Money on the Table: Recent survey finds that halal consumers are underserved by foodservice providers

By Gregory Furgala

A recent survey of 1,000 halal consumers found that the market for halal products is largely underserved. It’s not for lack of trying, though, but a lack of innovation. The result is a significant gap in the marketplace.

Nourish Food Marketing, the Toronto-based food marketing agency that conducted the survey, reported that 57 per cent of respondents said their needs weren’t being adequately met by grocery store chains, while 62 per cent felt major food brands were failing to respond to their preferences. Those numbers have remained consistent since Nourish started surveying halal consumers five years ago, says Salima Jivraj, who heads Nourish Multicultural, despite more products and more resources being put into the promotion halal products.

“We’ve noticed in the past five years, retailers and manufacturers are stepping up their games, putting more out there, putting more effort into promotion,” says Jivraj. “We expected customer satisfaction to go up. It’s not, though. Consumer expectations are changing. As they see more products go on the market, they’re not seeing halal version.”

Jivraj says the message to grocery stores and food brand is clear: “Treat this customer like you would every other Canadian consumer. There are some variations of course across certain holidays, but day to day, it’s the same stuff.”

Jivraj explains that, while major brands are constantly rolling out new, interesting products that cater to consumers’ developing tastes, halal products tend to be bland and indistinct by comparison. Halal consumers’ expectations are changing like everyone else’s, and they’re already diverse to begin with. Halal isn’t a culture; it’s multicultural. It’s as diverse as the people consuming it.

“There’s an idea that the Muslim consumer has a certain lifestyle,” says Jivraj, but the only unifying thing about the halal marketplace is just that: halal food. It encompasses several different global cuisines, from Indonesian to Pakistani to Turkish. Notable food categories like organic or health food are to too-seldom considered in the realm of halal cuisine, says Jivraj, and there’s as much demand amongst Halal consumers for these types of food as there is amongst non-halal consumers.

“It comes down to innovation,” adds Jivraj.

There’s a strong financial impetus to do so, as well. Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey reported Canada’s Muslim population to be 1.05 million. Statistics Canada also expects that population to exceed Canada’s ethnic Chinese population by 2021. In a press release, Nourish president Jo-Ann McArthur noted that, in foodservice, the Halal market has been growing 10 to 15 per cent annually, compared to just 1 to 2 per cent in other market segments.

Restaurant operators may be better positioned than they realize to take advantage of the service gap, says Jivraj. Some slaughterhouses are halal without their clients knowing it, meaning operators might be missing out on an opportunity to market to halal consumers. Preparing halal meat can be as simple as ensuring surfaces are properly cleaned.

“It’s not nearly as involved as kosher, for example,” says Jivraj.

Operators planning to tap into the halal market, take note: traditional and digital media should be your go-to means of getting the word out. This year, Nourish asked respondents about whether they preferred traditional or ethnic media. Across age groups, respondents overwhelmingly reported preferring the former. Jivraj also notes that social media can also help operators and foodservice providers target halal consumers directly.

“Whatever you do,” says Jivraj, “regardless of what channel you use, it’s best to be targeted.”

It’s good advice not just for foodservice marketers, but foodservice providers and food brands generally, because right now, halal consumers are an under-served market, and an under-tapped revenue stream.

Correction: Salima Jivraj’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this article. Restobiz regrets the error.

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