The use of value-added certifications and specialty-label food, beverage, and nutritional products has expanded greatly over the last two decades. The adoption of certifications such as organic, non-GMO, fair trade, vegan, kosher, and various other niche markets and labels has especially grown. Meanwhile, the availability of gluten-free products and products that cater to the food allergies of many consumers has increased, as well.
Many of these labels have expanded beyond their initial purpose. Rather than existing solely as a means of identification for the watchful vegetarian, the ethics-minded Millennial, or the health-conscious parent, they are now selling points to a broader class of customers.
Niche food market growth
This can be seen in the numbers, themselves. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales have more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, to a current level of $43.3 billion. The USDA states that, according to industry sources, organic food sales accounted for around 4% of total food sales in the United States in 2012.
As consumers have adopted, and even embraced, products carrying such value-added claims, the claims themselves have become a means of moving products in what are no longer niche markets. A visit to any of the major international food, beverage, and nutritional expos makes that abundantly clear, as large posters proudly display long lists of certifications and claims that have been earned by the thousands of producers and distributors in attendance.
As marketers push to find new ways to sell the tens of thousands of new products that appear every year in the United States alone, one value-added certification has been largely overlooked. This certification taps into a market that is set to expand dramatically over the next few decades and has only been rudimentarily developed at this point. The market is the Muslim American demographic within the United States of America.
Halal certified foods
The certification is “Halal” certification, a specialty label granted by a third-party Halal certification body. If you are not directly involved in the meat industry, you are probably unfamiliar with the term Halal, or have only heard of it in passing. In truth, outside the realm of the abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and further processing facilities that create value added meat products, Halal has flown under the radar of most American producers and marketers since the inception of the modern global Halal industry decades ago.
Halal is a word of Arabic origin and literally means “permissible”. To the surprise of most who have heard of the term, it goes far beyond the basic Islamic religious rules for conducting animal slaughter. Halal governs the lives and spending habits of Muslims worldwide. It is a religious dietary and lifestyle ruleset for Muslim men and women.
It covers the blessing and slaughter of animals, animal welfare, feed, processing requirements for meat and non-meat foods, ingredients and their origin, additives and raw materials, ethics and a great many other things.
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Furthermore, a finished product cannot be considered Halal just because the first or last step was certified as Halal. Every step of the production process, from one producer or processor to the next, contains many points of potential cross-contamination or violation of Halal requirements and so every step must be inspected and certified.
The variety of products and services that Muslims look for to be Halal-certified stretches from steaks, cheeses, eggs, grains, and candy to gelatin, vaccines, protein drinks, food-grade lubricants, and even financial transactions.
Nowadays, several major sets of international standards exist which codify these rules. Because every step of the creation of these products and services must be certified, every ingredient, processing aid, and additive must also be certified.
In the 21st century, this has resulted in Halal rapidly evolving to become a label of confidence for Muslim consumers. It is also a certification that cannot be self-granted. Muslim consumers expect and demand third-party Halal certification for the products and services they buy to be granted by a reputable, independent Halal certification body.
One need not delve too deep into Islamic message boards and various social media platforms to see that Muslim American consumers discuss Halal issues almost obsessively. Advice is routinely solicited from fellow Muslim consumers as people discuss right and wrong in terms of meat and non-meat food products, beverage choices, nutritional supplements, medicines, vaccines, makeup, fragrances, clothing, restaurants, grocery stores…the list goes on and on.
Finding and verifying trustworthy manufacturers and retailers of Halal products is an unavoidable pastime of many Muslim consumers in North America. One of the reasons behind this is that most North American producers, distributors, and retailers are not aware of the importance and the opportunities that come with producing and marketing Halal-certified products. This leaves Muslim consumers feeling underappreciated while also feeling that their needs aren’t being met. Familiar mainstream brands are out of reach to the consumers who follow strict Halal dietary guidelines.
For companies who lay the groundwork now, the opportunity is there to reap the rewards of recognition by this specialty demographic for decades to come.
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