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Tue 8 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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UK halal food firm ready to enter regional markets

A UK halal food firm considers entering the Middle East after introducing its second chocolate bar.

A halal food firm in the UK has introduced its second chocolate bar and is starting to think about entering the Middle East. Khalid Sharif, a founder of Ummah Foods, says the company has received approaches from the region and that it is now a case of ensuring product supply and identifying the right business partner to work with.

“Our only hold back from the Middle East has been our own size and resources,” said Sharif. “We’ve had requests from Yemen, Kuwait and the UAE, and it’s now about us being able to find a good distribution partner over there.

“I definitely feel there’ll be a lot of demand for our product because some distributors have already spotted it and made enquiries.”

The company has also been approached by potential investors, mostly in the UK, and Sharif says finding a partner with knowledge as well as money is key.

Whoever does invest in Ummah Foods will find a company with plenty of ambition. Whilst it is early days for his firm, Sharif told RNME that he does have dreams to build a broad halal foodstuffs company, with distribution around the world. Demand for halal products is increasing and many items in many categories, he believes, may not stand up to closer halal compliance testing.

For example, a vegetarian product will not include pork products, but it cannot be guaranteed that alcohol has been excluded. “It’s not just a question of asking ‘Is this ingredient vegetarian’,” he explained. “You have to ask ‘How is this ingredient processed, or filtered?’

“Once we’re happy with our chocolate line, we’re going to move onto other packaged food products. We’ve looked at drinks, biscuits, every fast moving packaged product that you can think of. We’ve seen that some will work, some won’t and the complexity in some is too much. But we do have plans for a lot of them.”

Ummah Foods has not yet opted to go with any one type of halal certificate, but Sharif is confident that his new product, the Ummah Orange, will stand up to any independent test for compliance. What is key, he says, is to trace the origins and the supply chains of ingredients.

One thing that Sharif is keen to clarify is that Ummah Foods is not a boycott product. “There are political products, but we’re not a boycott brand at all and really don’t want to be considered one,” he said. “We’d rather come out with good quality products, which definitely have an Islamic tint to them, but we’re a friendly company and they’re friendly products,” he insists.

For Sharif, Ummah Foods is a turnaround from his previous career of IT consulting. The idea for Ummah Foods, he says, came out of his own involvement in community projects and giving back to communities is one of his goals. “Every stage where we’re spending money, we’re seeing how we can link in to a charity or Muslim project,” Sharif said.

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