KFC Halal issue shows Halal is an identity issue

By Abdalhamid Evans, Founder, HalalFocus

The extent to which the KFC Halal trial has stirred public interest, both online and in the streets shows how much of an issue this is…and how deep it goes.

Naturally for the Muslims, eating Halal is an identity issue, especially for those of us who live in a predominantly non-Muslim country. As a minority, holding to Halal foods re-enforces the sense of who we are, and nothing does that quite like food does. Food issues, as we can see, go deep for everyone.

Being able to eat the food of where we live is a big part of feeling at home in a particular place, so being able to eat in local fast food joints and take-away’s, even if they are not the best nutritional choices, undoubtedly have an appeal in that they give a sense of belonging.

And this may have added to the disappointment of many Muslims who realised that the KFC bucket, while so close, was still so far away. Mechanical slaughter is beyond the pale for many Muslims, and we get a strong sense that this number is increasing. The issues of stunning and mechanical slaughter are coming under the spotlight all over the world, particularly for poultry which are, after all, the most popular protein.

This was a classic case of a mainstream producer doing the absolute minimum to gain access the Muslim consumers, a pattern that is seen all too often throughout the Halal marketplace all over the world, and of course there is always a certifier ready to comply.

Actually, the certifiers are really not to blame, there are religious rulings available that will cover almost every kind of slaughter, and getting everyone to agree on these issues is an impossible dream; it is not going to happen.

But full disclosure on labeling and being clear about what kind of process was applied is as important to the Halal consumer as nutritional information is to mainstream consumers…and maybe even more so.

Muslim consumers have flexed their muscles in the KFC Halal trial, and this may well be a useful learning experience not just for KFC, but for all others venturing into the Halal marketplace looking to do business. Find out what the customers really want.

The other interesting aspect of this whole affair is the impact it has had on KFC’s mainstream customers. Without a shadow of a doubt, the same protesters in Blackburn or Colne have all eaten Halal kebabs and curries, and not given the matter a second thought. After all, its foreign food, innit?

But when it comes to take-away chicken, burger and fries territory it somehow feels closer to home, and Halal becomes a different kind of issue, and identity issue. Not that there is really anything particularly British about imported American fast food, but one can understand the gut reaction.

Whether KFC are finding that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ remains to be seen. This affair has certainly boosted their Google search rates; searches for ‘halal kfc’ have increased 800% over the past 12 months! To what extent that is translating into sales remains to be seen, and we will have to wait and see how the KFC Halal trial goes. I guess the jury is still out, even though the Mufti has spoken.

If the situation over at the Quick counter in France is anything to go by, KFC may well be quite happy with the results. We heard from a wee birdie (well, it was quite a big birdie actually, more like a turkey) that going Halal was a good move for Quick, and they may well be increasing the number of restaurants with Halal menus in France.

The reactions may well be interesting.