x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE takes the lead in Shariah-compliant food

From hotdogs to hotels, the demand for halal food is growing around the world.

ABU DHABI // From hotdogs to hotels, halal companies around the world are seeing an increase in the demand for Shariah-compliant foods and noting an emerging role for the UAE as an industry regulator. Businesses from more than 30 countries including Australia, Kuwait, the UK and Serbia gathered for the second Halal World Expo in an effort to come to a consensus on what actually makes a product halal. "We need better international standards, and you have countries like Malaysia and now the UAE starting to take a strong role," said Mazen Darawsheh, the regulatory affairs officer for Nestle, which only produces Shariah-compliant food products. Catering to the world's fastest growing religion of about 1.4 billion people, the rapidly growing halal industry, worth an estimated Dh7.7 trillion (US$2.1 trillion), has broadened in scope in recent years to include everything from food to Islamic fashion and textiles, as well as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even Islamic finance. The highly fragmented halal industry has been the subject of global debate as industry leaders push for more standardised regulations. While Malaysia currently dominates the industry, the UAE has emerged in recent years as a major player, given its diverse population and proximity to both the Asian and Middle Eastern markets. The UAE particularly serves as a gateway to the Saudi Arabian market, where Shariah compliance is a requirement for all food products. "This is a very attractive market for our business," said Jolly Raca, the export director of Philippines-based Florence Foods. "There are a lot of Filipino people here and in Saudi Arabia, so they like eating Filipino food, but we make it halal so that it will appeal to the Muslim people living here too." Experts say it will be a long and difficult process to draw up unified guidelines, since there are as many variations of halal around the world as there are countries. "The meaning of halal is different from country to country," said Mohammed Jalal al Reyaysa, the director of public relations for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. "We are part of a committee that determines if a product is halal or not." While most countries in the Middle East and North Africa regard almost all Shariah-compliant products as halal, countries in South East Asia limit this designation to food products. The UAE has never required businesses to label halal products. According to Mr Reyaysa, halal brands wishing to enter the UAE market are required to submit a certificate from an Islamic association in their own country that has been recognised by the embassy of the UAE in that country. Demand for more Shariah-compliant products is on the rise. Research conducted by Brand Union has found that 70 per cent of Muslims worldwide follow halal standards to some degree. The industry could easily account for 20 per cent of world trade in food products by 2025, according to the Canadian government's Agri-Food Trade Service. However, most of the companies gathered at this year's Halal World Expo noted that they were not just marketing their products to Muslims. "I sell organic halal products, so the halal part appeals to Muslims but the organic part can appeal to Christians, or anyone," said Dusko Duric, the director of the Belgrade-based halal organic food producer Suoloe Salute Serbian. The halal industry is increasingly expanding to include non-food products, said Hani Lashin, the group general manager of Al Jawhara Shariah-compliant hotels and apartments. "We prohibit alcohol and all our food is from Al Islami [food company] so it is 100 per cent halal-compliant," he said. "Sixty per cent of our guests are non-Muslims, because we ultimately provide them with a quiet, safe, family-oriented hotel." Another active sector looking to boost its portfolio with Shariah-compliant products is the cosmetics industry, worth an estimated Dh2.06bn worldwide. Brands such as ACTIValoe, Sunbreeze and Kandesn have already earned the approval of the Chicago-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America and various other halal certification boards. vsalama@thenational.ae