How To Become A Wholesale Or Retail Trader in UAE’s Food Industry

May 31, 2024

In a multicultural region with a diverse population, it’s no surprise that the UAE’s food and grocery retail market is booming. In 2022, revenue reached $36.5 billion, demonstrating a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% between 2017 and 2022. 

From local delicacies to coveted international brands, tourists and locals alike have created a high demand for a variety of food products. Other trends in the food retail industry are the shift towards organic, healthy, and convenient food options, along with the e-commerce boom that the UAE has experienced in the last decade. 

Online shopping for groceries and food has become the norm. Companies like Deliveroo, Noon Food, and Eat Easy are now household names. In fact, the UAE food delivery market is expected to reach a whopping $3.36 billion by 2027. 

On the other end of the industry are the wholesale suppliers, who play a crucial role in keeping retail outlets such as grocery stores stocked across the UAE. Major players in the industry such as Jaleel Cash and Carry and Food Emporium cater to restaurants, supermarkets, and other retailers. 

While their reach may be widespread, UAE’s dynamic population means that there is great opportunity for new wholesalers, along with new retailers, to thrive in this booming market. 

For new players establishing themselves in the UAE, SPC Free Zone can demystify the red tape around the food industry and provide you with the right business licenses, bank accounts, and visas your new venture requires. 

Here are six popular business activities that wholesalers and retailers opt for in the UAE:

4791.05 – Foodstuff E-Trading

This encompasses the retail sale of food products through remote methods such as mail-order houses, the Internet, television, radio, and telephone. Consumers can choose food items based on advertisements, catalogues, websites, or other promotional materials and place their orders via mail, phone, or online platforms. The purchased food products can be either digitally downloaded (for items like recipes or meal plans) or physically delivered to the customer’s location. This classification also includes direct sales of food products via television, radio, and telephone, as well as Internet retail auctions for food items.

  • Third-party Approval: No third-party approvals are required for this business activity
  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4791.05 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4791.05 is exempt from this requirement

4630.00 – Wholesale of Food and Beverages

For entrepreneurs looking to enter the wholesale trading market, this is an incredibly popular business activity. Wholesalers act as a crucial bridge between food producers and retailers. As a wholesaler, an entrepreneur can also choose what type of wholesaler they want to be. 

Large industry players like Jaleel Cash and Carry own warehouses where retailers physically browse to select products. Meanwhile, wholesale distributors work directly with suppliers and deliver products to retailers. On the other hand, import/export wholesalers manage the import and export of food items, occasionally working directly with businesses that specialize in international cuisine or specific diet styles. 

On the fresh products front, here are the types of wholesale trade this activity encompasses: fruits and vegetables, dairy products, eggs and egg products, edible oils, animal and vegetable gats, meat and meat products, and fishery products. Bakery products, including sugar, chocolate, cocoa, and sugar confectionery, tobacco products, beverages, and—always in high demand—coffee, tea, and spices fall under this activity as well. It also includes food supplements and baby food.

These categories effectively cover a wide range of popular items that are commonly sold by most food retailers, making them popular purchase choices for wholesalers as well. 

Note: All the categories listed above require third-party approval from the Food Safety Department (Sharjah municipality), post obtaining your trade license.

Pet food is another category that has high demand in the UAE-and wholesale traders can use this license for pet food trading, as well. It’s important to note, however, that this particular activity requires third-party approval from the Food Safety Department (Sharjah municipality) prior to obtaining your trade license.

The list, however, doesn’t end there. The following types of trading can be secured through this business activity as well: supermarket, roastery, mineral water, natural pure water, rice, frozen foodstuff, aromatic herbs and plants, aquaculture from local production, dried meat, cereals and seeds, fresh foodstuff, organic food, honey and apiaries products, dates, olive and pickles, sweets, nuts, salt, dried food, dry ice, canned and preserved food, flavors and fragrances, wine bought in bulk, and snacks. Note: No third party approvals are required for these items.

With the exception of blending wine or other distilled spirits, this extensive list is your A-Z on wholesale trading, particularly useful for entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the trade.

  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4630.00 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4630.00 is exempt from this requirement

4711.00 – Retail sale in non-specialized stores with food, beverages or tobacco predominating

There are two food and beverage-related retail trading activities for you to choose from, depending on the type of store you envision. The first one is applicable for non-specialized stores. 

