By Jodie Phillips, WalesOnline
Wales’ diversifying population is being reflected in its food. For our Welsh Food Month series, Jodie Phillips looks at the rise of the halal market.
Our supermarket shelves and the things we buy from them sport many features today that would not have been evident to shoppers a decade ago.
The organic movement has soared, of course, and there has been a notable rise in people keen to know the provenance of their food, hence the photographs of individual farmers on our milk bottles and free range chickens.
And as Wales’ retailers and restaurants are responding to a changing marketplace, reflecting the country’s increasingly diverse and discerning consumers, also among these changes are the rise in the halal sections of supermarket aisles and the halal butchers on our high streets.
Halal is the term used to designate food seen as permissible according to Islamic law. To be defined as halal, the food must meet criteria set in the Koran, including the way the animal is slaughtered and thorough bled before it is eaten.
The global halal food market is said to be worth hundreds of billions of pounds and its presence in Wales is growing notably.
Among the restaurants serving halal-only food are the neighbouring Grill N Shake and Spice Route, both based in Cardiff Bay’s Red Dragon Centre.
Owner of Grill N Shake, Mabs Noor, said: “I recognised that Cardiff is extremely culturally diverse and felt that there was a gap in the market for a restaurant which offered classic American dishes but with an Islamic twist, which is provided by the halal meat.
“What some people may find surprising is that it is not just Muslims who eat halal food. I have many non-Muslim customers who come to the restaurant because they think halal meat is fresher and tastes nicer.”
Afzal Khan, owner of Spice Route, said: “I have eaten out all of my life but found that many restaurants hesitated when I asked whether they served guaranteed 100% halal food.
“That is why I wanted to create a restaurant that offers guaranteed halal produce. I’ve travelled to many countries to source the best chefs who cook using halal standards.
“Halal is not just about the slaughter but is also about the caring and rearing of the animal.
“Therefore, many suggest that halal food is a better taste and quality. The halal market is huge in Cardiff and is something which will continue to grow in the future.”
Leading supermarkets Tesco and Asda are also making concerted efforts to fill the gap in the market, dedicating aisles to halal food.
An Asda spokesperson said: “We want to make sure we offer a great range of products to our customers in their local community, and understand halal meat is an important part of that offer in many communities.
“We stock branded pre-packed halal meat in our stores and in stores where there is local demand operate halal butchery counters operated by specialist independent companies.
“As with all Asda products, food safety and animal welfare are critical focuses and Asda makes sure these are kept at all times.
“We ensure all meat adheres to EU and UK animal welfare standards and legal requirements.”
The British Retail Consortium’s Richard Dodd said: “As the make-up of society continues to evolve, retailers are always looking for new areas of customer demand. Supplying halal food is just one example of how they are targeting different cultural groups to meet changing customer demands.”
While Sainsbury’s and Morrisons do not currently stock fresh halal products, a spokesperson for Morrisons said it was looking at changing that, adding: “We do not currently stock halal products in our Welsh stores. We’re aware of growing customer demand around the country for fresh and frozen halal products and we’re exploring opportunities to better serve our customers.”
Halal food has not been without its controversy. There have been concerns raised around animal welfare, though stockists refer to the fact that anything sold in the UK adheres to UK and EU animal welfare standards.
In 2010, a London newspaper claimed supermarkets and other food chains were “secretly” selling halal food by not labelling it as such.
It even became a central issue in this year’s French election when then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s made the labelling of halal meat pivotal to his re-election campaign, angering France’s six million-strong Muslim community.
That particular “phoney war” erupted when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, claimed consumers were eating halal unknowingly.
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