Image by Andrea Schwaim, Flickr

If you’re serious about talking to Muslim consumers, then one of the first things you need to understand is the meaning of the term halal.

In colloquial parlance, the term halal is used in reference to meat that has come from an animal slaughtered according to Islamic prescription, which is remarkably similar to – although not identical to – Kosher guidelines.

Products must also exclude ingredients that are forbidden to Muslims, like alcohol and pig-derivative products. Halal means “permitted.” The opposite is haraam, “forbidden.”

When the Quran talks of halal it uses a broader description of “goodness and wholesomeness”; the essence is that the product from its origin through to its final consumption should exhibit purity, care for the animals and the environment and ethical treatment at every stage of its production.

In a world that over recent decades has moved towards mass production and away from traditional farming methods and local goods, Muslims – like other consumers – are increasingly concerned about their produce being ethical and organic. Muslims consider these to fall under the wider definition of halal.

However, to consider a whole marketplace of products is more than one short article can handle. So here we are going to stick to the basics of food.

There’s another reason for doing so: In our research looking at Muslim perceptions of the sharia-friendliness of a range of well-known brands, the ones related to food and beverage topped the list.

Muslims believe that their physical intake directly affects their spiritual life. That’s why Muslim consumers are so intent on ensuring what they consume is halal. And considering that the halal market is estimated at around $500 billion annually and growing, brands should pay attention.

Images by mattcflynn, via Flickr

Certified halal

There is no global standard of halal; local boards pop up in every country. If you’d like your product certified halal, then the first step is to identify the certification bodies that will be most relevant to the Muslim consumers you are targeting.

If your product is entirely vegetarian, and contains no alcohol, then it’s worth noting that clearly on your packaging. The Chicago Tribune looked at the trend of rising farm-to-fork consciousness among Muslims, reporting that “some Muslims are making sure their food is not just halal, but organic, free-range and tayiib – Arabic for wholesome. They care as much about how the animal was killed as they do about how it was raised.”

Their concerns are part of growing consumer awareness and demands for ethical and organic food. In fact, a Dutch insights company called Innova published 10 key food trends for 2012 which included the values of purity, authenticity, sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

These values show a remarkable crossover with halal values, which point to the idea of wholesomeness, goodness and purity.

Pure and good

For marketers looking to engage Muslim consumers – in particular in developed markets – there is an opportunity to capitalise on this growing intersection between the organic/ethical market and the halal market.

In the US, Whole Earth Meats is halal and organic. It markets its burgers based on tradition and wholesomeness, using these values to appeal to Muslim consumers first, underlining them with its halal status.

Consumers who are not Muslim also state that halal (and kosher) foods are preferential due to the care and cleanliness that goes into preparing them.

In the Ningxia region of China, which has a high Muslim population, Malaysian firm Fahim is about to implement a Halal Integrity Management solution. This will deliver exactly what we’ve been discussing here – an end-to-end solution for monitoring halal status from farm to fork. It’s an exciting development for Muslim consumers.

The Chairman of Fahim’s parent company explains the potential for crossover in his region: “Our target is not only the Muslims but also the non-Muslims. I was told by some Chinese people that they preferred halal food products to allay food safety concerns as halal in Chinese literally means pure and good.”

The lesson to take away from all this is that the potential for halal to appeal to Muslim consumers (and beyond) is open to all businesses and brands wherever they may be. The simple, and lucrative, first step is to reach out to Muslim consumers by ensuring your products are halal-compliant, and making sure that your Muslim consumers know it.

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