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Cuts above.

Supermarkets are selling a lot more Middle Eastern foods such as hummus and couscous these days, as more American consumers develop a taste for them. But this is just the leading edge of a trend that could result in broader and more lucrative sales for stores that get to know and serve the U.S. Muslim market.

Food plays an important role in Islam, and Muslims tend to have large families, so their expenditures on groceries are high. As Muslim populations grow in the United States, that alone makes it worthwhile for grocers in appropriate markets to adjust assortments and marketing approaches. Worldwide estimates are that 70 percent of Muslims follow Halal standards.

But before they can meet the needs of devout Muslims, grocers have to understand the dietary restrictions that dictate their purchases, and that might prove harder than it sounds. While there are some basic--and rigid--guidelines regarding the Muslim diet, different sects follow different variations as different interpretations of the Koran lead to different levels of laws. There's no worldwide authority on Halal, which is the Arabic term for "what is permitted." Neither is there a consistent Halal trademark; at present there are over 15 Halal logos in the market, although international harmonization efforts have begun.

Halal goes way beyond food: Its principles guide what's permitted in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, logistics, clothing, finance, and banking. The main concerns regarding food, however, are how animals are slaughtered and foods are prepared. The guidelines a food producer might use for Halal food preparation can be quite extensive; for instance, Nestle, a leader in the development of Halal foods, works from a 30-page guideline specific to each product.

Haram, the opposite of Halal, means "that which is not permitted." Alcoholic beverages, even traces of them, such as you would find in vanilla extract, are Haram. Any products with pork, or with enzymes of pork origin that may be used in making cheese, are also forbidden. For cookies and other bakery products, this includes ingredients such as mono- and diglycerides, polysorbate 60 or 80, sorbitan monostearate, orcts, this includes ingredients such as mono- and diglycerid beta carotene with gelatin.

In the HBC aisles, many brands of deodorants are considered Haram, as they might be made with animal-derived ingredients, including pork, and their manufacturers don't provide guarantees that they'll use only beef fat. Religious groups advise Muslim consumers to avoid using those products, lean, and many Muslims therefore do not keep them as pets, but they are acceptable in households as guard dogs. Thus, a typical pet food section in Saudi Arabia might extend for only six feet, a stark contrast to the United States, where the pet food section in a supermarket could easily take up most of an aisle.

Rules apply to the entire food chain. In manufacturing, cleaning machinery with brushes having bristles made from pigskin is forbidden. When it comes to distribution, retailers in Malaysia go so far as to set aside separate loading docks at their stores for Halal and non-Halal items, so as to avoid cross-contamination.

Two good sources of information on the principles of Halal are the Islamic Food and Nutrition Cocts, this includes ingredients such as mono- and diglyceriduncil of America (http://www.ifaner Group (http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com ).

It's not kosher

Many similarities exist between Halal and kosher, chief among them an emphasis on cleanliness that is considered even by the nonobservant as synonymous with good food, which potentially broadens the appeal of Halal and Kosher beyond their traditional niches.

One big difference between the two is that kosher applies only to food. In addition to pork, kosher prohibits shellfish and certain other fish from the diet, and doesn't allow meat and dairy products to be eaten together. Wine is permissible.

Another major difference is that 90,000 kosher products can be found on American shelves, compared with only about 1,000 Halal-certified products. Many Muslims as a result look for kosher products; indeed, their purchases account for 16 percent of the $100 billion kosher food industry in the United States. Conversely, Halal products attract some Jewish consumers.

Sizing up the U.S. Muslim market

Population estimates for Muslims in the United States range from 6 million to 8 million, and their attendant purchasing power in the United States is estimated to be $170 billion annually. The population estimations vary so widely because, unlike designations of ethnicity, an individual's religion does not enter into questioning by either the U.S. Census Bureau or the U.S. Immigration Service.

Because Islam is a religion, its adherents in America have many different ethnicities. One estimate is that the largest segment, Asian, makes up 34 percent. Blacks are said to account for 27 percent; whites, 15 percent; Hispanics, 10 percent; and all others, 14 percent.

According to research done by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, the breakdown of ethnicity includes 33 percent South-Central Asian, 25 percent Arab, and 30 percent African-American.

Where are today's Muslims in the United States? One clue is the states with the highest number of mosques: California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Michigan is home to the largest concentration of Arab-Americans outside of the Middle East, with a Muslim population of half a million, the majority located in the Detroit area.

The Muslim market in the United States is growing more sophisticated. Around 70 percent of American Muslims over 25 years old have a college education, compared with 26 percent of the general U.S. population. Among religious groups, U.S. Muslims are the youngest, with only 1 percent 65 or older.

Food and Ramadan

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. Because it is tied to the lunar calendar, the exact date of Ramadan varies from year to year. Its aim is to foster religious devotion and spiritual cleansing through prayer, as well as the complete abstinence from food, beverage, sex, and tobacco from dawn to sunset. While it's also intended to have the more fortunate among Muslims experience some of the privations of the poor, once the sun sets, there's much in the way of festivities, including the consumption of food. That why it makes good sense for retailers to incorporate the observance of Ramadan into their calendars, and have stock ready ahead of time for the buying sprees that feed the nightly celebrations.

Dorothy Minkus-McKenna is a consultant and professor of marketing at Berkeley College in New York. She may be reached at minkusmck@aol.com.
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Title Annotation:marketing of ethnic foods
Author:Minkus-McKenna, Dorothy
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:1079
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