Germany Waking up to Growing Market for Muslim Food

By Daniela Schröder

Halal meat shelves in a supermarket in France, where the market for halal food is far more established than in Germany.


Halal meat shelves in a supermarket in France, where the market for halal food is far more established than in Germany.

Germany has four million Muslim
inhabitants but the market for halal food — produced according to
Islamic law — is still in its infancy, partly because firms fear the
wrath of animal rights groups. But companies are slowly waking up to
this fast-growing market.

Gehlenberg is a sleepy village in northern Germany. It has a
population of 1,600 and boasts a church, community hall, war memorial
and a pub, along with a few wooden crosses by the roadside and a tiny
chapel. It’s a staunchly Catholic village, but on three days of the
week, the Prophet Muhammad makes the rules — in a white factory
building on the outskirts of the village, that is. That is where the
Meemken family business produces a broad range of sausage that follows
Islamic food standards. The company supplies almost 100 tons of salami
and various other types of sausage each week to food retailers in
Germany and abroad.

International food companies such as Nestle and Unilever have for years
offered a range of products that meet so-called halal food standards.
Halal is an Arabic term that means pure, or permissible. The term
refers to a way of life that follows Islamic law. German companies are
gradually realizing that catering to faith-oriented consumption is a
good way to make money. In these times of economic crisis, finding new
markets is more tempting than ever.

The potential market for halal food in Germany is huge. An
estimated four million Muslims live in Germany, and the community is
pre-programmed to grow because Muslims have a higher birth rate than
non-Muslims. Halal already accounts for 17 percent of the global food
market, according to the World Halal Forum based in Malaysia.

Food Companies Worried About Animal Rights Groups

Market experts say the halal segment is growing faster than any
other part of the food market. Sales of food that meets Islamic
standards are expected to reach $641 billion in 2010, up from $587
billion in 2004. The European halal food market is expected to reach
sales of $67 billion in 2010.

Food companies in other European countries with many Muslim
residents have already adapted to their needs. In France, the Casino
chain of supermarkets supplies halal meat products. In Britain, halal
food is easily found in the top chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
French delicatessen stores sell halal goose liver pate and British
pharmacy retailer Boots sells halal baby food.

It’s a different story in Germany, where supermarkets offer only a
meagre range of halal food. Many retailers are reluctant to slaughter
animals according to Islamic rules because they are concerned they
might get into trouble with animal protection groups.

German law forbids slaughtering animals that have not been
anaesthetized first. For most Muslims, a drugged animal is already
dead, and the Koran forbids the eating of carrion. To get around the
problem, many German halal producers procure their meat abroad.

But the ritual slaughter of livestock is also controversial within
the Muslim community. “One has to take account of the era in which the
rules of the Prophet were written and should not blindly follow
traditional rules,” says Yusuf Calkara of the European Halal
Certification Institute in Hamburg. But other certifiers are more
strict. “Industrially processed meat is never halal,” says Mahmoud
Tatari of Halal Control in the western town of Rüsselsheim. According
to Islamic rules, livestock must not suffer stress or agony, and mass
production does not live up to those requirements, he says.

Allah on Tape

Certifiers also have differing standards regarding the requirement
that butchers should call out Allah when they kill each animal. Some
say it’s enough for the call to be played from a tape, provided that a
Muslim starts the tape. Germany’s devout Muslims haven’t yet agreed on
uniform halal standards. Because the Islamic faithful in Germany belong
to different organizations, there is no overall monitoring body to give
a commonly accepted halal certification. As a result, there’s a large
market of halal certifiers who control the raw materials, the
production process, the hygiene standards and the suppliers.

Meemken, the northern German sausage maker, has just successfully
passed its halal audit. Its 60 halal products already account for half
of its entire production. The firm mostly supplies food retailers
outside Germany but recently added Germany’s Netto chain to its list of
halal food customers.

The machines are being painstakingly cleaned to remove any trace of
pork from getting into the sausages on the days when halal food is
produced. The company plans to install a new machine so that halal food
can be produced separately in future. “We’re definitely going to expand
this segment,” says managing director Rolf Meemken. “We’re registering
disproportionately strong growth with halal.”

Poultry producer Wiesenhof has had its products certified as halal
for years. But it’s up to the food retailers to decide whether to label
the products as being halal. “German companies are too cautious,” says
Levent Akgül of ethnic marketing agency Akkar Media in Hanover. “They
don’t know the different culture and they can’t calculate the risks.”
In addition, German food retailers are worried that putting halal food
products on grocery store shelves will deter non-Muslim customers, says
Akgül. Advertising for halal products in Germany is still taboo for
many German companies, he says.

Disproportionate Growth With Halal Food

Not for much longer, though. “The halal trend is unstoppable,” says
Peter Grothues, head of the food industry segment of Cologne’s trade
fair company which will host an exhibition later this month at which
800 of the 7,000 participants will be halal food producers. Most of
them are foreign companies that have been exporting to Germany for
years. At present their products are still confined to Turkish corner
shops in German cities. “But halal is becoming an increasingly
important pillar of the trade,” says the Federal Association of German
Food Retailers.

That’s not surprising given that people of Turkish descent in
Germany have an estimated purchasing power of €20 billion per year.
Nestle already earns more from halal products than it does from organic

Halal foods aren’t just sausage or meat. All food can be halal, from
cheese without animal enzymes to biscuits, herbs and coffee, provided
that the producers clean their machines with detergents that contain no

“The halal market is far from satiated,” says Derya Altay of the
German Federation of Turkish Wholesalers and Retailers. “Where German
consumers can choose from countless brands, the Muslim can only choose
between two or three.” The German industry would be well-advised to
broaden its horizons and embrace the halal market, he says.