Interview by Rushdi Siddiqui
Jamaluddin A. Kadir started his professional career in the Malaysian banking industry and amongst other accolades, headed the bank’s operations in London in the mid-70s. However, after almost two decades of service, he decided to trade in his business suits for coveralls and has since led PrimaBagus to be one of the country’s leading halal food manufacturers, with a bluechip list of customers, like Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC and Tesco.
Here he talks about the halal food industry and customer confidence.
After a successful career in banking, what attracted you to pursue the food industry?
When I started the company in 1987, Malaysia had just gone through a recession and some sectors were hit hard. Yet, no matter what the economic climate, people still needed to eat, so I thought the food industry was a relatively “safe” option. Furthermore, after spending four years in England and I saw the potential of traditionally non-halal products to be converted to halal. It made sense to cater to the growing influence of the ‘western’ international fast food chains and hotels entering the local market.
Did you have to educate them on halal?
We had to explain to them that halal was more than just about a product containing pork or alcohol. It’s about safe, quality foods that adhere to the Islamic principles of halalan toyyiban. This was a foreign concept to them, but after patiently explaining the benefits and, more importantly, proving that they did not have to compromise on the taste profile, they were very supportive of us and in fact became our ambassadors to their colleagues at the corporate HQs.
In 2006 Prima set up a joint venture company with an Australian manufacturer to produce beef patties in Malaysia for the likes of Burger King and Carl’s Jr. How did the JV assist in growing the company?
First of all, Comgroup realised the importance of teaming with a credible local halal manufacturer as they had had issues with exporting beef patties into Malaysia due to the strict halal requirements of Jakim. Once they moved to our premises, they leveraged on Prima’s and Malaysia’s halal credibility to export to Dubai, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Singapore and other Asean countries. For Prima, this was a great opportunity to access the markets that the JV was exporting to with our core delicatessen products. Market access is always a challenge but with a JV partner paving the way, we were able to work with their customers to supply complimentary products.
Given the recent horse meat scandal in Europe, how do you think halal can address customer confidence?
Its all about business ethics. But with halal, the owner of the company has a much higher compliance calling. It’s not just a business preposition; it’s a commitment you undertake for the hereafter. This is the accountability, I believe, the customers expect from a Muslim-owned halal companies, which may not be linked to non-Muslim manufacturers. The likes of Nestle and Hormel have halal divisions, but they are only accountable to their shareholders. That is why it is vital for companies who are shariah-compliant to be part of the food supply chain.
Halal transcends religion and ethnicity as it is about eating safe food for human consumption and looking at the entire supply chain in totality, from field to fork. If you have a traceability system in place with shariah-compliant companies along the ecosystem, this will automatically raise confidence amongst both the Muslim and non-Muslim consumers. For example, international QSR brand owners understand, and look at Singapore. The KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and a number of main street fast food chains operate halal outlets on the island, despite Muslims being a minority in the country. They look at halal as a value preposition that can be consumed by all.
What are your thoughts on His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s recent announcement about making Dubai a halal hub?
This is fantastic news as I believe Islamic nations should promote the halal agenda. It makes sense that Dubai be the base for halal food production as they have access to a large Muslim population of the GCC as well as being strategically placed to service Europe with products. Whether they set up manufacturing plants in Dubai or become a logistics hub for halal products, it would only add further credibility to the food supply chain.
The food service industry, be it hotels, fast food, retail or airline catering, continues to grow year on year and one of the challenges the industry faces is having a genuine source of halal foods. Dubai can most definitely capitalise on this. It has the financial means and infrastructure to propel halal well and truly into the mainstream and we, at Prima, would be delighted to be a part of leading his vision.
The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance and OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. Views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy