Like all other things in the food industry, trust is what defines the Halal industry. Halal food refers to items that are permissible for consumption according to Shariah law. For instance, animals have to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, and the process should be completed in a clean cut to minimise the pain inflicted.
By abiding to these practices, one can easily reach out to the Halal food market, which is growing at an annual rate of 10-15 percent. According to the Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC), the global Halal food industry is worth US$635 billion. Muslim populations worldwide are increasing; according to a Pew report, the Muslim population in the US will grow from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million by 2030.
Paul Joseph, Vancouver, Canada
The Muslim population in Australia has already soared by 40 percent over the last five years, such that fast food operations there are starting to implement Halal practices like taking bacon off the menu, or adopting mixed kitchens so that a Halal menu can be offered. The same growing phenomenon is seen in Europe, especially in the Balkan countries.
With the increasing focus on corporate social responsibility, the consumption rate for Halal food has been increasing among non-Muslim consumers. Because of the stringent requirements food has to undergo before being certified as Halal, the label also connotes cleanliness, safety, and meat that are derived from humane principles.
Despite the sheer size of the Halal market and the opportunities it brings, the sector remains largely untapped. In European nations especially, Halal food is not as available or well known as Kosher food. In certain places, people have to resort to Kosher food simply because Halal options are unavailable.
Meanwhile in Asia and the Middle East, challenges are brought about by the vast cultural differences in each nation. Together with the lack of harmonisation in standards, these factors serve as trade barriers, making it difficult for exporters to reach out to the global Halal market.
Setting A Standard
Halal standards differ not just among countries, but even within nations itself, as various authorities or certification bodies exist. Disagreements between standards can be over issues like slaughtering methods, animal feed, packaging and logistics among others.
“Communities definitely differ because of traditions, the school of jurisprudence (fiqh), the degree of religiosity, the sophistication of halal standards and so many other elements,” said Dr Cedomir Nestorovic, professor at Essec Business School.
He explained that there are serious disagreements over stunning animals or not before slaughtering, or the use of gelatin in products, which altogether have made harmonisation an even bigger challenge.
Adding on to the logistical conundrum is the presence of approximately 122 active Halal certifying bodies around the world. This includes government or semi-government bodies, non-governmental organisations, mosques, and even Islamic societies.
The vast variety of standards and their corresponding logos has resulted in confusion among consumers, manufacturers and distributors. On a larger scale, the disunity in standards has also effectively affected import regulations and created artificial shortages of raw materials. While challenging, these barriers are not impossible to remove.
“Confidence is the key word. If consumers trust the individual or the brand, there is no need for certification. In that case, having a Halal certification is an added value but not a necessity,” said professor Nestorovic.
Certification becomes a prerequisite only when exporting to Islamic countries, or when the manufacturer is unknown to its target market.
Nonetheless, despite differences in cultural lines, location, and degree of religiosity, Shariah conditions among Muslim consumers are all the same. According to Tuan Haji Abdullah Fahim Abdul Rahman, chairman of the Islamic Food Research Centre Asia (IFRC Asia), the same goes for Halal standards.
“Generally all Halal bodies in Muslim-majority nations share the same standards worldwide because most of them are members of the World Halal Council, and listed as approved Halal bodies by JAKIM (Malaysia) and MUI (Indonesia),” he said.
He adds that the voluntary nature of Halal certification is one reason as to why there are no agreements on shared standards among countries. However, all bodies follow Shariah laws and Fatwas issued in theirrespective countries.
“For example, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore accept water stunning for chicken slaughtering whereas some Arab countries do not accept it,” he explained. Regardless, he emphasises that these standards may change to suit the current situation as the industry continuously evolves over time.
Despite the nuances involved in Halal harmonisation, certification still serves as an important tool in reaching out to the Muslim population. The base of its effectiveness lies in the legitimacy it brings to the Halal label. At the end of the day, marketing strategies for the Halal market are all about building confidence and trust.
Due to food safety scares, increasing globalisation and a greater awareness of processing areas where lapses might occur (eg: packaging and ingredients), certification is often welcomed as an additional safety measure. To this end, some countries have even regulated certification to be mandatory for imports.
For instance, the Emirates Standardisation and Metrology Authority has announced that all Halal imports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must have some official certification before they can be sold there. In non-Islamic countries like Europe where access to Halal food may be limited, certification provides Muslim consumers with the assurance that the products are permissible according to Islamic law.
As a result, exporting countries that have a strong background in certification are often successful in countries with huge Muslim populations. In fact, these countries have been so successful that Muslim minority countries are now larger exporters of Halal foods than Muslim dominant countries.
There is no Muslim country included in the list of top ten Halal meat exporters. Rather, this is fulfilled by the likes of the US, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and in France. In terms of Asian countries, the main supplier of Halal certified products is Thailand, followed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India.
