Halal: New Frontiers: 13th International Halal Food Conference 2011
Chicago, IL, 2011 – Halal: New Frontiers: 13th International Halal Food Conference 2011, America’s only conference geared exclusively to halal, was organized by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA). The uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking the gathering was a variation of a mini United Nations meeting. A multitude of nationalities, both speakers and attendees, were represented and each contributed a unique perspective whether they were there on behalf of the B2B or B2C industry, institutions of higher education, consumers or certifying agencies. Held on April 10th and 11th, it was a learning opportunity for attendees including Pepsico, the Coca Cola Company, Nutrilite, Cargill, Wrigley, American Halal Co., and American Halal Association. Their presence reflected the growing interest in halal ingredients in products, both in the USA and Muslim majority markets.
Abbott Nutrition was recognized as the Company of the Year. Several of their products are halal certified for both the US and the export market, but those certified for the US, carry the IFANCA ‘Crescent-M’ logo on their labels. Pediasure, Ensure, Isomil, Similac Powder are some of their halal certified products. The following are criteria the company met: -Abbott is a major corporation with a global halal program. Many of the Abbott Nutrition products have been certified for almost a decade. Abbott has an excellent program of label control for the halal logo. During the past five years Abbott halal conformance and execution has been outstanding. Abbott has been very proactive in dealing with issues arising from South East Asian markets, specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Dr. Amidhan Shaberah, Chairman of MUI, Indonesia, noted that halal certification offers organizations a healthy and ethical competitive advantage. Timothy Wells of DSM would agree. “The decision was to come and learn about the process, and to plan for halal to expand as a material and life science. We see a great opportunity to work with IFANCA and want to develop a relationship that is mutually beneficial,” he said.
Entrepreneur Adnan Durrani, of American Halal Co., added that he has seen a demand for the Saffron Road line of frozen dinners rise by 400 %. “We went from 4 SKU’s to 16 SKU’s in a year at Whole Foods,” he said of their halal debut.
Munir Hussain of the Halal Certification Strategic Unit, MUIS, explained how the culture in Singapore had contributed to the overwhelming demand for halal, despite it not being a Muslim majority nation. In Singapore, the culture is about eating out perhaps five or six times a week. Further, amongst the Muslims in Singapore, it’s is not just one or two people who dine together but rather entire families including one’s extended family. There is an incredible sense of community. For a restaurant, that is a lot of business to gain by offering halal,” he elaborated.
The speakers did spark ideas for business expansion and growth. Koen De Praetere, General Manager of Volys Star, a Belgium based halal poultry processor mentioned that, the US halal market was not one they had considered for exports of their products. Similarly, Beth Unger, Certification Manager, of CROPP Cooperative said that her company, so far, only certified halal retail products for export. “Now that we know how large the US halal market is, we may consider halal for the USA retail market too,” she said.
At the conference, American Halal Association (AHA) announced that it is working towards creating an American Halal Standard and a Halal Accreditation Board. Mr. Adam represented AHA at the conference to outline this endeavor. Dr. Chaudry welcomed this initiative and offered full cooperation and assistance in establishing such an entity.
Tan Sri Dr. Syed Jalaludin, Chairman, HDC Malaysia, key note speaker at the conference; and Dr. Mehmood Khan, CEO Global Nutrition Group & Chief Scientific Officer, PepsiCo, keynote speaker at the banquet called for uniformity in global halal certification standards. While optimistic about the future of halal, Dr. Khan also addressed the need for consumers and halal advocacy groups to appreciate attempts by companies who had made the sourcing of halal ingredients a priority. Often the efforts involved procuring halal ingredients in the volume needed by a company the size of Pepsico were overlooked by halal consumers, he said.
Several attendees agreed with Dr. Khan’s point that faulting companies for sourcing halal ingredients from nations that didn’t have Muslim majorities or from vendors who weren’t of the Muslim faith, was misplaced and short sighted. Such feedback did a disservice to companies who were trying to meet the needs of halal consumers and were making every effort to source halal ingredients in the volumes they needed.
One of the highlights of the conference was the enthusiastically received presentation by Dr. Mian Riaz, Director of Food Protein R&D Center, of Texas A&M University. “There is so much emphasis on halal food but there is so much more to halal,” he said, touching on halal cosmetics, halal finance, halal Tourism and halal banking as reflective of the ever widening circle of halal offerings. Presentations by Mehmood Khan; Munir Hussain, Stephen Hech, Lukmanul Hakim, Adnan Durrani and Donald Sgontz were other presentations that really caught the audience’s attention and imagination.
Attendee feedback ran the gamut from “good variety of topics, diversity of speakers from around the world, a good mix of business, regulators and certifiers” to suggestions for future conferences. Recommendations included segments on food preparation, how to market halal better, topics with more relevance to North America & US halal industry, discussions on the core differences in halal certifiers, more data on sales growth due to halal certification, more case studies, ingredient complexity as it is a major player in determining halal status in foods, and a segment on Islam itself.
At the end of the conference a few things did become clear. Whether it was Danisco or Ferminich or Business Access Group, halal ingredients and formulations were part of their portfolio so as to offer better customer service and in doing so gain global competitive advantage. Emerging ingredients, flavors, meats and marinades, confectionaries, texturizing agents, beverages and prepared foods – halal ingredients had emerged in each of these categories and R&D teams had expanded their organization’s market share by choosing to be halal compliant. As one attendee put it “it’s simpler than you think.”