Once a small market, the halal food industry is now big business for the food industry. To underscore this point, by the end of 2010 the sector will be worth over 5 billion euros.
Just weeks after a row erupted over a French fast-food chain selling halal burgers - or burgers prepared according to Islamic practices - a food fair featuring halal has opened in Paris this week.
The halal burger controversy erupted when French fast-food chain Quick announced that it was selling halal meat in eight of its restaurants. This resulted in the mayor of a small French town with one of these restaurants to file a formal complaint accusing Quick of discrimination against non-Muslims.
In a country that takes its food and secularism as seriously as France does, this argument was always going to run and run. Thus it was no great surprise when French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire further fuelled the storm by declaring that when restaurants “remove all the pork” from their menus, they “fall into communalism, which is against the principles and spirit of the French republic”.
The debate left a bitter aftertaste in a nation that has just spent the past few months engaged in a government-introduced "national identity debate" which raised more questions than it answered.
But in the food-stacked aisles of the halal section at Paris’s annual “Snack and Fast fooding Expo", the controversy has been put into cold storage.
Halal food is still a niche market, but it’s a business that’s growing at a fast clip. Attracted by the industry’s impressive 15% annual growth rate, major food conglomerates are now competing with the companies that have traditionally dominated the sector.
Cedomir Nestorovic, a halal food market specialist and marketing professor at the Paris-based ESSEC business school, said "Ultimately, the market will surpass, by far, the organic sector."
Blending modern eating trends with tradition
France today is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 5 million. France itself has a population of just over 60 million. For French food companies, a particularly lucrative section of this market are wealthy French Muslims, or immigrants hungry for Western-style food products but who are not willing to sacrifice their religious or culinary traditions.
"Many young people express a desire for modernity but are reluctant to reject their origins," explained Nawel Dehiri, a specialist of ethnic marketing at Solis, a French polling and market research group.
According to Solis, 90% of the estimated 5 million-strong French Muslim community buy certified halal food products.
The research firm also found that of the 5.5 billion euros spent on halal products, one billion is spent in restaurants and 4.5 billion is accounted for by individual households.
Responding to this demand, French shoppers at major supermarkets now have a choice of shepherd's pie and pizza made in accordance with practices prescribed by the Koran.
Certifying the certification
This enthusiasm, however, poses a major problem: how to ensure that the products are truly consistent with Koranic precepts.
The practices are strict: in the case of meat, for example, the animal must be slaughtered alive without being stunned or made unconscious, its head should be turned toward Mecca, and the slaughter must be done by a certified butcher.
In France, Muslim butchers have special dispensation so that they are excluded from French and European laws which require butchers in slaughterhouses to stun or render animals unconscious before killing them. However, the halal certification is not as yet covered by state regulations and consumer codes, therefore confirming compliance with the halal rules is difficult to verify.
Date created : 2010-03-31