Cigi mission investigates markets in the Gulf region

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Since the spring of 2016, Cigi staff have spent time meeting with customers on missions in a number of countries in Asia, the Gulf region and, most recently, Africa. In this second part of a three-part series on the missions, Cigi’s visit to five countries in the Gulf region is highlighted.

In late May Cigi staff travelled to the Gulf region, meeting with customers of Canadian wheat to discuss their wheat quality requirements, exchange technical information, and investigate their purchasing activity. The countries included the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

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Yvonne Supeene, Head of Cigi Baking Technology, discusses the quality of pan bread made with CWRS with customers during a visit to IFFCO in Sharjah, UAE.

“Our purpose was to touch base with the market, see what and how much they are buying, understand what technology they are working with, and learn about current market trends,” says Ashok Sarkar, Senior Advisor, Cigi Technology. Cigi last visited the region on an investigative mission in 2014.

“We were able to provide updated information on wheat quality which was timely because most of these countries were previously affected when we had weakness in gluten strength,” Ashok says. “Customers were made aware of improvements to wheat classes which will help in building and ensuring the quality of CWRS and CPSR. The mission was also useful so that customers know who to contact if they need any technical assistance.”

In the 1990s the demand for CWRS and CWAD grew in the Gulf region partly due to improvements in shipping facilities and reduced freight costs. The region also imports wheat from the Black Sea region, India, Australia and the U.S. In 2014, when Cigi last visited, there was some decline in Canadian wheat imports due to the weaker gluten strength. Cigi subsequently conducted two technical exchanges at its facilities in Winnipeg to provide technical support for Gulf customers. Currently, all the countries visited are buying Canadian wheat except for Bahrain. Combined, UAE, Oman and Kuwait imported nearly 350,000 tonnes of wheat in 2014-15.

This was the first visit to the region by Lisa Nemeth, Cigi Director of International Markets, who says that while wheat is used for the production of Arabic flatbreads, a large number of foreign workers has created a “dual market” for other bread products. “There are large populations of expatriates not only from the Philippines and India, but also others such as Europeans, Australians and Canadians who work in jobs that include engineering or technology. So you have this huge multicultural market looking for a variety of bread products other than flatbreads.”

Lisa says the demand for CWRS is significant. In one market 100% CWRS flour is used for bread production. “For this one product in Oman they said they just use Canadian in their industrial bakeries as it gives them the quality they are looking for in pan bread. They also use CWRS in flour blends for flatbreads as it has extensible dough properties needed for this product.”

She says that in the Gulf region food service companies such as Starbucks and McDonald’s produce western-style bread products which have strict quality specifications that Canadian wheat can meet.

The region also uses CWAD but to a lesser extent than CWRS, Lisa says. Canadian durum is primarily used for pasta consumed in the region but some pasta, along with semolina, is processed for export.

She adds that pulses are also used extensively, usually consumed whole in dishes rather than processed in products such as baked goods. “They talked about incorporating pulses as milled ingredients but it’s too soon to predict where and when that would happen.

“This was my first visit to the region so it was very helpful for understanding their market,” Lisa says of the value of meeting with customers face-fo-face. “All of the people we visited were receptive and open to sharing knowledge.”

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Kristina Pizzi in the lab with staff at Salallah Flour Mills in Salallah, Oman.

Kristina Pizzi, Head of Cigi Analytical Services, visited Dubai last year to present on the new crop but this was her first time touring facilities there and in the other Gulf countries.

“The labs are well-equipped and all follow standardized (testing) methods which was really impressive. It was nice to meet laboratory staff and there were good discussions on testing. They had some questions about quality. Now that we have met it makes it easier for them to follow up and contact us.”

She agrees that customers like the quality of CWRS and that they buy a significant amount specifically for pan breads. “Most people were happy with Canadian wheat quality. There were some limited comments regarding falling number concerns (determining sprout damage that affects baking quality) out of the 2015 harvest. The gluten strength issue has been bigger but the Canadian industry as a whole has made good progress to resolve this.”

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Cigi staff on the Gulf mission, in the UAE (l to r): Yvonne Supeene, Kristina Pizzi, Lisa Nemeth and Ashok Sarkar.

Watch for part three of this three-part series on the Cigi mission to Africa in the coming weeks.