Online food demand has seen a "fantastic surge" during the Middle East coronavirus pandemic and the trend could continue, a UAE retail manager told CNBC this week.
Online orders from supermarket operator Carrefour increased 917% in Saudi Arabia from January to June this year, while the United Arab Emirates and Egypt jumped 257% and 747%, respectively, over the same period.
"Online has skyrocketed since the launch of Covid, even though we've grown earlier," said Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail giant Majid Al Futtaim. The company is the exclusive franchisee for Carrefour in the Middle East and Africa.
"There has been a fantastic surge in the region," he told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Tuesday.
This trend could continue beyond the pandemic, Bejjani said, citing a poll by the consulting firm McKinsey.
Survey results showed that the number of users in the UAE delivering food increased by 31%. 66% said they intend to continue using the service after the health crisis has ended. Similar statistics have been reported for Saudi Arabia, according to McKinsey.
A seller is waiting for customers at the Dubai Spice Souk on July 20, 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Francois Nel | Getty Images News | Getty Images
"We are seeing an average 200-220% increase in the number of online customers in the region, and this is extremely promising," said Bejjani.
Beyond the supermarkets, the recovery in the entire region was "better than expected". Since the beginning of June there has been a "steady return" of consumers and an improvement, although there are still fewer customers in shopping centers than a year ago. Buyers are now also "much more value-conscious".
Cinemas, hotels and the aviation industry are the slowest to recover, he said.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 18.1 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 691,738 people have died. The region was hit hardest by Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
When asked when activity could return to pre-pandemic levels, Bejjani said that this would likely only happen if a vaccine was available, possibly in the first half of 2021.
"When it comes to business impact, I think hopefully 2022 will be a year similar to 2019," he said.
He added that once we have overcome the pandemic or are learning to live with it, the "big problem" will be economic security and consumer confidence.
"Ultimately, this is a crisis of confidence," he said. "For people to come back and consume, they have to have trust. We have to have a consumer trust that is much better."