How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

In such a meat-heavy culture, it is difficult to imagine Saudis embracing more plant-based alternatives. But as the world edges closer to global warming, companies around the world, such as Saudi-based Ayla’s Choice, have to think beyond imagination. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2024

How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

  • New farming technologies that use less water and produce less CO2 are gaining traction in Saudi Arabia
  • The government has inked deals with several private agri-tech firms to develop meat and dairy substitutes

RIYADH: Just a few short years ago, visitors to Saudi Arabia could never have imagined feasting on a plate of vegan tuna nigiri or a meatless shawarma. Thanks to new investments in agritech, these plant-based alternatives are now firmly on the menu.

With the movement towards meatless eating gaining momentum in response to mounting environmental and health concerns, the Kingdom’s public and private sectors are working together with a view to produce food more sustainably. 

“Taking actions towards plant-based products is essential for promoting environmental sustainability,” Faisal Al-Sughayer, co-founder and general manager of Saudi plant-based brand Ayla’s Choice, told Arab News.

Faisal Alsughayer, co-founder and general manager of Ayla’s Choice, Faisal Alsughayer, says the company’s goal is to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. (Supplied)

“Conserving resources, enhancing human health, ensuring food security, and even economic opportunities as well — and also building climate resilience. This is what we’re trying to do with farming. 

“By making conscious choices to incorporate more plant-based options into our diets and lifestyles, we can contribute to a positive change and create a healthier, more sustainable society.”

Since the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative in March 2021, the Kingdom has witnessed significant changes owing to its commitment to enhance food security, the promotion of sustainable agriculture, and adaptation to evolving food trends.

Mindful of vulnerabilities in the global supply chain, the Kingdom’s investment in food industry innovation and diversification is also designed to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency in meeting the dietary needs of the population.

Last year, one of Saudi’s most anticipated giga-projects, NEOM, announced its collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to form a horticulture oasis just outside the urban city.  (Supplied)

This is being driven in part by government initiatives, new technological advances, and shifts in consumer preferences.

About a year ago, the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture signed deals with the Cooperative Societies Council, Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agricultural Marketing Co., and Ayla’s Choice to develop plant-based foods. 

With these agreements, the ministry aims to promote a culture of healthy eating, provide locally made, high-quality vegan and vegetarian alternatives, and to utilize advanced technologies for producing meat and dairy substitutes.

These deals will also help modernize farming and marketing systems, promote food security, enhance environmental sustainability, and contribute to the overall development of the Kingdom’s agricultural sector.

Ayla’s Choice is passionate about creating sustainable local plant-based products. (Supplied)

According to Al-Sughayer, Ayla’s Choice was the first company in Saudi Arabia to obtain a license from MEWA to produce plant-based products, paving the way for more licenses and investment opportunities.

The company’s goal is not to promote a completely meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. 

At one of its recent workshops in collaboration with MEWA, the company showcased innovative products, including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri.

At one of their recent workshops in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Ayla’s Choice showcased innovative bites including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri. (Supplied)

“We’re eager to explore opportunities for collaboration for sustainability planning initiatives, including setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by conserving water resources, preserving biodiversity, and participating in government led working groups or task forces focused on sustainable food systems,” said Al-Sughayer.

In doing so, the firm aims “to provide expertise and input from our sites from the plant-based sector, and from the agricultural sector to enhance food security in Saudi,” he added.

As of now, collaborations are in the works with MEWA, the Ministry of Economy and Planning, and individual companies to embark on joint ventures that will ensure the availability of the highest-quality meat- and dairy-free foods. 


• At the tail end of 2023, Vertical Farms Co. broke ground on Saudi Arabia’s largest indoor vertical farming project to date. It is set to begin operations in the second half of 2024.

• Companies like iFarm are pushing towards simplifying the process of mass sustainable commercial vegetable growing applications locally.

• With 3.2 million square meters, a large-scale farm in Asir’s Wadi bin Hashba holds the world record for the world’s largest sustainable farm.

Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agri Marketing Co. — also known as Al-Rasheed Greenhouses — is one of the largest farming and horticulture companies in the Gulf Cooperation Council area, with more than 40 years’ experience in the sector.

The firm operates in nine locations, managing more than 90 hectares of greenhouses and an additional 27 hectares of new expansions in high-tech greenhouses throughout the Kingdom. It is the biggest supplier of fresh produce to Saudi Arabia’s main retailers

“The company has full control on the whole supply chain of the fresh produce, starting from designing the right greenhouse specification for the right region to grow in the Kingdom, to delivering the fresh produce on the shelves for consumers,” Abdullah Al-Rasheed, the firm’s senior project manager, told Arab News

The sustainable farm in the Asir region, recently recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world, uses treated water to irrigate crops planted across a 3.2 million square meter area. (Supplied)

“So logistic crop consultations, production management, is all handled under our company.”

