USA: Barkaat Foods leading charge in growing US halal industry

RUSHDIBy Rushdi Siddiqui  for Khaleej Times

An exclusive interview with Ahmed Irfan Khan, founder and chief executive officer of Barkaat Foods in the United States, and speaker at the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2013 to be held on November 25 and 26 in Dubai.
What is Barkaat Foods?

Barkaat Foods is a zabiha halal USDA-inspected meat packing plant (abattoir). It is one of the three largest slaughter plants of this size and capability in North America for lamb, goat and veal. It is a B2B company that operates out of a 46,000sqft facility in Chicago.

What is Taaza2U?

Taaza2u is a zabiha halal meat processor of raw and ready-to-cook food products with last mile supply chain logistics. It is a B2C company with a USDA distribution centre in Chicago, catering to Muslims within Chicago and surrounding areas.

Is the halal industry in the US bigger than that of the UK, the UAE and Pakistan?

The halal food industry is significantly bigger in the US than the UK, the UAE or Pakistan. Halal foods comprise one of the fastest-developing consumer markets in the US. Halal consumers spent $20 billion on food items and related services in 2011. This growth is reflected in the number of stores selling halal meat — from 10 outlets in 1970 to over 2,300 in 2012. Moreover, there are now over 6,900 restaurants in the US serving halal consumers.

There are several compelling reasons why the American halal food segment is now and will become an increasingly attractive market segment.

The purchasing power of American Muslims is estimated to be about $200 billion annually. With an annual growth rate of 10-15 per cent, the US halal food segment will exceed $20 billion by 2015. This is fuelled by an expanding Muslim population. In addition, the US is a major exporter of halal food products to Middle East and Asian countries.

In halal food and proteins, there is so much focus on slaughter, but as important is the ethical treatment of livestock, feedstock, etc. Your experience on this?

Halal is mentioned in the Holy Quran many times with the word Tayyib, meaning good, pure, clean, wholesome, fit, etc. Halal and Tayyib slaughter entails the use of permitted animal that is in good health, fed on good natural food, devoid of growth hormones and enzymes on a farm with good animal husbandry record and application of all animal welfare standards. At Barkaat Foods, we are extremely cognizant of the fact that Tayyib is a critical part of the halal process. As part of our supplier requirements for whole foods, we undertake annual independent food safety and animal welfare audits by Silliker Global Certification Services.

What about cross contamination during distribution to the end user? Are there challenges on traceability?

Producing zabiha halal goods is not only a matter of business — it’s a promise. Muslim consumers globally depend on halal claims being true for their spiritual well-being. Non-Muslim consumers buying halal want to be sure to consume the high quality they associate with halal. Barkaat Foods has solved the traceability issue by owning the entire supply chain from slaughter to distribution. It distributes its products directly to end consumers through, thereby ensuring that every product is zabiha halal.

How important is it for Muslims to control the halal food supply chain? Are there integrity risks?

In recent years, Muslims have become increasingly concerned about the meat they eat. Globally, Muslim consumers are concerned about a number of issues concerning meat and meat products such as growth hormones, impermissible feed, non-zabiha methods of slaughter, use of prohibited ingredients, pork DNA in halal meat and pork intestine casings. These integrity issues can only be overcome by Muslims controlling the entire halal food supply chain from farm to fork.

We look forward to growing the company both organically and inorganically. I have read your interviews and articles; I am aligned to your way of thinking in taking a consolidation approach to a fragmented market dispersed in Asia, North and South America and Europe.

What are your plans to grow the company in the US, the GCC and Southeast Asia?

We want to provide an end-to-end halal solution, where not only our facilities and products are halal, but also our growth will be with Islamic finance. We are particularly interested in the use of, say, sukuk to grow our balance sheet and also use proceeds to acquire companies.

For example, as part of it’s growth plan, Taaza2u plans to expand operations with the addition of 15 distribution centres located in areas around the US that have a high population density of Muslims.

We are extremely excited by the announcement by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, about the Halal industry as part of the Islamic economy, and, as a speaker, I look forward to contributing at GIES in Dubai.