Saudi French fry factory gets green light

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Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Company’s board of directors this week approved a SR70 million ($18.67 million) project to build a French fries factory in the Kingdom.

In a statement to Tadawul, the company said that the project would be self-financed and construction is expected to start in Q1 2021 and end by Q1 2023.

From major international chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza, to local chains including Jan Burger, Hamburgini, and Let’s Pizza, Saudi Arabia is not short of fast-food options.

According to ReportLinker, the Saudi food service market was projected to grow from an estimated $11.6 billion in 2019 to $13.7 billion by 2025. This prediction is based on increasing urbanization, rapid expansion in delivery services, an increasing number of young adults and working population, and rising levels of disposable income. Research and Markets, meanwhile predicted that the Saudi fast-food industry was projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.9 percent between 2017-2023.

However, both reports mentioned growing health concerns regarding obesity and diabetes as major threats to the market; encouraging companies to offer a wider range of healthy foods in their portfolio.

In 2019, a health official announced that more than 40 percent of Saudis were obese, and that nearly 19 percent of Saudi adults were diabetic. Two major nationwide campaigns were launched to raise awareness of the dangers posed by obesity.

Diabetes and endocrinology consultant and chairman of the Saudi Society for Diabetes Abdulrahman Al-Sheikh told Arab News in 2019 that the Kingdom’s high obesity and diabetes rates were caused by unhealthy eating habits and low levels of physical exercise.

“When we add overweight cases to this ratio, the number hits 70 percent. With lifestyles improving, heart diseases, mainly caused by high blood pressure and diabetes, have become one of the main causes of death, in addition to smoking and cholesterol,” he said.

Local brands including Boga Superfoods, Greens, and Yogi have been created to combat the country’s love of fast food and unhealthy options. Offering salads, light sandwiches, and lower-calorie options, they hope to tempt Saudis into switching up their routines and trying out healthier options while maintaining the “fast” part of fast food.

The rising popularity of vegan diets in the Kingdom also plays a role in popularizing these restaurants, as Saudis move towards healthier diets and lifestyles, eschewing fast-food restaurants in the hopes of avoiding cross-contamination with animal products and opting for cleaner, safer options.

However, with the economic impact of COVID-19, greasy burgers and fries remain an attractive and cheap option for many, making it unlikely that fast food will fade away entirely, leaving the French fry factory ample space to get in the game.