The UK Retail Mission to Dubai

Exemplas Trade Services (ETSL), in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Newable, led a Retail & Consumer mission to Dubai to give UK companies valuable insight into all aspects of the UAE’s retail landscape.

Dubai is now recognised as the commercial capital of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Conveniently located in the centre of the world, two-thirds of the world’s population now has access to a direct flight to the city. Due to its proximity to both the sea and airports, Dubai is a very desirable place for international trade, this presents great prospects for UK exporters.

Many of the world’s major brands have a presence in Dubai, as it’s seen as a launch pad for global expansion. In fact, Dubai is ranked first in terms of overall worldwide retailer presence, with over 62 percent of the world’s brands being represented there.  Furthermore, the UAE was ranked among the top ten in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom 2018, due to continued progress toward broad-based economic growth, relatively low taxes, and other factors.

As one of the most diversified economies of the GCC, Dubai relies heavily on tourism and travel retail.

Recognising the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an important trading partner of the UK and the increasing opportunities for luxury, high-quality consumer goods in Dubai, Exemplas Trade Services (ETSL), in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Newable, led a Retail & Consumer mission to the city to give UK companies valuable insight into all aspects of the UAE’s retail landscape.

The mission leveraged the combined expertise, knowledge and networks of ETSL, DIT and Newable, providing an opportunity for some of the UK’s very best Fashion, Food, Homeware, Beauty, Electronics and Gifting brands to be part of a jam-packed, week-long programme of tailored activities.

The 20-strong delegation featured water purification pioneers nkd Life, sustainable and ethically sourced beauty product supplier Naturally Tribal Skincare, luxury outdoor furniture company Emelda Grace, premium chocolate bar manufacturer Firetree and plastic-free children’s tableware brand ecorascals. Other participating companies included The Cambridge Satchel Co,, boompods, NUHR Home, Vintage Playing Cards, Cambridge Mask Co, Matalan, Rapport London, Tiptree, Duco Life, ocushield, Plum & Ashby, Petit Pli, Louche and Organic Apoteke.


The Retail Summit – a convergence of industry disruptors and global retail leaders

The UK Retail Mission programme was underpinned by Dubai’s content-led conference The Retail Summit. Taking place at the world-recognised Atlantis Hotel on the Palm, the 2-day event offered the delegation a chance to learn, connect and debate with inspirational leaders within the retail landscape such as James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose, David Boynton, CEO of The Bodyshop and Thierry Andretta, CEO of Mulberry.

Following the 2020 pandemic, which transformed customer behaviour and highlighted the critical need for additional transformation throughout the sector, the retail industry is presently in a recovery period. People are becoming more open to the influence of digital revolution for everyday activities, as well as the quest for more sustainable options.

By collaborating with The Retail Summit, our UK mission package offered companies the opportunity to exhibit their products in the conference’s marketplace, a specially designed area for our UK delegation, which attracted high footfall. With in-person interactions at a premium for the last 3 years, from open to close the marketplace was buzzing with a constant flow of c-suite executives that were resulting in new introductions, connections and conversations. Many of the delegation packed down their stands with a pocketful of key business contacts from the Middle East and optimism of future export deals in the region.

“The Summit was incredible and the support from the DIT team was absolutely phenomenal”

Shalom Lloyd – Naturally Tribal Skincare Ltd – South East

120+ high quality meetings at our Meet the Buyer event

The mission also featured a Meet the Buyer event that gave our UK companies an exclusive opportunity to meet face-to-face with buyers interested in expanding their retail and consumer portfolios and establishing international business relationships.

To maximise the learning opportunity for our delegation, we invited six experts to kick off the day with presentations covering important topics for companies looking to enter the UAE (or wider  Middle East and North Africa) market. This included everything from how to structure your business in the UAE and understanding product standards and certifications, to insights and case studies on marketing to a local Middle Eastern audience and working with influencers to build brand awareness in the market. The sessions, delivered by Virtuzone, SGS, Olew, Crowd, Tish Tash, and Integrated Procurement delivered a wealth of insights and practical and local market knowledge, while at the same time enabling the delegation to start building a network of potential partners and service providers who could assist them with the various challenges of setting up in the region.

By understanding the needs of each UK companies’ criteria, we were able to expertly match 20 buyers with our UK seller delegation, facilitating over 120 high-quality 1-2-1 meetings throughout the day. Many high-profile buyers and marketplace platforms from the United Arab Emirates were in attendance including Spinneys & Waitrose,, Beauty Solutions, 6skinsuae,, Si Fashion, Homeax Group, Harvey & Brockless and Carrefour. Buyer introduction events are often critical to UK businesses finding new overseas relationships, and we are already delighted to attribute one business contract as a result of these initiatives, with other orders expected in the near future.

“Great length to the meetings and brilliant buyers. The flexibility and timings for the event worked really well and allowed me to meet as many buyers as possible.”

Freya Nicholson – Plum & Ashby – London

The Emirati way of life

The UK mission concluded with a study tour, curated to provide the delegation with cultural knowledge of Emirati consumer culture, insight into local market trends and information on e-commerce and free port opportunities.

The tour visited 2 free port zones, Commercity and Dubai Global Connect, which were both areas developed by the government to encourage economic activity, due to the little / no tax within these zones. The delegation had the opportunity to ask specific questions relating to their companies, to distinguish if working with a free port zone was a good strategic move for them.

A visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a tour of one of its busiest malls. With over 65 malls located across the city, many Emiratis escape the high temperatures to meet friends and family in these locations. This has resulted in malls being designed to host other activities alongside shopping such as cinemas, VR game rooms, restaurants and in some instances ski slopes and aquariums. In fact, the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates are considered ‘retailainment’ par excellence. The delegation had a tour of The Mall of the Emirates led by Mall Director, Mr Hussain Moosa, which sees, on average, over 100,000 visitors each day. By visiting the mall it gave the UK delegation a chance to feel first-hand the experience of shopping in a bricks and mortar store and understand how different they can be to those in the UK.

The delegation also had the opportunity to visit the Dubai Design District (D3) a space where the world of design, art and fashion co-exist. The concept behind D3 was to create a community where all design enthusiasts could go to appreciate all of the newest trends and vibrant ambience behind this profitable sector. Dubai Design District provides a space for individuals to meet, discover, and celebrate all things creative and contemporary. It is also home to the biggest global, regional and local brands within the art, design and fashion industries.



The UK mission was brought to a close with a final reception at the UK pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020.




“All the DIT staff were fantastic. A willingness to help, a want to open doors and real sense of ‘someone in your corner’ when out there. The event has filled me with enthusiasm, energy and a new outlook on the global opportunity for my business. I’ve made tangible sales, done real deals and made some new friends and advocates in the process.”

Kieran Miles – Duco – East of England 

Throughout the mission, the delegates heard from subject matter experts on topics including how to structure their business in the UAE, marketing to the local audience, product regulations and business culture; they all gained first-hand experience of the environment, and interacted and connected with companies, distributors and buyers who helped them realise their business’ growth ambitions in the region.