Monday, May 11, 2009

Origin Oman Cooks 150 Kilometre Meal

The demand for local food is on the increase. According to Origin Oman market research 68% of consumers want to buy local and 49% want to buy more local produce than they do at the moment.

“Given this demand, more local produce is going to show up on local supermarket shelves and that’s great news for farmers and consumers,” says Origin Oman’s Bader Al Zadjali.

According to Al Zadjali: “Local produce like, pomegranate, sea salt and goat sausage start out as exotic or niche offerings and then move into the mainstream based on consumer demand for variety, premium products and healthy foods.”

Organizer of Origin Oman’s 150 Kilometre Meal scheduled to be held at Knowledge Oasis Muscat on May 26, Al Zadjali and his colleagues have been studying the evolution of food popularity. "Stage one is something we see in fine dining or ethnic food," he says, adding that stage two is specialty-food-oriented retail and media channels, like the gourmet magazines we pick up in local supermarkets. Stage three finds the item in mainstream local restaurants and retail stores targeting recreational cooks and food lovers. Stage four finds such products getting general market coverage in family and women's magazines. Finally, by stage five the product would be showing up in supermarkets or on fast-food menus either as a stand-alone product, flavouring or functional food.

The key reasons driving the demand for local produce seem to be that consumers want to know more about how their food has been produced. They also care about food safety, traceability, provenance and animal welfare. “Oman-based shoppers also want freshness and to have a sense of food tasting like it should or used to do. In fact, if people made the effort even 20 per cent to eat local, it would have a huge impact on the environment, the local economy and their communities,” says Al Zadjali.

“With a season-less global marketplace at our command, it’s become easy to buy South American asparagus to go with this evening’s chicken roast” says Sami Al Asmi of the Oman Brand Management Unit. “But eating local isn't just about health,” adds Al Asmi: “The more time you spend eating really good food, your taste buds acclimatize. I recently had the greatest fillet of hamour at a local fish restaurant. It was unbelievably delicious. And it hadn’t sat on the back of a truck for three weeks, frozen.”

Al Zadjali agrees: “I always like to use the honey analogy when I talk about the taste of local food,” he says. “The bees visit the local flora. We smell the air and our senses and our taste buds are attuned, so when we buy local honey, it tastes better because we’re smelling and tasting something familiar. It's also good for allergies for the same reason.”

Al Zadjali and his Origin Oman colleagues are upbeat about the 150 Kilometre Meal initiative and the importance of sourcing produce locally. “We ran the same event last year and were overwhelmed by the response, it really captured the public’s imagination and helped us getting people to think local. It really focused their attention. I’m sure this year’s event will have the same result.”

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