A May 22, 2010 session titled “Reach Over 9 Million Muslim-Americans Searching for Halal Meals” was the first ever panel at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show that addressed Muslim dietary needs. The presenters included Dr. Muhammad Munir Chaudry, President of IFANCA; Mr. Don Tymchuck, Founder and President of Med-Diet Laboratories, Inc.; award winning Chef at North Shore Holiday Inn, Mahmood Yousaf and Maggie Menozzi, Catering Sales Manager, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

Dr. Muhammad Munir Chaudry, one of the world’s foremost authorities on halal food ingredients, in his presentation at the panel, outlined the history of halal in the USA. He noted that in the 1970’s no one had heard of halal outside the Muslim community. In the 1980’s Muslims opened “mom and pop” stores where they sold the meat that they slaughtered themselves. He added that, internationally, the 80’s were also a time when large corporations began exporting meat to the Middle East. It was in the 90’s that the trend of Muslim butcher shops and grocery stores continued, even as halal restaurants began to mushroom. During those years, he said, food service went global with McDonald’s and KFC leading the way. It was after the year 2000 that American universities, hospitals, the military and prisons began offering halal programs. Several states passed laws against fraudulent claims of halal. Stating that this decade would see halal go mainstream in foodservice and restaurants, Dr. Chaudry identified several IFANCA halal certified clients that sold retail and/or food service products ranging from Cheese (Cabot, Kraft, Saputo, Simons) to Sauces (Tabasco and Heinz) and desserts (Carol’s Cheesecake, Love & Quiches Desserts).


What’s in It (Halal) for Me?

Mr. Tymchuck began the session by urging the audience to ask “What’s in it (halal) for me?”

He elaborated that halal was the diet of choice of the 9 million Muslims in America, a large “affluent, educated” market comprising “professionals and business owners”, whose dietary needs were barely being met by mainstream food manufacturers and restaurants . He reiterated that given the need for the food industry and businesses to attract new customers and expand their market share, it was time to cater to Muslims in America and offer halal. This did not mean that the entire menu needs to be changed. The shift could be as simple as adding h alal options to the catering menu or substituting halal chicken for non-halal in a current recipe or even a new approach such as starting a halal food cart, as is done in downtown Manhattan. He pointed out that many companies are rushing to have their products certified as gluten free while few companies even knew about the much larger potential for halal-certified products. It is estimated that there are three times as many Muslims in North America as there are gluten-intolerant people.


Halal at the Holiday Inn, Chicago North Shore

Award winning Chef Mahmood Yousaf, has spent the last 4 years bringing halal cuisine to Chicago’s diverse Muslim Community at the Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore. Specializing in American, South Asian, Middle Eastern and Continental Fine Dining Cuisine, Yousaf has honed his culinary craft for over three decades at the Hyatt, Hilton International, and Holiday Inn Hotels. He noted that often times those who are not familiar with halal don’t realize that halal refers to the same animals, be it cattle, goat, sheep, chicken – consumed by most Americans, with the exception of pork. He also clarified the misconception that halal always refers to curry or even ethnic meals. He reiterated that any cuisine could be halal so long as there is no alcohol or pork/pork byproducts in it, and the meat is that of a halal or permissible animal, slaughtered in the name of God and according to Islamic guidelines. The Holiday Inn, under his guidance, has three kitchens, one of which is the halal kitchen. Labeling and storage is very important and staff is duly trained. Taking every measure to ensure that halal standards are maintained, he said, cements trust between the hotel and its halal consuming guests.


Halal Menus at Five Star Hotels

Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers allows for outside catering ensuring that weddings are as traditional or as contemporary as the bride and groom would like it to be. “We do have a service charge for it, but we are open to brides and grooms suggesting a caterer whose food they’d like to have served as long as the caterers have all their licenses. Or they can pick from a list of halal caterers that we suggest,” says Maggie Menozzi, Sales Manager for weddings and large social events, at the Sheraton. As for halal food prepared on the premises at the hotel, that too is possible and the menu is contemporary American, halal food. The Sheraton pays the caterer themselves.

Maggie Menozzi, in her presentation, noted that she had seen business rise by 50% ever since she brought outside caterers into the fold. “Two years ago, we had 12-14 weddings of which one or two were Indian, Pakistani weddings. In 2009, we had 30 weddings, 12 of which were Indo-Pakistani,” she says. The Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers is home to the largest ballroom in the Midwest, and is ideal for larger weddings that are typical of the 500 to 800 sized guest list of the average Muslim wedding. These are great revenue generators because “unlike an Indian or Pakistani wedding, an average American wedding is just about 150 to 200 people,” she said. Further, South Asian weddings are rarely a one-day affair and include two to four days of festivities. “The Sheraton is large enough to accommodate each of those parties in different rooms unlike a smaller place where the same room as to be redone each time.”

With such large numbers of guests per wedding, and with halal caterers on the Sheraton list recommending the hotel to brides and grooms, word-of-mouth more than suffices for advertising, she says. Halal weddings do not serve alcohol and that too hasn’t been a barrier to profits. “They usually have something else instead that adds to revenue such as an extensive dessert line and juice beverages called ‘Mock-Tails’ in lieu of alcohol, served at the wedding.”

Presentations such as these given at the NRA Show, it is hoped, will heighten manufacturers’ awareness of the market potential which will lead to increased halal production and availability.