By Salima Jivraj
The word “halal” is Arabic for permissible. Similar in usage as the term kosher, it’s used by Muslims to identify food that’s suitable for consumption. Naturally, as a marketing term for the foodservice industry, halal is used to attract a specific type of clientele, and serving this community can be lucrative. The question is, how do you get on board and grow this healthy channel while being mindful of cultural, religious and generational nuances?
Who are your customers?
Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in Canada and the second-largest in population size after Christians. After the influx of immigrants in the early 60s and 70s from Asian and Middle Eastern countries to urban centres like Toronto and Montreal, we’re now seeing second, third and even fourth generation Muslim immigrants establish and settle in communities across the country, and they have diverse and underserved palates.
Don’t be fooled by stereotypes — individuals who identify as Muslim are craving Italian, Chinese, Greek and everything else the mainstream consumer is after as well. Their colleagues and peers influence and guide their choices, and they want what everyone else has access to. Outside of your typical South Asian and Middle Eastern halal restaurants, there are halal steakhouses, brunch spots and French fine dining restaurants that cater to Muslims. It’s all proof that as long as it’s halal, anything goes.
Setting the stage
Halal is a broad term that’s applicable to any industry. It’s not just a diet; it’s a way of life. As with most religions, there are various degrees to which people practice. The adjustments you make will determine what kind of halal customer you’ll attract.
You don’t need a separate kitchen to prepare halal food, but you will need some sort of segregation if you’re not going to do so exclusively. A different cooking surface, prep space and a different set of tools are the bare minimum required. Halal isn’t just meat either; you need to ensure that all the other ingredients used are also halal and stored separately from anything that’s not. It’s also worth noting that serving alcohol is fine, but you may not get the same response to your restaurant if you didn’t, and the same goes with pork. Many Muslims will be wary to eat at a restaurant that serves either because of the perceived risk of cross contamination. All things to think about when setting the stage for Muslim guests.
It’s also important to note that Muslim households are typically larger than average and have more children. Adding extra high chairs, installing change tables, and including some child-friendly halal menu options will help families feel more welcome and could attract more customers as a result.
Halal certification matters
Two years ago the Canadian Food Inspection Agency amended labelling regulations across Canada. Now, anything labelled halal must also include the name of the certification body that has verified the claim. This regulation goes beyond packaged goods at the retail level to include menus in restaurants and any type of promotion. It’s not enough for the ingredients and products used by your restaurant to be certified; if you want to claim your restaurant serves halal, the restaurant itself must also be certified before you can call it out.
Planning your halal menu
Serve what you know. In most cases, there’s no need to create new menu items or try to fit a cultural expectation. It’s also important to note that halal isn’t a type of cuisine. It’s a set of rules that, if applied, make food and beverage permissible to consume. We can thank the popularity of the Halal Guys for spreading the term to the point where people thought (and still think) halal means chicken and rice with white sauce. It can be as easy as eliminating a few ingredients from your kitchen and switching your protein supplier to become halal. The best way to be sure is to know your customer and community that you are situated in.
Planning your halal marketing
Letting the right customers know about your restaurant may seem challenging. But it’s all about understanding the community and targeting them where they spend their time. Word of mouth, including social media, is gold. With trust being paramount to this community, it’s crucial you take great care to ensure you are following proper halal protocols. Any mishap could leave a permanent mark on your reputation.
Having the right marketing partner in place can also help ensure success. As this population continues to grow, Statistics Canada projects the number of Muslims in Canada to surpass Chinese Canadians in just a few years. If you’ve wondered how to capitalize on this emerging market, now’s the time to put carefully vetted plans in motion.
About the author: Salima Jivraj is the Account Director and Multicultural Lead of Nourish Food Marketing, a marketing agency that specializes in Food and Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Salima can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at: http://www.nourish.marketing/