Brunei can excel in non-meat segment of global halal market

Others are just as slow: Hajj Abdulhamid David Evans. Picture: BT/Debbie Too

Saturday, August 23, 2008

OFT-ASKED question following the recent International Halal Expo was
whether Brunei stands a chance in competing with other players in the
global halal food industry? Hajj Abdulhamid Evans, managing director of
Imarat Consultant, a consulting firm specialising in the halal market
and the consultants and event managers for the IHMC, said that the key for
Brunei is to focus on niche markets in the global halal arena. One of
the leading voices of the halal movement around the world, Evans had
more than a few words to say in an interview with The Brunei Times.

Is there a global halal standard to begin with?

isn’t a global standard, and its one of the things that has been
discussed for the last few years and there are a few different
initiatives going on … Malaysia has a standard, and Brunei has a
standard, which are produced by the standards authorities of those
countries, and Singaporean Muslims are discussing their standards as
well but the predominantly Muslim countries, like the Gulf states are
only starting to think about this now.

How does the Brunei halal standard compare?

is actually very good and stringent. It’s a tough standard in terms of
whether they allow stunning of animals prior to slaughter and hand
slaughter versus mechanical slaughtering and Brunei’s standard takes a
purist approach, which is good. This makes it more difficult to apply
because it’s a higher standard so in some aspects of the market, there
may be fewer people able to conform to that standard. People will
conform to your standards if they want to sell their goods to you.

In a way does the standard become a slight disadvantage to Brunei?

disadvantage is that Brunei is a very small market so the number of
people who would conform if they want to sell to Brunei is relatively
small. Even in Malaysia, they’ve conformed to Malaysia to get their
business but it’s still not that big a market. If you’re talking about
the Gulf Cooperation Council, they have a huge buying power and the
standard that they roll out is going to have a different kind of impact
in the market, because food exporting markets who want to reach that
market will learn to be compliant with the Middle Eastern standards.

What can Brunei focus on?

of the approaches that came up during the conference and one of the
discussions we had recently, in terms of certifying with non-meat
products, is that Brunei be more focused on pharmaceuticals,
ingredients, health care products, personal care products and non-meat
products. The Brunei standard is actually much more suited to that
because there’s this quality control that matters more if you’re
looking at all the details. The Brunei standard doesn’t just focus on
the slaughtering process, but also on manufacturing and auditing
procedures. It’s comprehensive and very well done.

What niche markets are available in the halal industry?

at ingredients, pharmaceutical products, botanicals and things like
that. It suits the industry and even some of the downstream products
from oil and gas are getting into the field of pharma. I know there is
interest from the Japanese to look at the production or packaging or
branding of pharmaceutical products in the new industrial park. So a
niche like that is somewhere that no one’s really gone, and that plays
more to Brunei’s strengths, so you can leave the mainstream to other
people because there’s going to be fierce competition in that.

Could you elaborate more on this?

discussed with Nestle last year, and I remember asking them what the
biggest challenges are for expanding their halal production, and they
said that the big challenges was going to find small ingredients like
emulsifiers, colourings and all those little additives and getting
halal sources for those are quite challenging. The industry in general
is looking for meat substitutes for example, people are arguing about
gelatin and how to source halal gelatin, but gelatin can be made from
vegetable sources as well, so if you go there, then the question of
whether it’s halal or not doesn’t really arise and those kind of
opportunities present themselves to Brunei. Good joint ventures could
come out of that.

You’ve said before that Brunei “needs to speed things up a bit”.

one hand you can say that Brunei is a bit slow, but on the other hand,
it’s not, and because I’ve worked with other countries on this, and
they’re just as slow. Funnily enough, Brunei’s small size actually can
become an advantage because they would be able to be a bit more nimble
when it comes to adjusting to changes or focus or revisiting certain
decisions and strategies with a small size. It should be easier to stay
focused and move things along. To be honest, when I’ve looked at the
progress being made in other countries, Brunei isn’t any slower

Can you give any examples of the events and activities that have been done that have made you think otherwise?

I was here in 2006 for the first halal conference, there was no
standard developed and by 2007, it was published and it was really well
designed and a series of six books comprising of halal standard
booklets, with syariah decisions on questions in the food industry, and
those were really good products that were done in a really short period
of time.