ASSALAAMU ALAIKUM WA RAHMATULLAH Alhamdulillah was-salatu was-salaamu 'ala rasoolillah. All thanks and praise is to ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, and we ask that HIS blessings and peace be upon HIS Messenger, Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam.
The National Restaurant Association Show held in Chicago on May 22-24, 2010 was a high-energy experience. Besides a gamut of food products, there were vendors catering to the restaurant and food industry, showing items ranging from contraptions that wrapped napkins around forks and spoons, to serving dishes, plates and even whole cooking ranges for restaurant kitchens. IFANCA halal-certified clients, from Monin, Ajinomoto to Kontos were at the NRA Show, as well. IFANCA was the only halal certification company at the Show.
The IFANCA booth had a regular stream of visitors inquiring as to what steps they could take to go halal. "My favorite visitor was a woman from Indiana, the Director of a daycare, who wanted to learn of sources for halal products. She had one Muslim attendee at her daycare and wanted to make sure it was equal-service-for-equal fees," said Maria Omar, Director of Media Relations, IFANCA. "It wasn't a "if she can't have meat, let the child eat just vegetables," approach for this potential halal consumer. She valued her clients and she knew, too, that if she did make the effort to offer halal, word-of-mouth would add more Muslims to her attendance roster. Who wouldn't want more business, these days?"
Maria Omar and I also mingled with vendor after vendor, nibbling on samples, learning more about what went into those foods, and what we learned wasn't surprising. Food products are being certified vegan, vegetarian, halal, gluten-free, and it's not just a slim segment of vendors that are doing so. Certification symbols have become the stamp of purity these days. Almost every manufacturer we spoke to expressed an interest in learning more about what halal certification involved. From makers of tortillas to producers of chips and dip, from salsa to veggie rolls to teas of every concoction.
"Many attendees and exhibitors were welcoming and pleased to find a halal booth," said Maria Omar. "Also, Muslim attendees and exhibitors from other companies at the Show were excited to see their food needs were being represented."
Plus, halal certification does open the door to a $20 billion economy for halal food in North America alone! "Yes, there are 8-9 million American and Canadian Muslims and they, too, would like to reach for those gummy bears, those marshmallows, those jell-o cups — all of which are currently off-limits as they contain gelatin, which could have been sourced from animal bones," said Ms. Omar. Muslims never know if those animal bones are porcine bones, and avoid products with gelatin entirely. Or they can't be certain if that gelatin is sourced from permissible animals that have been slaughtered in the name of God and according to Islamic rules. As we mentioned to visitors to our booth and vendors alike, that's where halal certification comes in. IFANCA does the homework for Muslims and makes sure it's all halal or permissible. IFANCA also connects manufacturers with the sources of halal products and even offers workshops on site, to bring manufacturers up to speed on halal. When we shared the facts, whether at the IFANCA booth or during our excursions down the NRA aisles, vendors saw both dollars and sense. It's only a matter of time before Muslims in North America will be able to purchase more products that they actually want – be it flavored yogurts or beef jerky. As one vendor put it, "It certainly would be great to get in on the ground floor!"
Reach Over 9 Million Muslim-Americans Searching for Halal Meals: IFANCA Panel at NRA Show
A May 22, 2010 session titled "Reach Over 9 Million Muslim-Americans Searching for Halal Meals" was the first ever panel that addressed Muslim dietary needs at the National Restaurant annual Show. The presenters included Dr. Muhammad Munir Chaudry, President of IFANCA; Mr. Don Tymchuck, Founder and President of Med-Diet Laboratories, Inc.; Mahmood Yousaf, award winning Chef at North Shore Holiday Inn and Maggie Menozzi, Catering Sales Manager, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
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 doesn't mean that the entire menu needs to be changed. The shift could be as simple as adding halal 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.
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 or pork by-products 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.
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers allows for outside catering ensuring that the wedding is 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.
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. "Unlike an Indian or Pakistani wedding, an average American wedding is 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 has 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 – like a variety of desserts and juice cocktails."
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 small Muslim butcher stores and grocery stores continued, even as halal restaurants began to mushroom. During those years, he said, food service went global with McDonald 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, Heinz, GSF) and desserts (Carol's Cheesecake, Love & Quiches Desserts). Presentations such as were given at the NRA Show will heighten manufacturers’ awareness of the market potential which will lead to increased production and availability.
IFANCA Client, Med-Diet, Launches Brand New Concept: www.HalalHealthy.com
Halal observing students on campus, even those who have no choice but to pay for food service as residents of on-campus dorms, don't always have access to halal meals. Or, if you're a halal consumer but live in Wisconsin or North Dakota or almost any town that's not by a big metropolis like Chicago, LA or NYC, keeping halal often means a 30 mile drive to the nearest halal grocery.
To fill this void, HalalHealthy.com has come up with a brand new concept: halal-certified products that can be purchased with a single click. HalalHealthy.com's range extends from naturally halal products such as dates to 100% halal-certified ready-to-eat meals, 100% halal-certified high protein instant beverages, beef jerky and even spices.
"HalalHealthy.com makes it easier to keep halal even when a halal grocery store is nowhere nearby. And when it comes to one's children keeping halal, we know parents are concerned, especially during Ramadan. Now anyone can have a nourishing Ramadan Care Pack, or any other halal-certified or naturally halal product, delivered to their door," said Don Tymchuck, Director of HalalHealthy.com. The Ramadan Care Pack offers a seven day supply of halal goodies and is available in three cuisines: South Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean/African. It comprises both naturally halal products and 100% halal-certified ready-to-eat foods.
"We want to make sure keeping halal is easy particularly during times of transition, and we're interested in working with vendors who want a distribution outlet for their shelf-stable halal-certified products," said Mr. Tymchuck.