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How grocers can meet the needs of halal shoppers

As the Muslim population in Canada grows, so does the demand for a more expansive selection of halal products
The Canadian halal market is worth approximately $1 billion and is growing at a rate of 13% per year, according to Nourish Food Marketing.

Salima Jivraj has been following the halal food industry in Canada for more than a dozen years. The client services director and multicultural lead for Nourish Food Marketing in Toronto describes steady-but-significant growth that mirrors the doubling of the nation’s Muslim population over the past two decades.

According to 2021 Census data, the Canadian Muslim community now numbers approximately two million, or about 5% of Canada’s total population. Nourish reports the Canadian halal market is worth approximately $1 billion and is growing at a rate of 13% per year. 

Jivraj says manufacturers and retailers have steadily improved their offerings over the years. “When we ask Muslim consumers about retailers and manufacturers, their opinion has always been neutral. But it’s tracking up to ‘good’ now.

“That’s a sign that retailers and manufacturers are getting better,” she says. While Jivraj says “meat is still the fundamental baseline for halal,” serving halal shoppers demands innovation and offerings that cover a range of categories. 

Sweet treats

Halal confectionery items include Ferrero Rocher’s Fine Hazelnut Chocolates and Nutella spread. And items such as Sweet Marshmallow Co.’s marshmallow treats are made using organic, grass-fed 100% halal beef gelatin in place of pork.

“There are some innovative things I’ve come across and confectionery has been very popular, especially in summertime,” Jivraj says. “People want to do things like go camping and make s’mores, and [these products] allow people to partake and really connect with things that their colleagues and peers are doing and just be part of that whole Canadian experience.”

Faaez Al-hendi, vice-president of operations at the Kitchener, Ont. grocer Ammar’s Halal Meats, sees evidence of the same trends in his shop. “Halal options of the foods and snacks that many Muslim Canadians grew up around in Canada are much more prevalent,” he says. “Desserts like cakes and gummy candies using halal beef gelatin are more commonly found.”

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Ready to eat, ready to cook

Al-hendi says Ammar’s has experienced an increase of approximately 30% in annual revenue compared to 2019, with product innovation being one of the key drivers. And an increased emphasis on health has led to expansion in the frozen and grab-and-go sections of his store. Al-hendi lists products such as hummus, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves and tabbouleh as items his customers tend to grab on the fly, while kibbeh, a bulgurand-meat dish for the grill, is a popular choice from the freezer section.

But, not everything needs to be health-forward for busy halal shoppers. Shalik Amanulla, senior brand manager, Maple Lodge Farms—which operates the Zabiha Halal food brand, says Muslim Canadians are as likely as anyone to prioritize convenience in fast-paced times.

READ: Halal food industry growing to meet demand as Muslim population continues rising

“Muslim Canadians have shared that halal snacking options featuring protein were lacking,” Amanulla says. “This led to the launch of Zabiha Halal Pizza Pockets, Corn Dogs and Chicken Sticks.

“While these items would not be considered innovative for mainstream consumers, they are new and exciting for halal buyers who have not had access to them in the past,” he says.

Sourabh Malik, vice-president, food at Walmart Canada, echoes this perspective. “As demand increases, we’re also seeing innovation increase,” he says. “One area I’m really excited about is the frozen category, with the opportunity to offer our customers even more ready-to-cook meals that are convenient and high-quality.” Malik cites halal chicken wings and burgers as examples.

Know your audience

While manufacturers and retailers have made great strides in meeting the needs of halal consumers, Amanulla says there is still room for improvement. “Grocery retailers without dedicated halal sections are potentially missing out on a consumer segment, which tends to have larger households and cooks at home more frequently,” he says.

Ammar’s Al-hendi, for his part, cautions manufacturers and grocers not to ignore the moral dimensions of halal. “When I think about what many Muslim Canadians really value when it comes to their food, it’s brand ethics,” he says. “They want to know that the brand they’re purchasing is willing to go the second mile for them through community involvement and awareness.”

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June/July 2024 issue.

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