Understand consumers in the Middle East to drive sustainable transformation

Middle Eastern consumers care particularly about water preservation, food waste and pollution.
06 December 2023
Middle East consumers
Astrid Ricketts

MEA Sustainable Transformation Practice Lead

Amol Ghate

Managing Director, Insights Division, Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan

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This year COP28 is being held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, governments and organisations will negotiate to reach agreements to curtail global warming, environmental pollution and biodiversity loss, amongst others. Different parts of the world approach climate change in different ways. At Kantar, we pioneer understanding people to reveal insights about consumers’ preferences and behaviours. This knowledge can be leveraged to identify how consumers think about climate change and how businesses can harness opportunities such as the value-action gap to achieve impactful, sustainable growth, by creating the brands of the future.  

What are the most pressing sustainability topics in the Middle East?

The Middle East has great opportunities for sustainable growth which can be identified by analysing consumer demand for sustainability. Kantar’s Sustainability Sector Index provides insights from 32,000 consumers across 42 sectors in 33 countries to deep dive into how consumers think about sustainability across different sectors. Insights from the report report reveals that Middle Eastern consumers care particularly about water preservation, food waste and pollution. Protecting resources is vital in this region as climate change worsens. When asked about the most pressing social or environmental issues in the region, 23% of consumers reported that they were concerned most about climate change. 62% of these comments were centred around how climate change could affect food supply. This reflects challenges in the region, for example, droughts in Syria caused wheat crop production to drop by 80% in 2022.  

Various organisations are making strides in the Middle East to manage resources and prevent waste. For example, Winnow Solutions has partnered with Ne’ma, the National Food Loss and Waste Initiative in the UAE to address food waste in hotels and restaurants. Winnow uses AI to ensure that food suppliers waste less in kitchens, this partnership has saved 7.4 million meals nationwide and it has saved over 10 million AED.  

Start-ups and not-for-profits are making strides in ensuring the Middle East is more sustainable, however, brands also have a key role to play. Kantar’s Sustainable Marketing 2030 report interviewed 1,000 marketers from 48 countries. The report identifies that 93% of marketers say brands have a responsibility to help people live more sustainably. The SSI also identifies responsible consumption as one of the top four topics of concern in the UAE. An example of a brand making strides in this space is Majid Al Futtaim, a company that manages a range of brands in retail, lifestyle, and entertainment. Majid Al Futtaim has committed to adopting circular business principles through water recycling projects, removing single-use plastics, and encouraging the creation of zero-waste shops.  

Zooming in on sector-specific challenges  

It is crucial to note that the sustainability issues that consumers are concerned about are highly sector-specific, and this needs to be considered when developing sustainability strategies and activation plans for brands. For example, the SSI identified unrecyclable packaging as consumers’ highest sustainability concern in the cosmetics industry in the Middle East. Bee’ah, an environmental management company in the UAE partnered with Unilever in 2020 to create a new plastic recycling plant with an annual capacity of 14,400 tonnes. This initiative addresses plastic pollution in the region with an end-to-end integrated recycling system that will allow Unilever to adopt a circular, sustainable business model.  

Marketers have an important role in both identifying consumers’ sustainability needs and pushing for all-encompassing change by redesigning business models to make them more green and more profitable. Kantar’s data can help marketers unlock the business case for sustainability. Learn more about what you can do as a marketer by diving into the Sustainable Marketing 2030 report to unpack the five key levers – Value Redefined, Sustainability First, Radical Innovation, Transformative Relationships, and Creativity into action.  

Follow our COP 28 coverage and insights here. 

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