Craig Morris , February 28, 2022

Diversifying Dreams and Opportunities in the UAE

Last week, I journeyed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend the first U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)-sponsored trade mission in over two years. It was a delight to be out traveling again as sometimes there just truly isn’t a substitute for in-person relationship building.

USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack joined the mission and spoke of the opportunities in the Middle East and the importance of diversifying our U.S. export market opportunities. As the Secretary said, “it’s easy to export to our neighbors [Mexico and Canada] and it’s enticing to export to China, but risky. The UAE opens up a world of opportunity, including in Africa where one half of our future population growth will come from.”

I was struck by how apt it was for the Secretary to speak so strongly about diversifying opportunities, especially in Dubai. As a trade mission group, we had the distinct honor of attending the Expo 2020. Expo 2020 is a World Expo, currently hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. Originally scheduled for 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We got to tour the U.S. pavilion, which included an actual piece of moonrock brought back by U.S. astronauts and was focused on future innovations in space, STEM and beyond. We also visited the awe-inspiring Saudi Arabian and the UAE pavilions. The UAE pavilion told the story of the creation of the country—from the discovery of oil in the middle of the desert to the building of the tallest manmade structure—the Burj Khalifa—in the world.

Dubai has, quite literally, sprouted from the desert and when you spend time there you can’t help but marvel at the rapid growth and seemingly endless opportunities. It was exponentially clear that the intent behind downtown Dubai was to turn it into a diversified economic hub for the region—to quite literally ensure that not all of the proverbial eggs of the UAE were in the oil basket alone.

Now, it is clear that Dubai is a destination—and that other countries in the region like Saudi Arabia—are attempting to capitalize on their notion of travel, luxury, and high-end tourism themselves. Dubai could be synonymous with diversification and we could all stand to take a page from that book.

If you really examine Wild Alaska Pollock, we are, unfortunately, far from diversified. Our products flow into too few major markets and fall into only several, albeit familiar, categories. Fortifying our future must mean innovative new products that capitalize on consumer trends and exploring opportunities abroad that may be “less traveled.”

I can safely say after my numerous meetings in Dubai that there is significant interest in the most sustainable, delicious, nutritious and versatile whitefish on the planet: Wild Alaska Pollock. Consumers in the Middle East are seeking more and more seafood and want that seafood to have a sustainable, sexy story, and we certainly fit that mandate and then some.

Now the key is to prioritize the opportunities and do our homework—something GAPP is working hard to do through our landmark international marketing study we’ve affectionately dubbed “Wild Alaska Pollock 2040.” We’ve partnered with renowned research firm McKinley Research to examine the various export markets—including the UAE—to help discern which are “hot” and which are “not.”

The results of this research will illuminate the path forward, and to use the desert metaphor in honor of Dubai, lead us to the most prevalent oasis(es).

As I stared up at the light show projected on the side of the Burj on my final night in Dubai, I couldn’t help but be awestruck, both at the technological prowess but more so at how a desert dream became a reality and then evolved into something different, something bigger.

Here's to those same dreams for Wild Alaska Pollock and to diversifying our opportunities for the future.

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