Burger Fuel, the New Zealand restaurant group, is hoping its grass-fed halal meat will attract customers to a chain of outlets it plans to open in the UAE and give it an edge in the lucrative market for Sharia-compliant food.
Ayman Hanbali, the retail marketing manager for Al Khayyat Investments in Dubai, which has the UAE franchise agreement for Burger Fuel, says he hopes the chain will appeal to the Emirates' increasingly health-conscious population.
"People now are more aware and taking care of their health," Mr Hanbali says. "People would like to eat a burger but may say 'no, it might not be processed in a healthy way'.
"We are offering halal grass-fed meat, which comes from New Zealand. All the components of the sandwich also come from New Zealand, including the vegetables, and follow European standards."
Halal food is a fast-growing market, estimated to be worth more than US$650 billion (Dh2.38 trillion) globally this year, Business Monitor International says.
But it is also becoming an increasingly sophisticated market, with food producers offering grass-fed, organic and milk-fed veal to cater to discerning customers.
Darhim Hashim, the chief executive of the International Halal Integrity Alliance in Malaysia, says that as the halal retail market becomes more competitive, retailers and producers will look to differentiate themselves with gourmet and premium offerings.
This would be particularly so in a market such as the UAE, where most food offerings are already halal.
"In order to market your product you need to differentiate in other areas. So for example, you would offer organic, grass-fed, these sort of value adds," says Mr Hashim.
Ridha Khachnaoui, the UAE general manager of Prairie Halal, which supplies premium meats from Canada, says he has seen an increase in demand for its products, particularly milk-fed veal and corn-fed beef.
"They are looking for trustable sources for the halal meat, plus they are looking for better quality," Mr Khachnaoui says. "They are used to American or Australian or Brazilian meat, but now we have found a group which is going for the corn-fed beef for sweeter taste and tender beef."
Burger Fuel opened its first UAE restaurant on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai, and plans to open another outlet on Sheikh Zayed Road early next year. The chain plans to open 15 outlets over five years. But the growing demand for halal food goes beyond Islamic countries, where it is the norm or often the law. AT Kearney, the research company, estimates halal food could already be worth an estimated $30bn to the top five retailers alone.
AT Kearney says Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer, has quadrupled shelf space for halal food over the past four years in western Europe. Food retailers are also branching out beyond meat. Midamar, the US food retailer, is also producing halal premium pizzas. Al Islami, the Dubai halal food producer, is developing pizzas for global distribution and ready-made noodle meals for the Asian market, says Joachim Yebouet, its chief operating officer.
Demand for gourmet halal foods will grow thanks to the middle class, Mr Yebouet says. "They will look for healthier products and ask for some more gourmet types of offering, and we are ready to invest more in these high-demand products," he says.