Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World

Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World

  • Basmati rice is grown in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and is considered the most preferred variety of rice consumed in nearly all parts of the Arab world.
  • Due to the phenomenal growth in sales the Indian basmati market has moved from being just a commodity to being a branded commodity.
  • Indian basmati continues to enjoy a robust growth in the Arab markets, especially in the traditionally non-basmati markets like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq etc. This trend is likely to continue in the next few years and thereby offers tremendous opportunities for the rice traders in the region.

Rice has been a staple grain in Arab cuisine for ages. This is true not only for the Gulf Arab states, but also for the Levant (also known as the Eastern Mediterranean) and other Arab markets. The region has fulfilled its needs for rice largely from the Indo-Pak region, Egypt, and Thailand. Each of these rice growing regions provides rice of different varieties with varying properties and is thus used for different dishes. But the most popular variety of rice consumed is the basmati from India/Pakistan because of its distinct properties.

Some of the common properties of Indian basmati rice are:
  • Non-sticky, fluffy, remains separate after cooking
  • Elongates almost double on cooking
  • High volume expansion
  • Possesses the natural fragrance (aroma) characteristic of basmati
  • Easily digestible
Basmati rice is grown in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and is considered the most preferred variety of rice consumed in nearly all parts of the Arab world. It is used for making a number of dishes that are an integral part of Arab cuisine. Also a large number of the spices used in Arab cuisine are also those emphasized in Indian cuisine. This is a result of heavy trading and historical ties between the two regions, and also because many South Asian expats live in the Gulf Arab states.
Some of the common rice dishes in the Arab world are Mandy, Bukhary, Kawazy, Zurbian, Chicken Biryani, Mutton Biryani, Fish Biryani, Vegetable Biryani, Pulao Biryani, and plain rice both white and Sella (parboiled). Although Indian basmati rice has been the hot favorite of the Arabs of the Gulf Region, over the last few years we are seeing a phenomenal rise in the consumption of it in the Levant countries. The below chart elucidates this trend in the region.
Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World1
Growth of the Indian Basmati Rice Market in the Arab World2
Source: DGCIS Annual Export/APEDA
One of the reasons for this changing trend is the return of a number of native people who have been living in the Gulf back to their home countries, these people have developed a taste for dishes like Biryani—for which basmati is the most suitable rice.
The consumption of Indian basmati is also growing in the traditional basmati markets of the Gulf and Iran. This trend is likely to progress with the passage of time as people in the Arab world are likely to continue to patronize the Indian basmati rice and consumption continues to grow.
Due to the phenomenal growth in sales the Indian basmati market has moved from being just a commodity to being a branded commodity. There has been the emergence of a plethora of brands in this category across the Arab world. Tilda was the first mover in this direction immediately after the first gulf war in 1991. It has been the dominant player since then despite the entry of other brands like India Gate, Dawat, Kohinoor, Himalyan Crown, Indian Star, Dunar, Radikal, and Raindrop to name a few.
The entry of these new brands has also fragmented the Indian basmati rice market with most players bringing in more than one variety of Indian basmati. While Tilda was selling only the traditional Indian basmati, India Gate came into the market with a new variant called 1121 Indian basmati. While the former offered aroma as the key product attribute, which is most suitable for plain steamed rice and green peas pulao, the latter offered elongation post cooking (2.2 times the raw grain size) as the USP (unique selling point)—which is very suitable for all types of Biryanis.
The other brands like Dawat, Kohinoor, Dunar, etc. came in offering multiple variants of Indian basmati, which can be differentiated by the different packaging colors. Indian basmati is also sold in different forms with each country having its own market dynamic. While the lower gulf markets like the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait are raw rice markets, the other markets like KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, etc. are parboiled rice (also called Sella rice) markets. Parboiling is obtained by steam boiling the rice paddy before processing. This makes the cooking of various dishes like Mandi, Khabsah, etc. much easier.
Indian basmati continues to enjoy a robust growth in the Arab markets, especially in the traditionally non-basmati markets like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq etc. This trend is likely to continue in the next few years and thereby offers tremendous opportunities for the rice traders in the region.

The article is written by Subbooh Moid for Arab Business Review

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