Demand for Halal hots up in USA

Demand for Halal hots up in USA
Certified sacred

demand for products that have been processed according to religious
standards is heating up in the United States and some processors are
warming to the challenge

By Lindsey Klingele, assistant editor

after poll reveals what Americans are after from poultry products:
wholesomeness, healthfulness and a certain “natural” quality. The
rising demand for clean labels has affected which products Americans
buy, and companies that offer specially certified products, such as Halal poultry, are among the ones reaping the rewards.

foods, which are processed according to strict Islamic guidelines, are
starting to appeal to a small but growing number of American shoppers.
Chicago-based research firm Mintel International Group estimates that
approximately 5 percent of those who limit foods for religious reasons
only eat foods that are Halal.

According to the USDA Foreign
Agricultural Service, standard guidelines for Islamic Halal, which
means “lawful” in Arabic, slaughter stipulate that the kill must be
done by hand by a Muslim, and with material that is sanctioned by
Islam. In addition, any further processing must adhere to Islamic
guidelines as well. (See “Halal deconstructed,” page 22.)

sales of Halal foods already are worth $580 billion annually, and are
maintaining a slow but steady increase in the United States as well.
This is due in large part to the growing population of
Muslim-Americans, a group estimated to be about 8 million strong,
according to the New York­based advertising agency J. Walter Thompson,
which released a survey on Muslim shopping trends in May.

survey also noted that while Muslim-Americans have a disposable income
of about $170 billion, 44 percent of them feel that current food
products available do not meet their needs. And according to the
Islamic Food and Nutrition Council (IFANCA), 90 percent of the Muslims
in the United States will only purchase meat that has been slaughtered
by a Halal-certified butcher.

“As the Muslim population grows,
so too will the demand for Halal food,” says Ann Mack, director of
trendspotting for JWT. “Supplying this existing demand can materially
change the fortunes of businesses that provide Halal [products].”

But it’s not just small or very small processors that are looking to the Halal market to grow business.

Moving mainstream?
Del.-based Townsends Inc. offers both fresh and further processed
certified Halal poultry products, including chicken wings, drumsticks
and boneless breasts.

“We see [these products] as an
opportunity to service our customer base and to be a better supplier to
the marketplace,” says Richie Jenkins, director of marketing for
Townsends. “It is a growing part of our business.”

Townsends has
its Halal products certified through an accredited third party, Halal
Transactions of Omaha, Neb. The organization charges for the
certification process, but Jenkins maintains that the expense has been
worth it.

“There’s not that many Halal-certified products in the
marketplace, and now we have six that are doing quite well,” he says.
“It opens up a new marketplace for us, and the business it’s gathered
has been worth the expense.”

Chicago-based IFANCA, a globally
recognized Halal certification program, charges approximately two cents
per pound on poultry products for Halal certification. The organization
works with more than 2,000 companies on approximately 25,000 products
worldwide, and it takes the label very seriously.

processors who sign a contract with IFANCA agree to have the
organization place a full-time supervisor on site to ensure that the
birds are slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines. “As far as
poultry is concerned, [this step] is very critical,” says Dr. Mohammed
Sadek, vice president of the IFANCA board of directors.

did not have to significantly alter its processing procedures in order
to meet the certification guidelines for Halal Transactions, Jenkins
says, but Townsends did have to add an on-site Muslim “blesser” who is
there throughout the slaughter process, and Halal Transactions does
periodic audits of the program to maintain the Halal certification.

Sadek says that certification is necessary for Halal products, not only
to build trust among Muslim consumers, but also to build a following in
the marketplace. He adds that having a certified product with a
reputable logo would further open up the market for processors looking
to join. “As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,” he says.

A thousand words, and perhaps many more dollars – if the $580 billion and growing industry is any indication.

although today’s growth of Halal products in the United States is
mostly limited to concentrated pockets of the Muslim-American
population – namely in Dearborn, Mich., Houston, and parts of New York
– that growth is due to spread.

JWT’s Mack admits that it would
be “taking a leap” to say that Halal could grow to be as prevalent as
other ethnic foods, such as Asian or Mexican. However, she says there
are lots of opportunities for Halal products. “We envision the aisles
in the supermarket dedicated to Halal foods, in much the same way as
kosher and ethnic foods, do today,” she says.

And if the growth
of Muslim communities and the demand for religious-certified foods
keeps rising, that vision may not be too far from becoming a reality.