This refers to a type of store that sells, along with food, beverages, and alcohol, a large variety of other goods. These items can be goods such as clothing, furniture, appliances, and cosmetics. However, the point to note here is that within this store, food, beverages, or tobacco must be predominant; one or more of these categories must be the main item being sold. For example, in a large store that carries both groceries and cosmetics, the number of food items must significantly outweigh the cosmetics.

Note: Keep in mind that this license does not permit combining retail sale of fuel alongside food and beverages, particularly if the fuel sale exceeds the sale of food significantly. 

  • Third-party Approval: Third-party approvals from the Security Industry Regulatory Agency (SIRA) and the Food Safety Department (Sharjah Municipality) are required for this business activity, post obtaining your trade license.
  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4711.00 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4711.00 is exempt from this requirement

4720.00 – Retail sale of food and beverages in specialized stores

The second food and beverage-related retail trading activity you can choose for your business, applicable for specialized stores. This refers to a type of store that specifically only sells food, beverage, or tobacco products. Let’s go over the types of items you can freely sell under this license:

  • Fresh or preserved fruit and vegetables
  • Dairy products and eggs
  • Meat and meat products (including poultry)
  • Fish and other seafood products 
  • Bakery products, such as sugar confectionary
  • Beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic (not to be consumed at the store)
  • Tobacco products

With the exception of manufacturing bakery products and baking at the store, a variety of activities and other food products are comfortably cushioned within this list. With SPC Free Zone’s instant licensing, the complications behind opening a specialized retail store are significantly less.

  • Third-party Approval: Third-party approval from the Food Safety Department (Sharjah Municipality) is required for this business activity, post obtaining your trade license.
  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4720.00 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4720.00 is exempt from this requirement

4781.00 – Retail Sale Via Stalls and Markets of Food and Beverages

Not every entrepreneur kicks off with a large store at their fingertips. In the UAE, stalls and markets are an incredibly common sight, be it permanent fixtures or pop-ups. The bottom line is that food retailers can bring in high revenues by retailing at stalls and markets as well. 

Under this business activity, a retail trader can sell food items, beverages, and tobacco products as well. However, the sale of cooked/prepared food does not fall under this license – so business owners must be sure to stick to fresh items, meats, and other groceries. 

  • Third-party Approval: No third-party approvals are required for this business activity
  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4781.00 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4781.00 is exempt from this requirement

4610.03 – Such agents involved in the sale of food & beverages

The wholesale industry is a massive, ever-changing entity, so it’s important to keep track of the specific activities that enable you to operate in the space of food. Commission agents, other wholesalers who are involved in bringing sellers and buyers together, keeping the supply chain active, or those handling commercial transactions in this space, benefit greatly from this license. 

Amongst food, beverages, and tobacco, this activity gives you the opportunity to expand your product base. Here are some of these categories:

  • Agricultural raw materials and live animals
  • Textile raw materials and semi-finished goods
  • Fuels, ores, metals and industrial chemicals, including fertilizers
  • Textiles, clothing, fur, footwear and leather goods
  • Timber and building materials
  • Machinery, including office machinery and computers
  • Industrial equipment, ships and aircraft
  • Furniture, household goods and hardware

It’s important to note the specific activities that do not fall under this license: wholesale trade in own name, commissions and auctions for motor vehicles, retail sale by commission agents who are not tied to the store, and fulfilling the tasks of both insurance and real estate agents. 

  • Third-party Approval: Third-party approvals from the Sharjah Municipality and Supreme Council of Energy and Dubai Police are required for this business activity, post obtaining your trade license.
  • Filing of Economic Substance Return: Business activity 4610.03 is exempt from this requirement
  • Anti-Money Laundering Compliance: Business activity 4610.03 is exempt from this requirement

Did you find what you were looking for? Explore the other guides in our Activity Hub for exploring unique business ideas in Dubai and navigate the essentials of business setup with ease.

You can also calculate your business setup costs easily using our handy cost calculator and choose from our customized company setup packages to find your perfect fit.

Get your business license in the UAE today and explore a world of opportunities waiting for you.

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