A butcher cuts meat in an Abu Dhabi LuLu store Image Credit: GN Archives

With a value of $1.24 trillion (Dh4.55 trillion), the food and beverage (F&B) sector undoubtedly leads Muslim spending in the world, which reached $2 trillion in 2016 — about 11.9 per cent of global expenditure — according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2017-2018.

Published by Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre in collaboration with Thomson Reuters, the report found halal food to be not only the largest but also the most diverse sector of the Islamic economy. The factors cited for growth were new market entrants, established players making inroads abroad through franchising and multinationals making major investments in Muslim-majority markets by anticipating demand.

Product offerings have also expanded beyond the traditional focus on meat to include candy, readyto-eat meals, snacks and children’s foods.

Sizeable sector

In a country where halal food is the norm and ambition knows few bounds there are no surprises while charting its meteoric growth and success. The UAE has already established itself as global market leader in the halal industry, and plans are underway to strengthen this position further.

“In the UAE alone, we have a Dh69-billion halal food industry whose products are prepared for domestic consumption or for export and re-export to various countries around the world,” Abdulla Abdul Qader Al Maeeni, Director General of Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Meteorology (Esma) explained to Gulf News recently.

“As a strategic hub for halal products between the East and West, we process halal food products weighing a total of 16 billion kilogrammes, including meat and poultry, and a sizeable proportion is exported and re-exported abroad,” says Al Maeeni. Last May, the supervision of halal certification in the UAE was handed over to Esma by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.

As part of this transition, all halal certifiers had to undergo a lengthy re-accreditation process to continue certifying halal products destined for the UAE. Under the ambit of Esma, the UAE now also requires all poultry producers to conform to a Gulf Standards Organisation measure that prohibits the use of stunning poultry prior to slaughter.

The USDA’s Global Agricultural Information Network Report 2017 on the UAE elaborates on this in the Poultry and Products Annual section. “A series of factors including avian influenza, a food safety scandal in Brazil, and most notably, new halal certification requirements have caused serious challenges for the broiler meat trade in the UAE,” writes Rana Tarraf, author of the report. “As a result, 2017 UAE broiler meat imports are expected to drop significantly from initial estimates and will total approximately 372,000 metric tonnes (MT) by the end of the 2017 calendar year.”

In counterbalance, the year saw the opening of a new poultry facility and expansions in several existing farms, and as a result the UAE’s total broiler meat production is expected to reach 47,000 MT in 2017, a 2 per cent increase on 2016. Local production accounts for about 11 per cent of the UAE’s total poultry supply, and it consumes the total amount of supply available annually.

“Looking ahead, a combination of healthy economic growth, increased tourism and airport arrivals and a further influx of foreign workers are expected to reinforce consumer demand within the hotel, restaurants, and institutional (HRI) sector,” said Tarraf. “Assuming a return to normal trade patterns, consumption is expected to rise to 429,000 MT in 2018.”

The UAE is addressing all aspects of halal food, from fresh to frozen and from HRI to HORECA (hotel, restaurant and café) and beyond, and Al Islami Foods serves as an example of local progress.

The company’s new factory at Sharjah’s Hamriyah Free Zone is expected to increase its production capacity by 150 per cent to reach 18,000 MT a year of halal processed meat products. More notably, Al Islami Foods is also seeking to offer new solutions such as air culinary for the in-flight catering industry, sous vide solutions for the hospitality industry, and cooked products for the HORECA sector, in addition to its 100 frozen products under three brands that already cater to various market segments.

As Managing Director Saleh Abdulla Lootah explains, the company’s main mission is to ensure that people enjoy gourmet and home cooking with healthy and nutritious halal meat products.

Leadership role

Lootah, who is also chairman of industry association the Food and Beverage Manufacturers Group, has no doubts
whatsoever that the country — and Dubai in particular — is well on its way to fulfil ambitions for global
industry leadership.

“The UAE has positioned itself with superior quality of production and works closely with manufacturing companies to raise standards for halal production,” he says.

“Together with Esma’s streamlining of standards and the halal certification process, the UAE has become a major halal food producing nation.

“With increasing global demand for halal products, the many bilateral agreements that the UAE is signing with other countries and wider acceptance of halal certificates in these countries means that UAE products will experience an increase in exports.”

The global halal F&B industry will grow to nearly $1.9 trillion by 2021, and more countries are joining the bandwagon. South Korea, for instance, has made remarkable progress in about six years, and now exports halal food products to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, besides Indonesia, Malaysia and Iran.

In this scenario, forethought should be a watchword, says Lootah. “We must address some of the serious challenges in the sector: unifying the standards and interpretation of halal, building competent personnel to handle the whole value chain and ensuring that there is universal halal certificate harmonisation.”