USA: Helping the Halal consumer

The Halal Consumer

by Zakia H. Matthews – Azizah Magazine

Taifa Naeem, a married mother of three, browses through the supermarket aisles to purchase her weekly groceries. She does what most Muslims do when purchasing food products – she turns the package over to read the list of ingredients. She is searching for key words that signal if a product is okay to purchase. Ms. Naeem, a second generation American Muslim, passes over the frosted pop tarts, the TV dinners, jellied candies and chicken noodle soup. All of these are typically not permissible products for American Muslims because the ingredients are usually not halal. While the term halal – lawful or permissible in Arabic – encompasses all aspects of our Muslim lifestyle, we are using it here to speak about food products.

Faisal Masood, founder of the American Muslim Consumer Conference, relates American Muslims hold 170 billion dollars in spending power. It is an amount that is expected to grow exponentially as indigenous Muslims, who make up nearly half of the US population, grows and immigrant Muslims raise their second and third generations in America. As numbers grow, Muslims continue to maintain purchasing habits that align with their Islamic faith. “We want to be able to look at a product and see a recognizable halal logo. We want products that are inclusive and speak to our needs,” says Ms. Naeem.

The Pure Halal Center, based in Philadelphia, – a halal certification company, is answering those needs by specializing in training, product development and community outreach. The Pure Halal Center (PHC) examines the needs of the American Muslim consumer and then works with manufacturers, universities, hospitals and other institutions to offer halal products. PHC recognizes that the supply for halal is not meeting the demand. As a result, Muslims often unwittingly consume forbidden products. The goal of the Pure Halal Center is to “make the choice to live halal in America a little easier,” says Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins, CEO of The Pure Halal Center.

For Muslims living in Philadelphia, shopping halal is indeed getting easier. The Brown Family chain of Shoprite supermarkets currently offers a number of halal products and is working aggressively to increase shelf space for more certified halal products. Customers can find brands such as NAC Foods’ Mimi brand spices, Club America’s Halal gummy bears and Tayy-ib brand lunch meat. Retailers are also offering IFANCA certified Halal brands such Crescent Foods, Saffron Road, and Toms’ of Maine products in many cities.

Historically, halal certified products have been hard to come by in the US from mainstream brands, but times are changing, says Ms. Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins Her company, The Pure Halal Center, is in talks to certify products from Herr’s – the third largest snack food brand in America.

There is crossover appeal for halal products. Many non-Muslim consumers already choose to buy halal products, especially meat offerings. One reason is because halal is widely known to be held to higher standards of quality. This is particularly important at a time when more Americans are looking to adopt healthier eating habits.

The average American Muslim consumer is every bit as educated, tech savvy, socially linked and upwardly mobile as their non-Muslim counterparts. Moreover, they are tight-knit and brand loyal. Muslim Americans want to purchase the same products as every other American – they just want them to be unquestionably halal. The number of American Muslims is slated to reach 16 million by 2014 and American Muslim consumers are looking ahead. They are no longer satisfied with purchasing products after having no choice but to read a lengthy list of ingredients and spending way too much time in the supermarket. Mainstream manufacturers and retailers have been slow to take notice. Studies show that while the opportunity for market share among other segments is dwindling, the American Muslim market remains virtually untapped.

Executives at The Pure Halal Center suggest manufacturers and retailers expand their product lines and marketing strategies to be more inclusive. It is a sentiment echoed by others. Maria Omar, Director of Media relations with global certifier Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), notes that government agencies, global corporations and certifiers are aligning with the halal industry and the likes of the American Halal Association, a key trade association, to create standardization. What awaits these corporations are millions of American Muslim consumers who are eager to buy quality halal products.