Al-Rasheed Greenhouses recently signed a deal to cultivate and supply plant-based ingredients to Ayla’s Choice for use in its products, such as lion’s mane mushrooms, which are a meat-free alternative to steaks.

Al-Sughayer hopes the partnership will encourage local farmers in Saudi Arabia to consider tailoring their choice of crops to meet the growing demand of the plant-based foods industry, generating a better return on their produce and reducing waste in the process.

“This can have significant benefits for both the farmers and food security in Saudi,” he said. “Our aim is to diversify food sources by working with local farmers to develop plant-based products from the overabundance of local produce.”


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Saudi Arabia’s food sector has made great strides in sustainability. Last year, one of the Kingdom’s most highly-anticipated gigaprojects, the NEOM smart city, announced a new collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to build a self-sustaining horticultural oasis.

Using revolutionary technologies, the partnership with Van Der Hoeven will allow the region’s desert landscape, scorched by high temperatures and parched by low rainfall, to flourish with locally grown produce.

SweGreen, a Stockholm-based agritech company and vertical farming venture, is another potential partner. 

Using soilless farming technology and monitoring systems managed by artificial intelligence, the company has enabled local supermarkets to grow crops in the middle of the store with absolute control over the quality and growing process.

SweGreen has made headlines internationally with its world-leading in-store farm solutions and its AI-based steering and digital monitoring system. (Supplied)

“SweGreen has set four global industry records for efficiency and sustainability in agriculture,” Scott A. Ellis, the firm’s consultant liaison, told Arab News.

“The first one is a world record for lowest CO2 emissions. This is measured per kilogram of lettuce produced,” measured against the environmental impact of transporting food across the planet and its concurrent waste.

“Of course, this reduces the carbon footprint and also contributes to a more sustainable planet,” Ellis added.

The technology has also achieved the lowest rate of energy consumption and the highest production efficiency. More importantly for Saudi Arabia, however, is that the technology scored highest for water conservation, requiring just 1.3 liters per kilogram of greens.


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“Production occurs 24 hours a day, all year round, regardless of the weather outside,” said Ellis. 

“So, in summary, the greens with the highest nutritional content and maximum integrity and taste, have the lowest need for resources, including the big ones like water, energy and space, and leave the softest climate footprint.”

The revolutionary farm-to-fork system has been installed at 32 sites worldwide with plans for many more.

The plant-based company’s goal is not to promote a meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather provide healthier alternatives to the general population. (Supplied)

Ellis believes the technology will benefit local farmers by promoting local collaborations and will encourage consumers to purchase healthier foods, resulting in a healthier population overall.

“SweGreen is very supportive of working in a flexible way with Saudi Arabia to meet the needs and goals of Vision 2030,” he said.

For Al-Sughayer and others in the Saudi business community, partnerships with firms like SweGreen are a productive and mutually beneficial way to promote good health and environmental sustainability. 

“By leveraging international expertise, we can easily address the challenge of produce when addressing sustainability goals and promoting food security in Saudi,” he said.


Minister tours media offices at the holy sites

Saudi Minister of Media Salman bin Youssef Al-Dossary inspects media offices at the holy sites. (@SalmanAldosary)
Updated 15 sec ago

Minister tours media offices at the holy sites

  • Al-Dossary visited the media centre in Arafat, which has all necessary equipment to facilitate the work of local journalists and their international partners
  • He also toured the ministry’s office in Mina to inspect the facilities there

RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Media Salman bin Youssef Al-Dossary has inspected media offices at the holy sites where he was briefed on the techniques used by the Saudi Broadcasting Authority in covering the Hajj rituals in Arafat.

He also visited the Arafat Tower and was briefed on the authority’s mobile television studio.

Al-Dossary visited the media centre in Arafat, which has all necessary equipment to facilitate the work of local journalists and their international partners.

He also toured the ministry’s office in Mina to inspect the facilities there.

Al-Dossary underscored the significant role media professionals have played in promoting the Kingdom’s efforts to serve pilgrims. He also highlighted the keenness of the Saudi leadership to facilitate pilgrims in performing their Hajj rituals with ease.

The Saudi Broadcasting Authority has approximately 100 mobile cameras, and 100 correspondents and broadcasters.

