The French halal C&T market has been a tough nut to crack but there is potential for growth, as David Hayhurst reports from Paris
Chantal Ronceray is targeting fast growth in turnover at Jamal Paris, a small but ambitious halal cosmetics company she co-founded in 2007. It is an act of faith in the long term potential for sales among France’s 4.7 million Muslims, Europe’s largest such population.
As the country’s only halal certified C&T manufacturer, the Paris based firm also has a side bet on exports to the fastest growing foreign markets: Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in the Persian Gulf and Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries.
Its story sheds light on what is still a young market in France. Ronceray believes that the French halal C&T market could eventually be worth €750m annually, though neither the French national perfume and toiletry trade association, the Fédération des Entreprises de la Beauté (FEBEA), nor any reputable market research firm yet provides comprehensive data.
Those who have spotted the potential and are selling into the French halal personal care products market include US based OnePure, British label Saaf Pure Skincare (skin and hair care products), Dutch based Sahfee Care (shampoos, shower gels and body milks) and Morocco’s Amys (bath salts and oils, massage and facial oils, etc). Body Shop products are by definition halal due to the company’s ingredient and animal testing policies.
But oddly, sales have not thus far been easy pickings, especially with French Muslims often having lower incomes and hence looking for bargains not available from higher priced imports. “[OnePure] has an exclusive distributor in France but is not [investing much] in marketing; its products are too expensive for the French market,” said Fatima Moussa of the Lille based market consultants, French Muslims Halal Consultancy (FMHC). She stressed French cosmetics buyers’ renowned frugality, which Moussa believes has greatly frustrated OnePure.
Meanwhile, Amys has taken a targeted approach. It has retail distribution in Britain, but presently sells only through spas and hotel fitness centres in France.
Cheaper foreign made halal lines are also available online. China based online retailer Alibaba.com for instance trades in bulk to French wholesalers interested in halal soaps. Popular brands include Anada (made in Thailand), Aa Bai Qi and Triumph (China) and Halal Products (India).
French Muslims have been slow to buy halal labelled cosmetics, regardless of where they are made. Since cosmetics are not eaten, many devout French Muslims feel far less restricted than in food consumption over buying non-halal cosmetics. Another difficulty restricting market growth may be widespread scepticism about any halal certification and labelling following high profile scandals over international brand foods in France.
As for exports, Ronceray is realistic about immediate prospects for Jamal Paris. It is, she says, “more and more complicated to forecast sales” as “there is always something happening financially” that has negative effects, especially in Middle Eastern and Asian markets.
Also many consumers in these export markets have plenty of locally produced halal brands to choose from and if they opt for imports value the cachet of luxury French brands such as Dior. Counterfeiting is another major concern. “There are some regions that are an enormous problem for us,” Ronceray said.
Undaunted nevertheless, she is relaunching Jamal Paris’ alcohol-free and animal fat-free skin care products and shower gels, and rolling out a new make-up range. Jamal Paris also now has what Ronceray hopes will prove a major market booster: halal certification from the Great Mosque of Paris with permission to publicise this on all the firm’s labelling. The mosque renews certification every six months in return for 1% of Jamal’s profits.
This is part of Ronceray’s overall strategy intended to double turnover from around t500,000 last year, when sales were split roughly evenly between France and mostly Middle Eastern markets, to around t1m in 2013. In current market conditions she expects expansion to come chiefly through exports to fast growing Malaysian and Indonesian markets rather than France itself but Jamal Paris continues to invest in France’s long term potential. It has a hands-on, gradual approach to domestic market expansion, working with small French cosmetics and hairstylist chains and even independent weekend market stall owners to boost its national profile.
Analysts do not discount Ronceray’s optimism. A new generation of French born Muslim entrepreneurs is looking for new ideas, and halal cosmetics are an open market, Moussa explained. However, with halal certification per se not proving much of a C&T product mover so far in France, stiff competition already exists from major brand names, and with zero additional effort on their part.
Moussa’s company FMHC caters mainly to foreign clients looking for export and marketing opportunities within France. So far, these have been interested almost exclusively in Islamic financial services and foodstuffs.
But Jamal Paris is raising awareness of halal cosmetics too and the market is watching to see how far and how quickly a small home grown manufacturer trading both on impeccable halal certification and the cachet of being French can develop. A recent report by University of Malaysia Perlis gauged the global halal cosmetics market to be worth $5bn-$14bn annually based on estimates from other sources.
“Most Muslims in France come from north Africa where halal cosmetics barely exist and where most people still think that halal only applies to meat products,” said Sébastien Gillet, director of Paris Halal Expo, a trade fair held each April. “But the market will grow, definitely.”
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