Halal food producers seek potential market among non-Muslim customers amidst restrictions

    Source: Faunalytics.

Producers of halal food could make higher profits by finding more non-Muslim customers, but marketing efforts remain limited despite promising developments, writes Heba Hashem in Salaam Gateway (November 6), a platform on the global Islamic economy. Several Muslim experts are convinced that halal food could expand into the mainstream food industry by appealing to people’s curiosity about other cultures and demand for healthy food. They argue that as people have become more health-conscious, the organic nature of the food is a card that could be played. Omar Subedar, chief operations officer at the Halal Monitoring Authority (HMA) in Canada, claims that the secondary (non-Muslim) market has already grown in that country. According to him, a hurdle is the Islamic jargon that is used for halal food, with an Arabic terminology that suggests it is only for Muslims. Khan is pleading for an alternative vocabulary to attract a non-Muslim customer base. A UK-based Shariah scholar and Islamic finance expert, Sheikh Bilal Khan is pleading for an alternative vocabulary to attract a non-Muslim customer base.

But Khan warns that many halal food companies are content with the profits made from Muslim customers and lack the drive to market and grow beyond that community. However, some companies have already done it. Hashem mentions Saffron Road, an American brand offering “ethically sourced halal food inspired by flavors from around the world.” The company sells its products mostly to non-Muslim consumers, and many of the foods are “also certified kosher, vegan, vegetarian, organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO.” Last September, a World Halal Food Festival in London that is now in its 10th year witnessed to the growth of this food segment among some non-Muslim foodies, whose expectations include finding cleaner meat (The Guardian, Sept. 24). Earlier this year, a report by food futurologist Lyndon Gee, on behalf of halal convenience food manufacturer TAKUL, predicted further growth for the halal market, not only due to Muslim consumers but also the increasing popularity of halal food among non-Muslims attracted by a traceability that inspires a sense of safety (Food Navigator Europe, Aug. 23).

Meanwhile, halal food products can also face restrictions, as in the case of India’s Uttar Pradesh government’s enforcement of a ban on the production, storage, distribution, and sale of food products with halal certification (Economic Times, Nov. 30). With 240 million people—nearly 20 percent of them Muslim— Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, and like 15 other states in the country it is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which claims to have faith in “cultural nationalism” and is committed to a “positive secularism” as opposed to a secularism “reduced to minority appeasement.” Since 2011, all vegetarian products for sale in India are marked with a green label, while those containing eggs, fish or meat have a red label, according to Nathalie Mayroth in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (November 29). A member of the BJP youth movement complained that unnecessary halal certification of vegan products like toothpaste or soap was creating unfair competition for non-halal products and argued that the red and green labeling system should be sufficient. In its decision to ban halal products, the government of Uttar Pradesh claimed that the extensive use of halal certification was adversely affecting the business interests of other communities, and went as far as to claim that it was part of a strategy to create divisions and weaken the country. The ban does not apply to products manufactured for export.

Opponents of the BJP claim that the ban is an attempt by Hindu nationalists to mobilize their supporters for electoral purposes. In an analysis of the ban (Medium, November 22), Asif Nawaz confirms that halal-certified products have indeed been gaining popularity among non-Muslim consumers. Major Muslim organizations in India have denounced the ban and have warned about the potential impact for Indian exports to other nations, reports Shaik Zakir Hussain (Salaam Gateway, November 29). One of the targeted organizations, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust, stressed the importance of the halal industry for Indian exports and tourism, but also the fact that several non-Muslim-run companies are also using halal certificates. Nawaz remarks that complex factors are at play, “such as religion, economics, and national security.” Academic observers of the Indian scene say that the 210 to 220 million Muslims in India increasingly have to deal with the reality of a “majoritarian State” that sees the country as fundamentally Hindu. No doubt the halal ban in Uttar Pradesh constitutes one more episode in those developments.

(Salaam Gateway, https://salaamgateway.com; Food Navigator, https://www.foodnavigator.com; Dr. Asif Nawaz, “Halal Certification Ban in Uttar Pradesh: A Multifaceted Analysis,” https://draasifnawaz.medium.com/halal-certification-ban-in-uttar-pradesh-a-multifaceted-analysis-82f51487c06d; BJP website, https://www.bjp.org)