UK: The rise of Britain’s halal foodies

A market for halal food does exist – and a number of entrepreneurial minded people are hastening to res­pond. In Britain’s 2011 census, 2.7m people in England and Wales identified themselves as Muslim, according to the Office for National Statistics, compared with a figure of 1.5m in the census a decade earlier. In addition to the increase in numbers, a Muslim middle class is also becoming better established, with education, money and all the concomitant consumer appetites – not least for good food.

It was spotting the potential of this emerging consumer group that led Imran Kausar, who also has a day job, to hold the three-day Halal Food Festival, a consumer food exhibition, in London last September. Visitors were plied with halal fare, from street food and desserts to drinks, and accessories from sharp knives to blending machines and demonstrations by figures such as the French chef Jean Christophe Novelli. “It was an experiment, but we were overwhelmed by the popularity,” Mr Kausar says.

He had found that quality halal food was not as readily available as he would have liked, and launched the festival to bring halal’s best exponents together. The visitors – many of them young couples pushing buggies – sampled waffles, sparkling halal wine (zero alcohol), crepes, burgers, tandoori lamb, salted caramel brownies and more, with some of the longest queues snaking from Americanised stalls such as Big Apple Halal Hot Dogs.

At the “mocktail” bar, bartenders served long drinks with names such as “Haloodie You Do” – a curious mixture of Earl Grey tea, elderflower and marmalade. Such concoctions are reminiscent of attempts by the 19th-century temperance movement to provide delicious alternatives to alcoholic beverages, such as sarsaparilla or dandelion and burdock. Other drinks at the festival included flavoured shaved ice, coconut milk and hand-pressed lemonade. “People were only limited by how much capacity they had in their stomachs,” Mr Kausar adds.

“Haloodie” and “haloodies”, a word play on “foodie”, have been trademarked by Mr Kausar and his business partner Noman Khawaja, and the phrase took off as a Twitter hash tag during the festival. “People referred to themselves as excited haloodies,” says Mr Kausar. “Haloodies” is also now the brand name for a halal food range developed by the partners, which they expect to launch this week on Ocado, the online grocer, and in the Har­rods Food Hall next month. “We were in a unique pos­ition – we knew the [food] buyers and we had the full view of what the customer wanted and we saw the gaps, [such as] halal baby foods, top-end deli foods,” Mr Kausar says.

Haloodies is a partnership Mr Kausar and Mr Khawaja have formed with DB Foods in Poole on the south coast of England, which had previously been running an online delivery service called Halal To Door as part of its larger meat-processing business.

Ben Bayer, chief executive of family-owned DB Foods, says: “We’re the processing part and we have a background in online retail [but] we didn’t necessarily have the marketing skills.” Although the dedicated halal processing site at the plant is “relatively small”, Mr Bayer says it will be “a nice problem to have” if the demand exceeds supply.

It certainly looks promising. “Our conversation with Harrods was very quick,” Mr Kausar says. “There had not been that offering before to take advantage of.” Haloodies will offer premium packaged fresh meats such as chicken, lamb, 4oz burgers and fillets of beef, with plans to expand the range into sirloin and rib-eye. The Halal Food Festival will also return this year in a larger, outdoor London venue. “The market is coming of age, the festival was rightly timed,” Mr Kausar says.

 *This excerpt of an article was originally published on FT on 11 March 2014. Read the full article here.