Al Safa Halal: Zabiha Fast Food in the Frozen Food Aisle
It all began with a special request, in 1992, from the Malaysian government for Halal beef. Malaysian officials were in Canada, meeting with several beef companies. The goal: finding a facility that would be willing to convert to Zabiha in order to supply Halal beef to their country. MGI Beef Packers, “a mid-sized plant that was owned and operated by a group of investors, including the Muller family,” was one of the companies approached. After several, lengthy discussions with leaders of the Islamic faith in Canada and a thorough understanding of Halal procedures, MGI agreed to convert its entire slaughter to Zabiha. The move opened doors to Halal markets for beef, not only in Malaysia but in Canada itself. And soon enough, MGI was receiving requests from Muslims across the border, in neighboring USA.
“There was no national supplier of authentic Halal, ready-to-eat food in the major supermarkets and the Halal stores. No burgers, no chicken nuggets,” says Mr. Steve Hahn. “As MGI Beef Packers (where Mr. Hahn had been Vice-President) we were supplying cuts of beef to the Muslim market. The owners of the butcher shops were continually requesting hotdogs, beef burgers and beef stew, so we knew it was a market that wasn’t being serviced.”
After purchasing some small scale equipment, MGI began to manufacture and sell these products under the label “Canada’s Finest Halal”. However, the costs of marketing a consumer branded product line were prohibitive.
It was then in Sept. 1999, that David Muller and Steve Hahn launched Al Safa Halal, with the help of outside investment capital. Today, Al Safa Halal products are widely distributed to many grocery stores and foodservice operations throughout North America. Their product line has grown to include chicken, turkey, beef, fish, pizza and falafel. It is the leading processed Halal food brand in major grocery stores including No Frills, Albertsons, Loblaws, Wal-Mart, Price Choppers Food Warehouse, Shop Rite, Food Basics and Pathmark, to name a few.
The first products were hamburgers followed by chicken patties, chicken strips and chicken nuggets. “Those three have become our most popular products with Muslim families across North America. The children, especially, love our chicken nuggets,” says Mr. Hahn. Several new products are in the line for 2007. “We are currently working on cooked meat balls or kofta, a beef chapli kabab and a smoked beef sausage.”
With healthy eating no longer just a trend but a reality, it’s something Al Safa Halal pays very close attention to. For instance, their veggie samosa’s are trans fat free.
“We’re now entering the food service sector and sell breaded chicken patties in bulk to universities, public schools and prison systems,” says Mr. Hahn. These include University of Toronto, Detroit Public School System and the New York Prison System.
“The single biggest reason for our success is that we don’t take short cuts when it comes to Halal and IFANCA helps us maintain our strict standards. Chicken, beef, turkey are all hand-slaughtered by a Muslim. All the procedures and ingredients meet the standards of Halal. Cheese on our pizza is Halal cheese. In the industry today, all the meat is processed in meat plants where non-Halal meat is processed. Al Safa Halal has procedures and a monitoring system in place where there’s never a chance of non-Halal meet being processed at the same time as Halal meat,” says Mr. Hahn. Al Safa Halal meat is also HACCP regulated, a detailed quality control procedure. “The sources of meat never intersect,” says Mr. Hahn.
“None of our cattle feed has animal by-product. Our cattle and our chickens are grain fed. Canadian chickens are not fed hormones. It’s illegal in Canada to give hormones to poultry.”
Furthermore, Al Safa Halal has an open door policy. Anyone can visit any facility at anytime, especially to witness the Zabiha. Over the years, many Islamic scholars, community leaders, distributors, customers and consumers have done so, and in every case Al Safa Halal has earned their approval.
“Another reason for our success is our customer base and the continued support of the Muslim community. Our markets have grown every year. We listen very carefully to what they’re asking for.”
“One of the hurdles, however, is being part of a nonregulated Halal market,” says Mr. Hahn. “Anyone can label meat as Halal, with no legal consequences. I’m in full support of strict laws that ensures the integrity of Halal. Anyone in the Halal meat business today will tell you that there is a great amount of cheating.” Mr. Hahn advises consumers to lobby the government to put enforceable laws in place.
“It’s also the responsibility of organizations such as IFANCA to improve the industry. The Muslim community isn’t in agreement as to what is Halal and what isn’t. We will never advertise our products as Halal if we used machine slaughter. How can you recite a blessing over each chicken, if 160 are slaughtered per minute? I see that as very troubling. For many organizations, Halal has become an opportunity for quick financial gain. We are a business and want financial gain too but not at the cost of someone’s religion. We realize it’s, first and foremost, about someone’s religion. Al Safa Halal. will always be committed to hand slaughter, Zabiha Halal,” concluded Mr. Hahn.