Fund Utilization
$350 Million
in imports from the U.S. in 2020
Over $100k in New Export Sales
$2.7 Billion
total number of imports for food ingredients in 2020

Post reports that Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Arab world and home to a growing food manufacturing and processing sector as a result of favorable trade agreements, population growth and rapid socioeconomic changes.  Investment in the sector is projected to reach US$59 billion in 2021, an increase of approximately 64% since 2013, and ranges from local food manufacturers to major multinational companies. 

The expanding Saudi food processing sector has large-scale multinational and domestic manufacturers.  Benefits to international companies establishing production facilities include easy access to the growing Saudi and Middle East Northern Africa (MENA) markets.  Foreign companies enter the Saudi food manufacturing sector by establishing wholly owned facilities, acquiring, or taking over existing Saudi companies, joint venture partnerships with Saudi investors, entering into licensing agreements with local manufacturers, or by having private labels produced by Saudi food processors.

Most Saudi food manufacturers depend on imports for food ingredients, and subsequently imported approximately US$2.7 billion (US$350 million from the United States) worth of intermediate food products in 2020.  While the United States continued to thrive on traditional exports, Post anticipates healthier foods will be a major driver in Saudi Arabia over the next several years.  The United States is well-positioned to capture this market share.

Saudi based food exporters do not face tariffs on exports to the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries or to the members of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA).  This Pan-Arab free trade zone was created in 1997 and has 22 members.  As a result, several major companies have built facilities in Saudi Arabia because it accounts for more than 50% of the GCC market.  In 2019, Saudi Arabia exported approximately US$3.5 billion worth of food products to the region, which is an increase of nearly 3% since 2018.  The main products were dairy products, snack foods, processed foods, processed dates, processed fruit and vegetables, sugar and sweeteners, and poultry meat.

In recent years, several multinational companies have entered the Saudi food processing sector as a result of more demand for packaged food and the opportunity to export duty free to other Arab counties.  Most of these companies entered the market via joint ventures with Saudi companies, licensing agreements or by taking over existing Saudi food processing companies.  Multinational companies with a presence in the food processing industry include: Mars Inc., Mondelez International, Cargill, Del Monte, PepsiCo, Heinz, Danone Ltd., Arla Foods Amba, Fonterra’s, United Biscuits (UK) Limited, Coro Foods, Unilever, and the Lactalis Group.

Best Product Prospects:

 

The following is a listing of food products and ingredients that have high export potential in the Saudi food processing market: poultry meat, beef, skimmed milk powder, full cream milk powder, block cheese, butter, milk protein concentrate, anhydrous milk fat (AMF), butter oil, and whey powder.

 

Other food processing ingredients in demand include margarine, vegetable oil, vegetable fat, grape leaves, spices, fruit pie fillings, seasonings, shortenings, sauces, chocolates, cooking oil, vegetables, dehydrated chicken powder, jam ingredients, tree nuts, tomato paste, legumes, pulses, french fries, wheat, rice, beverage ingredients, bakery and pastry ingredients, juice concentrates, ice cream ingredients, chili sauce and specialized flours.

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