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Sat 28 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Reaping the rewards

As international demand for halal products rises, Ben Watts examines the size and potential of a market that is attracting attention from operators around the world - in F&B and beyond.

Reaping the rewards
Al Ain Rotana executive chef Mauro Seu.
Reaping the rewards
Halal F&B products cover a broad selection.
Reaping the rewards
Orange Fairs and Events’ Nafees Ahmed.
Reaping the rewards
Stands at the last edition of the Halal Expo — Dubai.

As international demand for halal products rises, Ben Watts examines the size and potential of a market that is attracting attention from operators around the world - in F&B and beyond.

Today, with a rising number of Muslims living in countries outside the Islamic world, a growing number of Shariah-compliant hotels coming online and increased cultural understanding from non-Muslims, the market for halal foodstuffs is flourishing.

According to statistics from the organisers of the 3rd Halal Expo 2009 - Dubai, set to take place this November, the halal food market constitutes some 12% of the global trade in food products.

By 2025 this figure is forecasted to reach 20%, with Muslims expected to account for 30% of the world's population.

Today, many national trade missions are realising the great potential of halal products and are starting to capitalise on an industry that can no longer be ignored.

Jose Ma Dinsay, commercial attaché for the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre, UAE, revealed that the south Asian country was among those targeting the Middle East market.

"Given the food supply requirement and high per-capita income of the leading GCC nations, we have identified the tremendous opportunity in tapping into their burgeoning demand for halal products," explains Dinsay.

"In line with this we are taking significant efforts aimed at increasing our halal exports, including the establishment of a local body to certify products and ensure that they meet stringent Halal requirements."

Robert Earley, Pureland brand manager for Food Service Trading, regional distributors for the US foodstuff supplier Rastelli Foods, notes: "The marketing of halal products has improved over the past five years or so, as western manufacturers and producers strive to promote their brands in the Middle East.

"When sourcing halal products, it's vital to be able trace the product back to the facility where the animal was harvested in order to verify that the process was conducted in accordance with the halal process."

As a result, Earley explains that manufacturers and processing plants must be able to provide care-certified documentation.

"At Rastelli's, all the cattle for our Pureland Black Angus beef programme are harvested in accordance to the Zabiha, a process that requires the animals to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter," he explains. "A Muslim cleric pronounces the Tasmiah in person and uses a sharp knife to cut through the neck in a certain way, so the blood is drained thoroughly from the carcass before processing of the animal commences."

In case there is any doubt that the process has not been followed through with strict compliance, Earley suggests importers or distributors should visit their supplier's processing plants to "physically verify the Halal harvesting process".

Tradition and beliefs

In most states in the Middle East, the failure of a supplier, manufacturer or an F&B outlet to observe halal procedures can result in a fine, closure or even criminal proceedings.

Al Ain Rotana executive chef Mauro Seu comments: "Halal products are very important in our establishment, as is adhering to Muslim traditions and beliefs.

"Since the health authority is very strict on the import of food to the UAE, most of the products entering the country have a certificate stating the product is halal; it is therefore not exactly difficult to procure halal products here."

Because of the importance of halal compliance to Muslims - and also because of the growing Islamic presence in countries outside traditionally Muslim nations - it is becoming ever more commonplace for international suppliers to observe halal regulations. In the last few years, even McDonald's has trialled halal-compliant menus in the US and UK markets.

Food Service Trading's Earley agrees with the argument that all meat products should meet halal standards, not only providing a route into the profitable Middle East market but also increasingly holding appeal on the international scene.

"At Rastelli Foods, all our Pureland Black Angus cattle are harvested halal for both the US domestic market and the international markets we supply," Earley reveals.

"The demand for halal products is growing - but there is still room for further growth, as some manufacturers or producers only have a limited halal portfolio."

Nafees Ahmed, director of Orange Fairs and Events, the organisers of Halal Expo - Dubai, observes: "Halal is a very important concept in the Middle East.

"When companies have a halal certificate consumers have confidence; it also means the product is safe.

"Halal is not only about the slaughter, it is about the source and the whole chain - from the food given to an animal to the packaging, it all has to be halal-compliant."

The exhibition is entering its third year and remains one of only a handful of shows dedicated to the halal industry.

This year, the show is expecting 85 exhibitors from 34 countries - an increase from 52 exhibitors last year, demonstrating a sizable expansion despite the turbulent financial climate.

"Exhibitors from countries as diverse as Singapore, Korea, Italy and the Philippines demonstrate that halal is a worldwide business, going beyond the borders of the Muslim world," comments Ahmed.

The halal brand

Despite a plethora of national and regional halal-certification organisations, Orange Fairs and Events' Ahmed insists the procedure for achieving compliance is fairly straightforward.

Almost all certification organisations share a level of communication, he explains, preventing the rules from becoming too fragmented or confusing for importers, governments and buyers to understand.

Al Ain Rotana's Seu, however, notes that those purchasing a wide variety of imported foodstuffs can face problems.

"Most products have a clear label, which shows the authenticity of halal certification," says Seu. "Sometimes, however, we are forced to reject products without halal certification, which creates problems for a smooth operation."

Seu adds that if all suppliers and manufactures adhered to halal standards, these problems would not exist.

"It definitely would benefit business, especially since we adhere to the tradition of our Muslim guests - especially in this part of the world," he affirms.

Halal has no borders, according to Orange Fairs and Events' Ahmed.

"The practice stretches beyond the recognised market of meat products, with all aspects of F&B, cosmetics, hospitality, logistics and even insurance now offering halal services and products," notes Ahmed. "However 94% of our show will remain within the realm of F&B."

With such a variety of routes and avenues to explore, the halal industry appears to be an unstoppable force that will soon dominate markets outside the Middle East and Muslim world.

Some food firms outside the region are producing halal-certified products "just to strengthen their brands", according to Orange Fairs and Events' Ahmed.

"It is about brand development," he argues. "The Halal Expo will be a place to target your audience - for example Sharia-compliant hotels.

"The show will continue to grow because people use halal products as it is a sign of safety and comes with quality assurance - it is not just limited to Muslims; it is beyond that," he asserts.

Food Service Trading's Earley concludes: "We believe there is always room for expansion and we are always welcoming future business and long-term relationships with new clientele. This year, we have signed several new contracts to supply our customers with halal products - and we predict the demand for halal will continue."

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