Opinion: Cultural Sensitivities & Packaging Design for Halal Foods

By: Adel Radwan

To think that religion has anything to do with packaging is a far-fetched thought for most. The global Halal market is currently valued to be approximately USD2.3 trillion. If we consider that packaging comes in both tangible (products) and non-tangible (services) form, then that number rises quite dramatically.

The total number of people that identify themselves as Muslim now stands at 1.6B people. This economic powerhouse of a market is one of the major consumer segments in the world today, driving many FMCG and food multinationals to invest heavily in marketing and advertising in these markets for their products and services.

What is Halal? In summary, Muslims require their food products such as beef, chicken, or any other farmed animal to be slaughtered according to certain rights. With the exception of pork, which is prohibitive for Muslims to consume. As such any product that is a derivation of, or extracted from an animal source follows the same guidelines. Any and all plant based products are permissible, and the majority of seafood is also permissible to consume, with the exception of certain varieties.

It is therefore important to note that food manufacturers in Muslim majority countries carefully display the “Halal” label on their packaging based on their compliance to these dietary requirements. These requirements are normally administered and monitored by public and quasi-public-private organizations that certify brands to be Halal based on meeting their certification guidelines.

Consequently, packaging has a significant role in addressing cultural sensitivities in various markets around the globe. Many of the food-basket countries around the world cater to these organizations specifically to make sure their products are permitted entry into these highly lucrative markets. Brazil for example is home to one of the largest poultry exporters to the Middle East. BRF a Brazilian food manufacturing company owns the Sadia Brand of meat products specifically targeted to the Middle East and other Muslim majority countries. Annual sales of the Sadia brand are worth over $2 Billion dollars.

In North America, many consumer product companies apply for Halal certification to cater to local and international consumers. From nutritional supplements to hair and beauty products, the Halal label on packaging is one of the most important drivers influencing consumer purchase decisions.

Packaging Halal products then requires cultural insight to understand the varying factors that influence a consumer’s’ purchasing decision.

A study published in the Journal of Business & Management co-authored by Herry Hudrasyah a researcher at the Bangdung Institute of Technology in Indonesia examined the impact of “Halal” awareness, Halal certification, and personal societal perception on purchase intention.

The research hypothesis proposed a significant relationship between purchase intention and 3 variables:

  1. Halal Awareness i.e. whether the consumer knows the item is actually “Halal” or not.
  2. Halal Certification; does the product carry a “certified Halal” emblem from the monitoring authority.
  3. Personal societal perception i.e. purchasing Halal products as a cultural/religious practice.

Using the Instant Noodles as a test product that is highly popular among students between the ages 18-23 in Indonesia, the researchers surveyed the student’s willingness to pay based on the 3 mentioned variables.

Their research found a significant relationship between having a Halal certification emblem on the packaging and its influence on the consumer’s purchase intent. Surprisingly, the Halal awareness variable was not significant in the statistical sense in influencing purchase behaviour. Let’s revisit this result, shall we? The consumer’s awareness of whether a product is Halal or not was not a deciding factor in the purchase decision—in Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority country on earth!

Numerous studies have examined the Halal factor and its influence on purchasing. The information and imagery used on product packaging (at least according to one study) primarily influence the purchase decision, regardless of cultural background or moral stance. The use of visual and informational cues, tap into subconscious behaviours that influence consumer’s behaviour and are hardwired into our decision making process. Thus raising another question: if a Halal label drives a purchase decision, is the information regarding a Halal product made easily available for consumers?

Adel Radwan
Adel Radwan is an agribusiness & food manufacturing marketing consultant. With a niche focus on North African and Middle Eastern markets. Over the past 10 years, Adel partnered exclusively with commercial farms, food manufacturers, and FMCG brands to develop marketing strategies that create successful products.  

A graduate and alumnus of Concordia and McGill University Economics and Agricultural Economics programs with an unwavering passion for everything food related.