The Growing Potential of Middle Eastern Food Startups

Venture capitalists around the world are beginning to pay more attention to startups working in the food sector. Last year, several billions of dollars were invested in food-based startups focused on everything from farming to food delivery service. In the Middle East, many entrepreneurs continue to focus on the tech industry or e-commerce, but some innovators have turned their attention toward the food industry, especially after seeing the success of international companies like Deliveroo.

skewersFounded in London, Deliveroo is a premium food delivery service that quickly expanded into several major European cities. Late last year, Deliveroo secured $100 million in Series D funding, a huge figure that turned many heads. With that funding, Deliveroo expanded into several new markets in Asia and the Middle East. The success of the company—including the investor interest it has generated and its ability to break into these difficult markets—has demonstrated the viability of food startups in the Middle East. While Deliveroo is a British startup, a number of food startups founded in the Middle East have made their own waves in the region. Here’s a look at some of the most promising of these growing companies.

  1. Catwalk Cow: Established in the UAE, Catwalk Cow makes a dairy-based dessert that does not have any artificial fat or sugar substitutes. Dedicated to providing a healthy dessert product, the company avoids all preservatives and other potentially harmful additives and focuses on offering a fresh, wholesome treat. Since its inception, the company has opened additional stores in Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait and is looking at expanding into new territories in the near future. Within 18 months of operation, the company expanded from 13 to 70 outlets. Eventually, Catwalk Cow may even take its product to the global marketplace, as no other product like it currently exists. With its surprising slogan “Bite me!” Catwalk Cow has the advantage of offering a memorable, one-of-a-kind product.
  1. Just Falafel: In operation for a decade, Just Falafel is one of the older companies on the list. The company was born out of collaboration between a group of Lebanese, Emirati, British, and French friends who wanted to create a healthy, vegetarian fast food restaurant that paid homage to a traditional Middle Eastern food. The first Just Falafel opened in the UAE, but the company has since expanded into nine new markets, including the United Kingdom and India. Continuing to grow, the company hopes to move into North America and has an ambitious plan for launching a new store each week.
  1. Batatee5: A truly unique concept for a restaurant, Batatee5 is focused entirely on offering new, creative ways to serve watermelon. At the restaurant, diners will find pizzas, smoothies, dips, kebabs, and more, all inspired by watermelon. The company’s founders, Mohammad Eideh and Mahmoud Al-Hamawi, have generated a large, global following and attend events around the world. Their energy and excitement about watermelon’s refreshing flavor and versatility is contagious.
  1. Comptoirs de Beyrouth: Founded in Tunisia, Comptoirs de Beyrouth has operated since 2011. A husband and wife couple realized that the city of Tunis lacked good Lebanese restaurants and decided to create their own eatery. The resulting business grew quickly by partnering with other organizations in the community and providing reliable, timely service. Shortly after opening its doors, Comptoirs de Beyrouth began plans to expand, and several offers have come in to bring their delicious food and simple, effective business model to other cities across North Africa and the Middle East.
  1. Nola Cupcakes: An Egypt-based company, Nola Cupcakes seeks to bring the cupcake craze to the Middle East. A family-run business, the bakery uses time-tested recipes to deliver home-baked taste with unique flavor combinations. Nola has an international focus and takes inspiration from Paris, Montreal, and New York. Already, the company has a global fan base that loves its innovative flavors, such as sweet potato. Some other fan favorites include the Nutella Twix and the tiramisu flavors.
  1. Switch: Deem Al-Bassam is the talented woman behind Switch. The young Saudi woman started her first company at the young age of 19 and now dedicates her time to creating a chic culinary experience in Dubai—Switch aims to make dining an experience rather than a necessity. Al-Bassam is looking into opening new outlets in the UAE and ultimately hopes to expand to other areas of the world. Switch serves modern takes on classics and strips dishes down to their most basic ingredients to deliver bold, distinctive flavors. Branded with the help of interior designer Karim Rashid, Switch occupies a distinct, upscale space in Dubai.
  1. SNAX: Since opening its doors in 2009, SNAX has expanded to nine locations in the greater Amman, Jordan, area. The company continues to grow in Jordan and hopes to break into other Middle Eastern markets as well. SNAX is built on the minimart model popular in North America and some European cities—people stop in at SNAX for quick, on-the-go foods, along with other basic necessities. The company focuses on fresh foods served in a clean environment and is the first of its kind in Jordan. With outlets that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, SNAX has become a trusted brand that has the potential to take other markets in the Middle East by storm.