GIES: Halal food industry still far from realizing full potential

halal-1-640x411By Layan Damanhouri, Saudi Gazette

DUBAI – The halal food industry is still far from achieving its full potential and not leading in quality and profitable business, according to industry experts at the Global Islamic Economy Summit held here that covers a wide range of economic sectors impacting 1.6 billion Muslims globally.

The opportunities for the halal food market is valued to reach up to $5 trillion, said Saqib Mohammed, CEO of the Halal Food Authority based in the UK. “We are only working in food processing and standardization. However, there are many opportunities in logistics, retail, transportation, fine dining, and other areas of the food industry.”

Muslims currently spend around $1.1 trillion on food annually. This makes about 17% of total food consumption. An estimated 450 billion worth of that food is certified.

However, Muslim countries rely much on importing food products. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries import as much as 50% of their vegetable products, 32% of processed food, and 18.5% of animal products.

There are bigger opportunities than standardizing halal certification around the world, according to Rafiquddin Shikor, Managing Director of Dinar Standard in the UAE. He said Muslims should focus on value creation.

“Halal is always linked with ‘tayyeb’ but not much is being done towards this,” he says. “There is already a global trend of healthy and fair trade products. When we get basic certification, we will have to improve halal and tayyeb standards. We’re still far.”

Halal-themed restaurants in fine dining remain absent in Islamic countries and in the world, he added. “Product innovation is needed.”

The definition of halal varies quite a lot depending on countries, according to Zohra Khaku, founder of digital magazine Halal Gems specialized in halal food. “Those in the UK are trained to look at ingredients on the labels because it’s an individual’s responsibility. In the GCC, however, people have a more flexible approach when eating abroad,” she told Saudi Gazette.

Asked about the awareness level of Muslims about the definition of halal, she said: “We could do with more education. We also need more food bloggers.

Halal Gems launched an app to find halal restaurants worldwide. “We aim to educate people around halal food and to give them insight to halal restaurants around the world,” she said.

Developing the quality of halal products can equally improve the reputation of Islam around the world. Saqib Mohammed further said “the reputation of halal food has been damaged. The worst videos of slaughters come from Muslim countries. We don’t have public relations campaigns that are enough to influence the West and gain access to market penetration.”

Defining one set of standards for halal food is necessary in the meantime, but will be challenging in the coming years.

“We need to create one set of standards to have only one halal certified logo,” said Mohammed Badri, managing director of International Halal Accreditation Forum in UAE. “We all want to make sure whoever certifies halal food is doing it rightly and is not making profit in a competitive market.”

There are over a hundred certifications around the world that vary in strictness and standards, pushing consumers away from trusting products.

Asked about the major challenge, he said standardization in the interpretation of Shariah law. “It’s not easy. Scientifically if you prove the practice is right, no one will object.”

He added “our countries are very behind in research and development.”

The organization now is currently making an agreement between countries to create one unified approach that is expected in a few years to have one logo with an agreed standard.