The UAE: A gateway to the Middle East for international hospitality brands

With a high expat population and the longstanding presence of international hospitality brands contributing to a vibrant specialty coffee scene, the UAE has become an important gateway for coffee shops seeking growth across the wider Middle East

A Coffee Planet store in Dubai Hills Estate | Photo credit: DASH Hospitality Group

The UAE is a global travel hub and one of the Middle East’s leading tourist destinations. With a population of 9.9 million, 80% of whom are expats, the nation has one of the most developed coffee shop markets in the region, with the long-established presence of international coffee chains laying the groundwork for a vibrant specialty coffee scene.

The total Emirati branded coffee shop market grew 3.9% over the last 12 months to reach 1,394 outlets, making it the second largest market across the Middle East, albeit significantly behind Saudi Arabia’s 3,556 stores.

US-based Dunkin’ entered the UAE in 1997 with a store in Dubai, with an influx of western chains following suit in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, international coffee chains, led by Starbucks with 250+ stores, comprise more than 70% of the market and have laid the ground for a thriving market of boutique operators.

Dubai is the UAE’s coffee innovation centre-point, home to most branded chains as well as the Middle East’s largest specialty coffee roaster, Coffee Planet. The city is also home to the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) Coffee Centre, a ‘global hub for specialty coffee’, which aspires to place the UAE as the region’s foremost coffee trading location.

Japan’s % Arabica currently operates 13 stores in the UAE, while Germany’s The Barn Coffee Roasters opened its first international store in Dubai in October 2021 and the UK's EL&N launched in the city at the start of 2022.

Similarly, the success of domestic chains Slash Coffee, Shot Specialty Café and Joud Coffee emphasise growing demand and appreciation for specialty coffee.

Underlining the positive synergies between the international and domestic coffee shops, 62% of consumers surveyed by World Coffee Portal believe that western chains have positively influenced UAE coffee culture.

However, industry leaders caution that the market has become increasingly crowded and competitive and some are concerned that this may soon lead to saturation. The UAE market is projected to expand by just 3.9% over the next five years, one of the lowest rates for advanced markets in the region.

Nevertheless, hospitality brands that can differentiate themselves still stand to make gains in the UAE. Demonstrating the growth potential for new arrivals, Danish coffee and juice chain Joe & The Juice debuted in the UAE in September 2022, bringing its distinctive health-focused food and beverage menu to the Middle East.

French-Japanese inspired Café Kitsuné is similarly responding to strong consumer demand for sophisticated, boutique specialty café concepts and will launch in the UAE at the start of 2023.

Project Café Middle East 2023 is World Coffee Portal’s deep-dive study into the 20 best performing branded coffee shop markets in the region.

The report features market sizing and growth forecast, Covid-19 impact analysis, industry insight and a consumer study of more than 2,000 coffee shop visitors across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

To purchase the report or to make an enquiry, please contact: enquiries@worldcoffeeportal.com | +44(0)20 7691 8800

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