With a business hub like Dubai making a bid to become the global authority on Halal certification, it seems as though the Islamic standard for consumer products is becoming more about profit than accommodating religious beliefs.
A haven for out-of-control consumerism, Dubai is pressing for its case at the International Food and Safety Conference, which kicked off this week in the port city.
Halal, which means ‘permissible’ in Arabic, refers to all food and consumer products, other than that which contains the following ingredients:-
- The flesh of carnivores or carrion.
- Or comes from an animal which has not been slaughtered in the correct manner, which includes killing in the name of any deity other than Allah.
Based on these parameters, there may be numerous companies across the globe that provide products Muslims should have no contention with. But without the added ‘Halal’ branding, they lose out on a multi-million dollar consumer market.
Granted there are many products sold across the globe that contain gelatin (whipped cream and cheese), which may contain the waste parts of swine. So Muslims have a legitimate reason to be skeptical with regards to food – as should every other person who has access to the internet and can see what is going into what we eat these days.
For any business in the Islamic world and beyond, the market for products targeting Muslims is not one to be overlooked. Muslims spent a total of $1.62 trillion on food and lifestyles in 2012, according to estimates by Thomson Reuters and DinarStandard, a New York advisory firm that focuses on emerging Muslim markets. According to The Global Halal Forum, the world’s Halal market is worth as estimated USD2.3 trillion and the value of halal food sector is reaching USD700 billion annually. Interestingly the non-food products account for a bigger slice of the pie and these include chemicals, healthcare, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
“The rules and regulations we are planning to implement will regulate this part of the process [raw materials and addictives], so when the consumer purchases the product, he has the trust that the product is halal,” said Farah Al Zarooni, Director of Standards at the Emirates Standardization & Metrology Authority (Esma) while speaking to a UAE publication.
For the intelligent consumer, Muslim or non-Muslim, finding out what a product is made of and where its ingredients come from is fairly simple and one doesn’t need the ‘Halal’ label to prove it ‘trustworthy.’ But Muslims – like all other consumer groups - are eating all of this up (no pun intended).
While some might find it convenient to trust a label rather than put in the extra research, using religious beliefs as a marketing ploy beyond the needful should raise caution for those who choose to look at what is really going on.
However, aggressive marketing is a reality across all products and audiences. Why should companies leave out an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims?
To gauge the extent to which ‘Halal’ is losing its Islamic touch to profit-making, take the example of Cadbury in Australia. This year the household chocolate brand introduced ‘Halal Easter Eggs’ to invite Muslim consumers. Easter is traditionally a Christian holiday and Halal is still considered a very Muslim phenomenon.
Clearly it’s good marketing on Cadbury’s part but last I checked most Muslims do not draw distinctions between Halal and Non-Halal chocolates.
If companies continue to aggressively market ‘Halal’ for more and more products, the average Muslim consumer may fall for the bait and buy into marketing on the ticket of religious beliefs.