Canada: Halal meat carving out niche market in growing Muslim community

Some like their meat rare, while others insist on organic free-range fare. But a different category of meat is gracing restaurant menus and filling grocery store shelves in Nova Scotia.

As the Muslim community across the province grows, the number of businesses from butchers to restaurants selling halal meat has grown in lockstep.

It’s a budding trend turning into big bucks for businesses offering beef, goat, lamb and chicken slaughtered according to Islamic religion.

Taiba Halal Grocery, a small shop “run by Muslims for Muslims,” opened in Halifax three years ago selling meat allowed under Muslim law and other specialty foods.

“We became frustrated with the quality of halal meat available here,” co-owner Khalil Alshanti said Thursday. “We opened up the grocery store as a service to the Muslim community and over time we’ve also served some non-Muslims, too.”

Alshanti and his business partner, Ahmad Alhamoui, buy the meat for their grocery store at farms in Upper Rawdon and Bridgewater.

“We go down there and slaughter the animals,” he said. “The main thing is you don’t want the animal to experience any shock or trauma before it’s killed. The animal shouldn’t see blade before it’s slaughtered with the single swipe of a blade.”

With Nova Scotia’s growing Muslim community, now estimated to be close to 20,000, as well as an influx of university students hailing from the Middle East, Alshanti said competition has grown over time.

In the capital region, Bailey’s Meat Market in Bedford, House of Halal Groceries in Halifax and Mid-East Food Centre & Cafe in the north-end Halifax offer halal meet.

In Sydney, Lebanese Flower opened last September.

“My family only eats halal meat and we knew a lot of Muslims in Cape Breton would like a restaurant that served halal meat,” said Ray Kassem, whose family owns and operates the restaurant. “We’ve also had a lot of support from the local non-Muslim community who really love the food, too.”

Halal has many meanings in Arabic but generally means “what is permissible” in the Islamic religion. Things that are not halal include pork and gambling, for instance.

Mike Oulton had never heard of halal meat when he started farming in Martock many years ago. But now it’s an integral part of his farming operation and the Mike Oulton Meat Shop.

Long-time employee Terry Patterson said serving the ethnic community is a very strong part of the business and continues to grow each year.

“There is a Muslim who comes by every Tuesday and blesses the animals and slaughters them,” he said. “We have a number of Muslims that come here to pick up the meat and we also do deliveries to homes, restaurants and stores.”