Navigating Halal

by Mian N. Riaz, Ph.D.
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Many Muslim consumers follow the Islamic dietary code known as halal for guidance in making food-purchase choices. Derived from the Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted, halal as a basis for certification has become increasingly important to manufacturers whose products serve a global market.

Islam is the second-largest and fastest-growing religion globally, accounting for 1.4 billion people. It is estimated that the international halal food trade exceeds $632 billion per year and continues to grow, opening the doors of economic opportunities for manufacturers of halal-certified foods. The worldwide halal food market potential is not solely limited to Muslims consumers. Instead, expanding consumer awareness regarding quality and nutrition has also made halal a new possibility in marketing.

NEW MARKETS.

Enjoy Life, Schiller Park, IL, has produced halal-certified products for the past year. The company, which is known for its allergen-free products, certified its products halal to comply with requirements of major airline carriers. Enjoy Life’s peanut- and allergen-free profile has been welcomed by airline carriers that offer peanut-free products.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone from Enjoy Life products,” said Patricia Marko, director of sales.“We look to accommodate as many individuals as we can, especially targeting the allergy-sensitive consumer.”

The company’s products are already certified glutenfree as well as kosher certified, which simplified the process of halal certification, according to Ms. Marko. Enjoy Life is certified by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council. The council also performs third-party audits.

Because of the number of symbols currently used on Enjoy Life packaging, the company chose to leave off the halal symbol. Airlines do not require the product packaging to display halal certification.

CERTIFICATION PROCESS.

A request for a halal certificate may be initiated by an importer or the marketing department of a company. Certification begins by choosing an organization that meets a company’s needs for the markets it serves. Importing countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, many other Middle Eastern countries, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia have government-mandated halal programs, whereas the predominantly food exporting countries have independent certification bodies. If your target is a specific country, it is best to employ an organization approved, recognized or acceptable in that country. If your market area is broader or even global, then an organization with an international scope might be more applicable.

The certification process begins by filling out an application explaining the production process, the products to be certified, regions the products will be sold and marketed in, and specific information about the component ingredients. Most organizations will review this information and set up an audit of the facility. It’s also advisable to negotiate fees and have a clear understanding of the costs. In some cases, the cost may be thousands of US dollars per year.

During the review of the ingredient information and/or the facility audit, the organization may ask a company to substitute any ingredients that do not meet its guidelines. Generally, the company and the halal-certifying agency sign a supervision agreement. A halal certificate may be issued for one year or for a shipment of a product.

FOLLOWING LAW.

Because halal requirements are somewhat new to a number of North American processors, a list of ingredients that can be of concern to halal consumers can be found on Page 55. Items not falling under halal requirements may be considered haram, meaning forbidden or unlawful.

Bakers should be aware that ingredients such as mono- and diglycerides, sodium stearyl lactylates (SSC) and flavorings, to name a few, are considered haram, or unlawful for consumers of halal foods. Another major concern in breadmaking is pan grease and release agents used on the utensils. Alcohol is also another haram product. Although yeast-raised breads generate carbon dioxide and residual amounts of alcohol, the purpose of yeast in making bread is not similar to brewing alcoholic drinks. Therefore, bakers need not concern themselves with the presence of any residual alcohol in bread.

Manufacturers of cakes, cookies and pastries should avoid mono- and diglycerides,gelatin,polysorbate,SSC, L-cysteine, flavors containing alcohol and other non-halal ingredients. The frying of foods under halal certification should use vegetable oil or oils obtained from a halal source. Minor ingredients to avoid in donuts are very similar to those forbidden in cakes, pastry and cookies. Gelatin used on glazed donuts can be easily replaced by an appropriate plant gum.

Snack foods are another opportunity for manufacturers to court halal consumers. Typically snacks are fried and coated with seasonings, which can be a major concern because of the use of whey powder, cheese and other oil-based ingredients. This can be remedied by work- ing with companies that provide halal-certified seasoning to avoid haram, or doubtful, ingredients.

APPROVAL MARK.

After certification, the product package will feature a symbol or halal marking. Several symbols are used by the halal-certifying agencies, such as an “M” for Muslim, the Arabic word halal or the English word “halal.” However, a product would be better accepted by Muslim consumers if the logo is from a recognized halal authority, or in case of imported products, signify acceptance by a reputable halal-certification organization. The halal certificate is issued by an Islamic organization certifying that the products it covers meet the Islamic dietary guidelines, comprising of, but not limited to, the following: the product does not contain pork or its by-products; alcohol or alcoholic drink; prohibited food ingredients of animal origin; meat and poultry products are from animals slaughtered according to the Islamic Law; and it has been prepared and

manufactured on clean equipment. Halal certificates can be issued by any individual Muslim or Islamic organization or agency, but the accept- ability of the certificate depends upon the country of import or the Muslim community served through such certification. For example, to issue a halal certificate for products exported to Malaysia and Indonesia, the issuing body of the halal certificate must be listed on each country’s approved list. More than 200 organizations in the world issue halal certificates, but only a handful of them have been approved by Indonesia (MUI) and Malaysia (JAKIM).

The food industry not only needs to understand the halal requirements and principles for different countries, but it also requires an understanding of the organizations that would meet its needs the best. Such an organization should be able to service their global needs and be acceptable to the countries of import as well as the local Muslim community. An independent organization acting as a thirdparty endorser, without any conflict of interest, can better serve the importing and exporting countries.

Currently, Malaysia and Indonesia are the only countries that have formal programs to approve the halal-certifying organizations. Other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain may also do approvals of organizations for certain reasons in specific regions.

With the growing Muslim population, manufacturers who produce and market products based on halal food principles that are certified by a recognized certifying agency can greatly increase the marketability of their products in Muslim markets.

Mian Nadeem Riaz, PhD, is director of the Food Protein R&D Center at Texas A&M University. He can be reached through bakesnack@sosland.com

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