One emerging group is Muslims, who are obligated to eat only Halal-certified foods according to their religious beliefs.
The United States' population is ever-growing with a number of diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. Many of these groups have various norms and values by which they abide. These behavioral norms, which may be imposed by culture or religious beliefs, are often borne out in food preferences and diets of each group. Therefore, agricultural producers should explore marketing to various sectors in order to maintain successful businesses. One group that is emerging is Muslims, who are obligated to eat only Halal-certified foods according to their religious beliefs.
What Does it Mean to be Halal?
In the Islamic community, the Qur'an/ Koran identifies a Muslim's way of life into two categories: "Halal," which in Arabic means, "what is permitted" or "lawful", and "Haram," which is "what is not permitted" or "unlawful." These two terms apply to all aspects of a Muslim's life including food and such diverse items as cosmetics, personal care, and cleaning products. Some estimates show that 70% of all Muslims worldwide follow Halal principles (Minkus-McKenna).
In Islam, eating is a form of worship to God (Allah), like prayer. The list of prohibited food products is quite extensive, but there are a few common themes. First, slaughtering of animals must be performed by making a cut through the jugular vein while saying the name of Allah. Then, after the animal's quick death, it must be skinned and drained of all blood (IFNCA). Second, the use of any animal by-products is strictly prohibited. Animal by-products are products either taken or produced from the body of an animal. Examples of some animal by-products include blood, gelatin, and processed dairy products (which use enzymes and proteins from animals) except for milk which is considered Halal.
Generally, all foods are considered Halal except the following (IFNCA):
- Swine/pork and its by-products
- Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
- Animals not killed in the name of Allah
- Alcohol and intoxicants
- Carnivorous animals, birds of prey, and land animals without external ears
- Blood and blood by-products
- Foods contaminated with any of the above products
To learn more about Halal regulations, the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America's website is a great place to start. Additionally, the Muslim Consumer Group provides updates about new foods and whether they are considered Halal or Haram.
How is Demand for Halal Food Products Changing?
There has been a steady increase in the Muslim population in the United States in recent history. The Pew Research Center estimated the following population of Muslims in the U.S.:
- 2007--2.35 million
- 2011--2.75 million
- 2015--3.3 million
- 2050--6.6 million (Mohamed).
Although these and other estimates are highly variable, all agree that the Muslim population is growing rapidly. In addition to population growth, we know that the average Muslim family is large, with an average of 4.9 people in many households (Mujahid). This means that there is a broad age range in the household. With an increase of Halal foods for all ages on market shelves, both the Muslim community and grocers will benefit greatly.
In some cases, U.S.-based firms are looking to sell directly into Middle Eastern markets. Some companies, like Midamar Corporation, a leading worldwide producer of Halal products, offers consulting services for food businesses located within the United States who are interested in entering into markets in the Middle East (Business Wire). This signals tremendous market opportunity.
Who Buys Halal Foods?
Although Muslims are obligated to eat Halal-certified foods, there are other consumer segments that may be interested in these foods. For example, because the use of animal by-products is banned in Halal foods, vegetarians and vegans who avoid eating meat products represent a large portion of the possible target market. For the same reason, Halal foods are a good alternative for people with specific animal by-product allergies.
What Products Should Value-Added Producers Consider?
Currently, Muslims have few widely available Halal-certified foods from which to choose. Therefore, producers seeking to make value-added products for this market can choose from a wide range of products to market. These include Halal gelatin for baked goods, shortenings, jellies, ice cream, yogurts, cheeses using microbial enzymes rather than animal derived enzymes, and prepared food not cooked on the same grill as pork or any other Haram foods. Muslims in the U.S. are also a key buyer of goat meat. As stated earlier, the U.S. Muslim population has a fairly large, and growing, amount of purchasing power. Producers who enter this market sooner rather than later are more likely to prosper.
How Can Producers Market to Halal Consumers?
Once a more diverse selection of Halal foods is available on market shelves, Muslims are likely to purchase more of these value-added goods. That is, there is some latent demand for Halal food products. However, the non Muslim market needs to be educated and informed about the benefits of Halal foods before sales to those segments notably increase. The term Halal needs to appeal to the public by being presented as a healthier option that is known to be "vegetarian-approved."
The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America can assist with the nationwide marketing of Halal-certified products. Once a product is Halal-certified, the product and manufacturer's name is listed on the Council's website. Anyone searching for Halal-certified foods will most likely find that list. In addition, the manufacturing companies will be listed in the Halal Consumer Magazine, which is published twice a year. Finally, the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America receives numerous requests for Halal-certified products from consumers, food service organizations, and foreign importers. They promote their own certified companies in responding to these requests. Also, there are marketing venues provided annually by the Food Marketing Institute in which Halal food producers promote their products to marketing firms and public relations houses across the country. This way, Halal products may then be advertised in the mainstream marketplace.
As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, regional ethnic food journals are becoming more prevalent. Press releases, advertisements, and featured stories in these journals as well as magazines and newspapers allow wider education and potentially a larger consumer base.
It is vital for producers to conduct research on all aspects of Halal certification in order to promote their products effectively to both Muslim and non-Muslim parties. By doing so, their value-added products will be a profit table endeavor.
How Does Certification Work?
Certification of Halal foods must be performed by a third party organization to hold credibility. The most reliable national agencies are the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America and the Muslim Consumer Group. The first step is to visit their websites (provided earlier). After learning about them, you may submit an application online, via mail, or fax. After a telephone discussion, an inspector will arrange to visit the food production facility to verify that raw materials and production and sanitation practices are consistent with Halal principles. For certification, the owner will sign a contract stating the frequency of inspection, the products being certified, and the fees associated with certification. The certification is usually issued for a one-year time period, but can vary depending upon the type of products being certified. The agencies' contact information is listed at the end of this fact sheet.
As the United States becomes more diverse, there is an increasing opportunity for food producers to differentiate their products and gain price premiums. However, as with any market segment, the marketer must get to know the customer. The Muslim audience has particular religious beliefs that constrain their diets. By providing foods that fi t Muslims' prescribed diets, producers may be able to diversify their markets and increase their profitability.
Certifying Agencies' Contact Information
Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America
IFANCA Head Office
777 Busse Highway
Park Ridge, Illinois 60068
Muslim Consumer Group
P.O. Box 8538
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
By Jeffrey Hyde, Alyssa N. Miller, Sherri Morisco, and Dana Ollendyke