Zeina Foods: UK retailers warming to Middle Eastern cuisine

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pastry

UK retailers are starting to explore the potential of Middle Eastern foods in their ready meals aisles and snack fixtures, according to a leading supplier of Syrian-inspired snacks.

Family-owned Zeina Foods, which started importing Iranian pistachios in the 1980s and is now a leading supplier of nuts, seeds and dried fruit to the UK market, has recently started to diversify into other product areas such as stuffed dates and baklawa on the back of growing interest from UK retailers and caterers.

Baklawa (or baklava) is a sweet snack containing layers of pastry filled with chopped nuts and dried fruits and sweetened with syrup or honey, and is now sold in scores of ethnic food retailers, delis and farm shops in the UK, marketing director Hussein Mehdi told Foodmanufacture.co.uk.

“Our baklawa is not as sweet as the Greek variety – it’s more nutty. Pistachios are the main ingredient but we also use cashews and almonds. We’re developing platters of them for cash & carry chains and smaller boxes for the retail market. We’re also talking to the major multiples.”

Tesco stocks a 240g own-label baklava pack containing a selection of “Mediterranean filo pastries filled with cashew, pistachio and Brazil nuts, glazed with syrup”;​ Sainsbury’s stocks a branded baklawa section from London-based Dina Foods and Waitrose stocks individual baklava snacks at its patisserie counters.

Middle Eastern appetisers

Zeina, which has a manufacturing facility in west Yorkshire, is also exploring Middle Eastern appetisers such as vine leaves stuffed with rice, walnuts and herbs and makdoos (baby aubergines stuffed with walnuts, red peppers and cheeses), said Mehdi.

“Initially, we’re getting these produced by a contract manufacturer in glass jars in sunflower or olive oil, and if they take off, we’ll consider manufacturing them ourselves.”

It has also launched a double-concentrate, 28-30 brix, tomato purée using Iranian tomatoes, which are puréed as soon as they have ripened to provide a lighter coloured paste.

Market researcher RTS Resource predicts Middle Eastern cuisine will grow in popularity over the coming year, with increasing interest in Moroccan spices and spice blends such as Ras el hanout, sumac, juniper, smoked paprika and tobacco infusions and more ready meals inspired by Moroccan cuisine in particular.

‘Middle Eastern food’ is hard to define, with some observers referring to north African cuisine and others focusing on Iran, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, said Mehdi. “When it comes to snacks, the focus is nuts and seeds.”

Related topics: NPD, Ambient foods

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