The Halal industry is a rapidly expanding business now reaching 1.8 billion consumers worldwide and worth an estimated US $2.1 trillion. Sarah Campbell takes a look at what this rapid growth could mean for food suppliers in the Middle East and how the region's chefs can adapt to Halal food prep requirements.
Within the Middle East, the Halal industry is estimated to be worth more than US $20 billion, according to industry reports.
In the UAE, 80% of imported food is Halal, with products coming from countries such as Brazil and Australia, the latter exporting 43,071 tonnes of mutton, 17,685 tonnes of lamb and 3312 tonnes of beef to the Middle East in 2006 alone.
In 2007, the Emirates accounted for 7.77% of the world's lamb and beef imports and 15.38% of all poultry imports, second only to Saudi Arabia.
Amid the growing demand for Halal food products in the region, Dubai has emerged as one of the first to leverage the booming prospects within the market after establishing a highly successful food processing industry, which boasts revenues of more than US $3 billion per year.
The emirate is expected to play an important role in the future of the Halal industry, with plans by leading locally-based Halal companies to develop a credible and professional certification body to monitor and uphold high quality standards according to global industry requirements.
Furthermore, the emirate's food processing sector is expected to grow by 11% annually, owing to its growth as the world's third largest re-exporter, with 72% of its exports being shipped to Asia, Africa and the Gulf countries.
New suppliers continue to break into the Middle East market at an incredible rate, yet for meat suppliers from abroad, meeting Halal requirements and receiving certification can be a long and drawn out process.
The Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund (ALIDF) is a collection of Canadian livestock farmers that are now starting to tap into the Middle East market with a selection of premium meat products.
ALIDF is a not-for-profit company that was founded on the collaborative ideals of the livestock industry and the support of the Alberta government in Canada.
"Our company, Prairie Halal Foods, is a private, Canadian-owned company. The company is a joint venture between various established and reputable Canadian companies," says general manager, Wahid Kandil.
"We mostly focus on high quality meat products that are produced by the partners of the company and our approach is to take our products directly from the farm to the end user, cutting out the middle man.
"This approach assures our customers of the quality, integrity and consistency of our products," he adds.
Prairie Halal Foods provides a basket of high quality food products such as traditional Angus beef, bison meat, elk meat and poultry items.
The current company partners include Prairie Heritage Beef Producers (a group of natural Angus beef ranchers), Canadian Rangeland Beef and Bison (elk and bison company), The Meat Grinder (Halal meat marketing and distribution company), and Canadian Premium Meats (Halal-certified slaughter plant).
For Kandil, being a Muslim has helped in setting up the UAE office and bringing the company's operations in line with Halal requirements.
"Fortunately, I am a Muslim myself, so I understand the Halal market and I have a solid understanding of the Middle East market. However, all my partners have no prior experience in the Middle East or the Halal market.
"This is the reason we have been travelling to the Middle East as a group of companies and have spent the past two years thoroughly investigating the Middle East and North Africa market," he explains.
"It takes a lot of effort and commitment for Western companies to grasp the concept of Halal and the values and rationales behind it. Our group has really put a lot of effort into understanding the Halal concept and we have developed an internal Halal protocol manual.
"In addition, all our partner companies are certified by the Islamic Society of North America."
According to Kandil, despite being a Muslim country, knowledge on Halal processes and the market is still limited in the UAE.
"The most challenging issue has been the availability of detailed market information. It is always great to visit the market and talk directly to end users but the availability of information on the market and its dynamics would speed up the process quite a bit," he admits.
New developments in the Halal industry all mean good news for chefs working in the region.
Many chefs come to the Middle East with a basic understanding of what Halal cooking requires, and pick up the rest from more experienced team members.Prior to working in the Middle East, I was the executive chef of The Savoy in London.
"As the city receives many visitors from the Middle East, the hotel catered to the dietary needs of these guests and was equipped and stocked to cater for Halal meals," explains Holger Jackisch, executive chef, Sharq Village & Spa, operated by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
"During my tenure there, I worked closely with our resident Muslim chef to understand the requirements of Halal food procurement and preparation.
"The only adaptation that I had to make in my cooking style was to avoid ingredients that were not Halal. The cooking methods and processes remain the same," he adds.
"Having been in the Middle East since 1975, I have been exposed to Halal-compliant foods and methods for a good number of years," says Peter Drescher, director of culinary - Middle East, Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts.
"The knowledge I have gained during this time has been invaluable and it is something that I pass on to new chefs coming into the region."
According to both Drescher and Jackisch, sourcing Halal produce does not represent any real challenges for chefs in the region, although for some luxury food items the Halal certification can be a bit blurred.
"In the mid 1970s there were fewer international hotels in the region and thus fewer suppliers around, but in general the sourcing of Halal products has never been a real issue.
"All hotels and restaurants in the region purchase meat that has been slaughtered according to traditional guidelines and our culinary and service teams are aware that the consumption of pork can never be Halal.
"Whenever we do use pork, our chefs ensure that it is stored and prepared away from all other products and pork products that are on the buffets or menus have to be clearly identified.
"Chefs are also mindful that food items are not mixed with alcohol at any time during preparation," says Drescher.
"Being based in the Middle East now, sourcing for Halal products has not posed an issue as there is an established network of suppliers and, given sufficient ordering lead time, almost anything I require is available," agrees Jackisch.
"Luxury or more unusual meat items need to be Halal certified. However, items like truffles are Halal," he clarifies.
Even airline chefs are taking to producing Halal cuisine.
Carriers such as Emirates have always provided a completely Halal menu, but now other airlines, such as Thai Airways, are embracing Halal requirements.
Responding to growing demand from thousands of Muslim travellers, Thai Airways International signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in February with the Islamic Committee of Samut Prakarn Province to receive permission to use the Halal logo by the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand.
This means that Thai Airways International's Halal kitchen is now fully certified to ensure conformity with the permissible dietary requirements under Islamic law.
Thai Airways flies daily to several cities in countries with large Islamic populations, such as the UAE, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Oman, Bangladesh, Brunei, Darussalam and numerous destinations in India.
In addition to the demand from Muslim passengers, the airline also provides meals for 10 customer airlines, which are national carriers of Islamic-majority countries.
The airline estimates total demand is for an estimated 5000 Halal meals per day, with more growth projected in the future.
As the Middle East's population continues to swell, and with more travellers visiting the region, the Halal market looks set to continue to enjoy exponential growth.
For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.