However, other players in North Asia are also starting to aim for a slice of the lucrative market. South Korean snack company Crown is one such example. The company is Halal certified by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) for four of its lines, and has plans to export its Halal products first to Southeast Asian markets (eg: Indonesia), and then to US and Europe.
According to the Taiwan Halal Integrity Development Association, the country is targeting majority-Muslim countries as its focus for export promotion campaigns, and plans to increase its Halal shipment in the second half of the year.
Circumventing the thorny issue of standards harmonisation, some nations have agreements in place where the standards in participating countries are mutually recognised. Such agreements exist between Ningxia, China, and its counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. Singapore’s Halal certification mark is also recognised worldwide, and particularly in markets like the GCC (which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, due to the GCC-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the MABIMS Agreement.
Gaining Market Share
Steven Depolo, Grand Rapids, US
There is a strong demand not just for Halal meat, but also for secondary industries that are based on the by-products of Halal meat, which include but are not limited to raw materials like casings, gelatin, sausages, and leather. In GCC countries alone, imports make up 80 percent of the food requirement, with a combined value of approximately US$44 billion.
Non-Muslim countries like Australia, Canada, Brazil, India and France have managed to gain a foothold in the Halal sector simply because they have a coherent and formalised certification system. Part of this stems from the need to assure the local Muslim consumers in an environment where non-Halal food takes dominance.
In Muslim countries however, it is presumed that all meat should be prepared according to Islamic practices. Due to this wide assumption, a lot of products are not certified and manufacturers do not feel the need to do so. In the process, this has effectively shut the doors to the international market for many manufacturers. Islamic countries like Pakistan are losing out with a lack of Halal certification bodies, import regulations or a domestic Halal Act.
Nonetheless, these same manufacturers are booming in the domestic market, simply because they have attained the trust and confidence of their consumers. This they have achieved by clearly portraying brand values through packaging and labelling, the most important of which is ‘tayyib’—wholesomeness.
Today’s Muslim consumer, like its global counterpart, lives in a modern world and is characterised by a younger and more affluent crowd. This group of people have a greater awareness of health and are reading labels not just to check if the product is rightfully Halal, but also assessing its nutritional value.
Like other consumers worldwide, they look out for the humane treatment of animals, food safety and contamination, as well as labels and what they communicate (eg: colour, images, naturalness). Consequently, some Muslims are making sure that their food is organic, free-range and tayyib in addition to being Halal.
This provides an opportunity for manufacturers to market their products together with ethical or healthful practices, like vegan or organic foods—both of which indicate a free from contaminants or meat scenario. Regardless of whether the product is certified Halal, if the product is vegetarian and contains no alcohol, it should be clearly stated on the packaging.
This is especially relevant for North Asian manufacturers who would like to introduce soy based vegetarian meat alternatives, with flavours like beef, chicken and fish, to the Middle Eastern market.
“Being ‘tayyib’, meaning wholesome and tasteful, would be an advantage and companies should combine the licit characteristic and delicious content. The price can be higher than conventional products but the difference should be justified,” said professor Nestorovic.
This echoes the findings of the Canadian Halal Meat Market Study, which found that the majority of Canadian Muslims are willing to pay a premium for quality Halal meat. While price matters, the main deciding factor lies in the consumers’ confidence that the meat is Halal. For foreign imports, this mostly translates into having a prominently displayed Halal logo approved by the relevant Halal authority on the front of packaging.
Products that bank on this wholesome and hygienic image also have the secondary benefit of reaching out to non-Muslim consumers, who prefer Halal and Kosher food due to the care and cleanliness put into preparing the items.
From Farm To Fork
This naturally leads to an additional emphasis on traceability, which has become increasingly important as supply chains become more complex.
It is vital that manufacturers have systems in place to ensure that each product ingredient, additives, and raw materials are Halal. This ranges from gelatin, to emulsifiers, fats, casings, and even the rennet in cheese, all of which could have come from Haram sources.
Ingredients aside, packaging, shipping and storage are additional areas that should be addressed. Halal items should be processed in environments that are free from Haram (non-permissible) products, for instance, making sure that the packaged items are not stored together or in contact with pork or blood related products.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Answering the call for greater traceability, Malaysian firm Fahim has developed the Halal Integrity Management System to monitor the Halal status of a product from farm to fork. In China, the traceability measure also doubles up as an assurance to local consumers, who have said they prefer Halal products as these items allay their fears on food safety concerns—a huge issue that has been plaguing the country.
What this ultimately shows is that with the growing size of the Muslim population, opportunities abound for manufacturers who are willing to change their processes to adhere to Halal requirements. Not only will they be able to tap on the burgeoning market, they can also further cement their global position by conveying the values of wholesomeness and cleanliness, thereby catering to the bulk of consumers who are searching for quality over quantity.
This they can achieve with the tool of certification. While the lack of harmonisation has made it far from perfect, it is undeniable that certification is the key that opens the gateway to the lucrative Halal sector—one that is only set to grow in the foreseeable future.