It has also established an operation room to support logistics services and prepare over 700 news items in 12 languages.

The production teams consist of individuals specialized in news editing and field coverage. 

ZADK Culinary Academy founder discusses its success 

So far, 371 chefs have graduated from ZADK, earning a diploma in the field of culinary arts or other related fields. (Supplied)
Updated 14 June 2024

ZADK Culinary Academy founder discusses its success 

  • Aside from its culinary aims, the academy also runs several social-development initiatives
  • The academy was established in June 2018 and officially opened in December 2019 in the Eastern Province

ALKHOBAR: Since the non-profit ZADK Culinary Academy officially opened its doors in 2019, it has cooked up some hearty dishes and continues to break records, do good, and train the region’s future culinary masters.
“ZADK won the Quality Award in Education and Training from the Ministry of Tourism, and has gained the trust of the Human Resources Development Fund, which supported the delivery of diploma courses for 100 male and female chefs and helped 240 others train for a qualifying certificate in the mini cooking program,” Rania Moualla, the academy’s founder, told Arab News.

Rania Moualla, the founder of the non-profit ZADK Culinary Academy. (Supplied)

In 2023, a culinary scholarship program was created in cooperation with the HRDF. Each student went straight into work after completing the program.
“The aim is to train Saudi nationals to be qualified chefs in accordance with international standards. This contributes to supporting the labor market and preserves the cultural heritage of Saudi cuisine, while helping achieve Vision 2030’s goals of supporting and empowering youth,” Moualla said.
So far, 371 chefs have graduated from ZADK, earning a diploma in the field of culinary arts or other related fields.
“A large number of them have joined the labor market, working in international hotels, restaurants and the corporate food sector,” Moualla said.
The academy was established in June 2018 and officially opened in December 2019 in the Eastern Province. Prince Saud bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, governor of the Eastern Province, was one of the academy’s earliest, and fiercest, supporters.
“He was the first to believe in the idea and support it when he cut the ribbon and adopted the ZADK logo, which is a camel carrying food,” Moualla said.
ZADK’s aim is to “prepare young talent to contribute to Vision 2030, supporting advancement at the economic and social levels; preserving Saudi food culture and showcasing it to the world,” she added.
The academy, she continued, also “aspires to be a platform for social change regarding food waste, healthy eating, sustainability and culture.”
Aside from its culinary aims, the academy also runs several social-development initiatives. Its students have put in numerous hours volunteering and have even earned a Guinness World Record, creating a Saudi flag made of cupcakes to mark the 91st Saudi National Day.
The academy also sources its ingredients locally, to help promote local farmers and to ensure access to healthy food, in addition to applying a zero-waste principle.
The academy has earned International Organization for Standardization certification for quality management in work and food safety, and this year the academy qualified for accreditation from the National Center for Education and Training Evaluation.
“In terms of building competencies, following the example of our Swiss partner (the Culinary Arts Academy) — which is ranked among the seven best institutes in the world — we have invested in an advanced information system to enhance administrative efficiency and create a dynamic, stimulating educational community. We will begin working on it in the coming days,” Moualla said.
Classes have already started for the 10th batch of students, who will be joined in August by the 11th batch — which includes 56 students enrolled in a higher diploma through a scholarship from NEOM.
The international diploma for chefs includes practical training, workshops, an orientation program, and field visits. Another 24 chefs graduated from the Sultanate of Oman as part of the Hospitable program, organized by the Ministry of Labor, the Oman Tourism College, and the Omran Group in cooperation with the academy.
“The graduates are building a foundation for a bright tomorrow, transforming their passion into a profession and their dreams into reality. They also revive the history of our fathers and grandfathers, and our cultural heritage, through cooking,” Moualla concluded. 

Saudi authorities detain 18 suspects over violating Hajj rules

Updated 14 June 2024

Saudi authorities detain 18 suspects over violating Hajj rules

  • The suspects, a GCC national, an expatriate and 16 Saudi citizens, were detained on Thursday
  • Offenders will be detained for 15 days each and fined SR10,000 against each person transported

MINA: The Interior Ministry announced on Friday that the Hajj Security Forces apprehended 18 suspects at Makkah’s entrances for violating Hajj rules and regulations by transporting 91 persons without Hajj permits.
The Saudi Press Agency reported that the suspects, a GCC national, an expatriate and 16 Saudi citizens, were detained on Thursday.
The General Directorate of Passports’ seasonal administrative committees issued against the offenders 18 administrative decisions, including a prison sentence for a period of 15 days for each transporter, and a fine of SR10,000 ($2,666).
Fines are multiplied against transporters according to the total number of persons (without Hajj permits) transported.
Meanwhile, expatriate offenders will be deported after serving their punishments and will be prevented from entering the Kingdom for the periods specified by the pertinent laws.
The offenders will be named and shamed, and the authorities have also impounded the two vehicles used in transportation.
The Interior Ministry called on citizens and expatriates to abide by Hajj rules and regulations so that pilgrims could enjoy safety, security and comfort while performing their rituals.

