Area meat-packing plants prepare product for Muslim community

By Harvey Richards

may not figure prominently into the demographics of Central Alberta,
but a pair of meat processing plants here have adjusted their
operations to serve that market.

Sunterra Meats Ltd. in Innisfail and Canadian
Premium Meats Inc. in Lacombe have both obtained halal certification,
approval that allows their meat products to be consumed by devout

Sunterra Meats was certified in July by the Islamic
Society of North America to slaughter and process beef, lamb, bison and

“We worked on this for about a year,” said Miles Kliner, general manager at Sunterra Meats.

Slight physical changes in the plant were required,
he said, but because Sunterra Meats is a specialty meat processor with
strict segregation requirements, the transition wasn’t difficult.

Canadian Premium Meats became halal-approved last
fall, also by the Islamic Society of North America. It’s now able to
slaughter and process bison, beef and elk for Muslim consumption.

“It took some time,” said Werner Siegrist, a partner in Canadian Premium Meats.

But he agreed with Kliner that the required changes
weren’t significant, particularly given the specialized nature of
Canadian Premium Meats’ operations.

A key difference in halal processing is the method
of slaughter, which must be performed in accordance with Muslim ritual
and by someone certified to do so.

“The physical slaughter is really the key,” said Kliner.

Both Sunterra Meats and Canadian Premium Meats have been bringing in an authorized person to perform their halal slaughters.

Thereafter, the meat must be carefully segregated from other species and non-halal products, said Siegrist.

Sunterra Meats plans to export beef to Muslim
markets in the Middle East and Indonesia, with other species likely to
go abroad as well. It also sees good opportunities for halal lamb on
the domestic market, as well as for bison and goat.

“We have a very significant Muslim population right
here in Canada and North America,” said Kliner. “We fully plan to tap
into that market to the best extent that we can.

“International markets will take a little bit of
time to develop, but we’ve been very encouraged by the feedback we’ve
gotten in several areas.”

The export market is one that Canadian Premium Meats — which does only custom processing for clients — expects to focus on.

“Eventually, I believe there is going to be a good
market for us,” said Siegrist. “We’re going to see a number of animals
brought here for halal slaughter and then they’ll go overseas.”

Canadian Premium Meats is among seven Alberta
companies involved in an initiative to ship halal products to the
Middle East and North Africa.

Operating as Prairie Halal Foods Inc., the partnership plans to sell halal meat to luxury hotels in the region.

“You can’t go into a Muslim country without halal
certified product,” explained Christoph Weder, president and CEO of
Prairie Halal Foods.

Dealing in several species of animal, Prairie Halal Foods has already shipped product to prospective customers for review.

“We anticipate our first order of product is going
to be going by September,” said Weder, adding that he also sees
opportunities for Prairie Halal Foods on the domestic market.

Gordon Cove, who heads Alberta Agriculture and
Rural Development’s livestock products branch in Red Deer, said halal
processing was a little-known niche market just a few years ago.

“We didn’t even have numbers on it, it was that small.”

But with the growing number of Muslims in North
America and the increasing affluence of Muslims worldwide, the market
is attracting attention.

Cove said Sunterra Meats and Canadian Premium Meats
are well-positioned to pursue this opportunity because they are
federally inspected and set up for segregated processing — unlike big
packing plants.

“They have the ability to be quite adaptive.”

Cove added that halal processing is a “perfect
example” of the direction the province is encouraging Alberta’s meat
industry to go.

“It’s new markets and having an attribute or certification process differentiates you from other people.”

Another good example of niche marketing involves sales of meat products to Europe, said Cove.

Sunterra Meats and Canadian Premium Meats both have European Union certification.

Pursuing the halal and EU markets just made good sense to Sunterra Meats, said Kliner.

“It fits with our long-term strategy to be
positioning ourselves in markets that are unique, that are niche-based,
that are specialty-based.”