Demand for halal meals is on the up and those caterers ready to meet demand are reaping strong benefits. Nik Loukas reports
McDonald’s UK trialled a halal offering a few years ago but decided the significant changes in the kitchens and supply chain were not yet worthwhile given demand. However, inflight caterers see great benefits from halal certification and are widely ready to respond to the positive demand for this service from their airline customers.
The global Muslim population is expected to reach 2.2 billion by 2030, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, and most of this population is young, educated, mobile and among one of the fastest-growing traveller demographics.
CresentRating, which researches the halal/Muslim travel market, estimates the sector’s contribution to the global economy is set to jump from $180 billion to $300 billion. Halalbooking.com specialises in halal-friendly hotels and villas worldwide and has a customer base of over 300,000 guests from 84 countries. The UK-based business features resorts and properties that offer halal food as part of their menus or close by. Most properties are completely dry and do not serve alcohol, or if they do will remove any items from the minibar on request. Over the last nine years sales have doubled year on year.
Of course, those same customers are using air travel services too, and this is where one of the issues surrounding halal airline meals begin. There are many airlines that offer either Muslim or halal special meals to their customers, but it is worth noting that there is a big difference in these meals.
A Muslim meal is free from pork, alcohol and other haram (forbidden) products, but it is not certified halal. A halal meal is 100% certified as such, meaning the kitchen has been through a certification programme to ensure that its procedures and processes meet the strict religious requirements. Airlines such as Garuda, Gulf Air, Emirates and Etihad offer halal, whilst many other airlines only offer Muslim meals.
Perth Inflight Catering (PIC) in Australia has always had halal certification for special meals but it was the tender for Etihad that inspired it to build a dedicated halal kitchen. “Nearly 40% of the full-service international airlines flying into Perth order halal food only, with the other 60% requiring varying quantities of halal special meals,” says Salim Hazife, managing director of PIC.
“Most foods and ingredients used in cooking are halal by nature anyway. If a kitchen looks at segregating the ingredients that are not halal, rather than segregating the ones that are, then halal airline catering becomes standard airline catering very easily,” he adds.
“When we built the dedicated Halal kitchen we sought certification from an international body. This is quite expensive to maintain and ideally needed two or three customers to make it cost effective,” Hazife explains.
For Perth Inflight Catering the halal kitchen was definitely worth setting up as the majority of food produced is halal – but with systems in place the team could produce non-halal meals for other airlines in this kitchen too.
Private jet caterer On Air Dining received its first halal certification in 2015. “Prior to adapting our kitchen to meet the requirements of the certificate, we saw a large gap in suitable options for this growing sector of the industry,” says chief executive Daniel Hulme. The exercise proved to be an educational one too. ‘“After researching what goes into becoming a halal certified kitchen, we quickly realised there is much more to it than using appropriate halal suppliers, no pork and no alcohol,” says Hulme.
The strategic decision to offer this service required significant changes to its facilities and investment to ensure it was compliant at each yearly inspection. “It was absolutely worth it,” says Hulme, giving the business a point of difference and customers real confidence in the designation. Over 50% of all orders are now for halal meals or requested as no pork/no alcohol.
“It has opened many doors for us as most caterers can secure halal products but will prepare them in a haram kitchen, which is not in line with Islamic dietary requirements,” says Hulme.
While halal passengers will always prefer to dine on traditional food from their home country Hazife believes producing halal-certified foods can be done with any type of cuisine. He says: “Because of this, it is opening up a whole range of cuisine options for Muslims around the world.
“We can produce traditional Italian, Japanese, and Mexican foods that are halal.”
Mark Salter, founder & MD at For Aisha, the world’s leading halal baby food brand, agrees that halal tourism is booming and presents a significant opportunity for halal products.
He says: “24% of the world’s population is Muslim and this community is growing at twice the rate of the world’s population growth. The Muslim population is also a young one in many countries – couples average one more child than non-Muslims. In the past they have had to wean them on high lactose diets because there was no ready-prepared halal baby food. Our recipes offer high-quality halal foods for Muslim infants that would also be of benefit to non-Muslims. Typically they contain 20-plus ingredients (three times more than most baby food) and the thinking is that by expanding the taste palates of infants by introducing a broader range of flavours and gentle spices, these children will go on to be better eaters in life.”
Halal food trends closely follow Western culinary trends, so there is also greater demand for these types of products from non-Muslim consumers who are looking for organic, gourmet and healthier food – some of these see halal certification as a guarantee of quality and traceability.
The team at dnata catering has seen plant proteins becoming increasingly popular and is using more vegetables such as beans, peas, shoots, grains and eggplant. “There has also been a real surge in the use of hydroponic vegetables in the Middle East,” says Stephen Templeton, global head of culinary, dnata catering. The company is also adding flavour to dishes by smoking and pickling meats and vegetables. Less traditional vegetables are also moving up the agenda, including celeriac, quinoa, squash and pumpkins.
Anwar El Mezwaghi, president of Ambar Connect, an organising partner of Alimentaria 2020’s Expo Halal in Spain, works in direct contact with the majority of halal producers around the world.
He says: “85% of the animals and meat consumed in Muslim countries comes from countries that do not belong to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which means there is plenty of room for international expansion for this sector.” He also stresses that halal catering relates to an offer far broader than just meat, and also includes non-food products in sectors as broad as fashion and cosmetics.
Halal traveller numbers are only likely to increase in the coming years so airlines do well to ensure their kitchens are ready. For caterers it looks to be a profitable segment onboard hospitality suppliers will do well to pay attention to. Even if McDonalds is yet to make the commitment in all of its markets.