13/09/2010 Gregor Stuart Hunter and Rebecca Bundhun – www.thenational.ae
International food producers are showing an increasing interest in the lucrative halal food industry.
Halal food is a rare feature on the western menu, as many travellers seeking to comply with Islamic dietary codes while abroad will sadly agree.
Food producers are, however, beginning to recognise the increasing popularity of halal food in the mainstream and the lucrative market that could result.
Industry estimates for the potential value of the halal food industry range between US$600 billion (Dh2.2bn) and $2.1 trillion.
Mugees Ahmad, the managing director of Orange Fairs and Events, which hosts the Halal World Expo in Dubai every year, said food producers from as far afield as Australia, Germany and the US were showing interest in the halal market. And new halal products are starting to enter the market outside of the traditional domains of the Middle East and South East Asia.
On Friday, the world’s largest aviation caterer said it would make most of its in-flight meals compatible with Islamic food laws.
The caterer, Switzerland’s Gategroup, said it would open a $3 million halal catering facility at London’s Heathrow Airport.Producing halal food as standard would allow for greater cost efficiencies, Gategroup said.
Also on Friday, Al Islami Foods, a UAE producer of halal food, said it would launch its fast-food chain Al Farooj Fresh in the UK and France. McDonald’s, KFC and Dominos Pizza have also experimented with halal offerings in those countries.
Both have large Muslim populations. A study by the Brookings Institution in 2008 estimated there were more than 2 million Muslims in the UK and more than 5 million in France.
But western restaurant chains that propose to serve halal food are confronted with the absence of a unified global standard for what is halal.
There is much divergence on what foods and preparation methods Muslims in different parts of the world consider to be eligible for the description, said Abdul Qayyoem, the director of the Halal Feed and Food Inspection Authority, a certification body based in the Netherlands. “There are some Muslim and Arabic countries engaged to make a standard, but there is still a dispute in regards to other standards made by the Indonesian and the Malaysian halal authorities,” he said.
Analysts at the market research company Euromonitor International point out that many people would question whether some meats labelled as halal are properly described as such.
Eblex, the organisation for the English beef and sheep industry, has set up an industry panel, the Halal Steering Group, in a bid to unlock what it has said is potentially a £1bn (Dh5.63bn) market for domestic producers.
The group this year reported that three quarters of poultry sold as halal in the UK had been produced by mechanical slaughter, whereas religious rules specify that each animal be individually killed by hand, as a religious blessing is spoken. The group also found the blessings for some of the chickens were being broadcast over loudspeakers.
“The absence of widely recognised certification bodies and standards for halal meat is a serious problem for the industry, and one that needs to be tackled promptly,” said Emily Woon, the head of fresh food research at Euromonitor.