Saudi Ministry of Defense has air ambulance on standby for pilgrims

Updated 14 June 2024

Saudi Ministry of Defense has air ambulance on standby for pilgrims

  • First emergency case transported to King Abdullah Medical City

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense is ready to provide safety and security services, including the air ambulance, as pilgrims gather at the tent city of Mina.

The Kingdom has launched the air ambulance service to enhance healthcare for pilgrims undertaking Hajj this season.

The first emergency case had already been transported, the ministry said on Friday.

The Saudi Red Crescent Authority’s ambulance teams rescued the pilgrim, an African man in his 60s who was suffering from chest pains, from the Grand Mosque area following a report to its command room.

Medical personnel examined the patient and carried out an ECG before flying him from the landing pad at the Makkah Clock Tower to King Abdullah Medical City.

The Ministry of Defense health services will continue to provide air ambulance services throughout this year’s Hajj in cooperation with the SRCA and the Presidency of State Security, represented by the Security Aviation.

Assistant commander of the mission, Brigadier General Dr. Bandar bin Muhammad Al-Jaeed, told the Saudi Press Agency that this year, vertical and jet air medical evacuation aircraft belonging to the Armed Forces Medical Services would be ready around the clock to respond to emergency situations and transport those who required further treatment to hospital.

The aircraft are equipped with the latest equipment to ensure the best care for pilgrims who need it, including an oxygen machine that can operate on board for up to four hours.

The goal is to support the efforts of the security services and government agencies to provide all necessary facilities to serve pilgrims and achieve the Saudi leadership’s directives and aspirations to enable pilgrims to perform their Hajj rituals with ease, security and safety.

Muslims start Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

Updated 14 June 2024

Muslims start Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah

  • 1,000 families of Palestinians killed or wounded in Gaza war also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of Saudi King Salman
  • This year’s Hajj saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Makkah on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade

JEDDAH: In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in Makkah converged on a vast tent camp in the desert on Friday, officially opening the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahead of their trip, they circled the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.
More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Makkah for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined.  
Saudi authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.
This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian militants, which pushed the Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.
Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Makkah for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.
“We pray for the Muslims, for our country and people, for all the Muslim world, especially for the Palestinian people,” Mohammed Rafeeq, an Indian pilgrim, said as he headed to the tent camp in Mina.

Pilgrims started Hajj by praying Fajr in the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)

Palestinian authorities said 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank arrived in Makkah for Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in the war in Gaza also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The 1,000 invitees were already outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before the closure of the Rafah crossing.
“We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction,” said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman in Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform Hajj this year but was unable to. “They (Israel) deprived us from everything.”
This year's Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Makkah on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey in their trip to Makkah for Hajj.
“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus this year for Hajj.

Pilgrims started Hajj by praying Fajr in the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA)

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.
It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God, while uniting the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims.  
For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey that they make in their lives. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey in their 50s and 60s after raising their children.
The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.
Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress in conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves and forgo makeup and perfume. They have been making the ritual circuit around the Kaaba in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Makkah over recent days.
Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Makkah, with checkpoints set up on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.
Security authorities arrested many people who attempted to take pilgrims to Makkah who didn’t have Hajj permits, said Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bassami, head of the Hajj Security Committee. Most were expelled from the country, while travel agents faced jail for up to six months, according to the Interior Ministry.

Pilgrims head to Mina to spend the first day of Hajj. (SPA)

Many pilgrims whose documentations were not complete paid fines to be allowed into Makkah.  
On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina, officially opening the Hajj. They then will move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot, others use a bus or train.
The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.
Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius. The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 Celsius.

Pilgrims head to Mina to spend the first day of Hajj. (SPA)

Many pilgrims carried umbrellas to use under the burning sun, and in Mina charities distributed cold water and cooling stations sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down. The faithful set up in their tents, resting in the rows of cubicles and praying together to prepare for the coming rituals.
After Saturday’s warship in Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.
Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to poor people. Afterward, they return to Makkah for a final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.
In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has returned to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2023, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed Hajj, approaching the level in 2019, when more than 2.4 million participated.