The halal experience at GIC

As an avid food marketer and halal promoter, I go into every show with my halal food hat on.

I was very excited for this years’ Grocery Inovations Canada trade show organized by the Canadian Federation of Independant Grocers. It was my first time at an industry event, so I was interested to see how halal food was being represented on the “inside.”

Before the doors to the trade show opened, I attended a seminar earlier that day by Marion Chan from Trendspotter Consulting. She spoke about the new consumer, indicating how different groups shop and their buying motivations. She discussed millennial families, the value seeking millennials, modern boomers and ethnic Canadians (or “new” Canadians). Being a Canada-born South Asian Muslim, I couldn’t help but feel that none of the groups really represented me, or anyone else in my peer group.

Of course, there are so many shopper segments with differing opinions, likes and trends. How can a brand or grocer be expected to accommodate all of them? I completely understand I could be a small piece of the Canadian landscape. But maybe I’m not. Maybe the halal consumer is an emerging group that should be noticed.

According to Pew Forum research, the number of Muslims in Canada is expected to nearly triple in the next 20 years, from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030. Muslims are expected to make up 6.6% of Canada’s total population in 2030, up from 2.8% today.

Going back to halal, and holding to my personal belief that many halal consumers are a mashup of the four consumer groups Marion mentioned, there were some interesting halal products that I ran into at GIC 2014. Athough these brands have been present at other shows, I was happy to see them surfacing at trade level.

Riz Global Foods carries a line of Niagara Valley beef products, such as beef bacon. Aside from overall health benefits when compared to pork, Niagara Valley beef bacon also allow the halal consumer to experience Canadiana fare.

Then there was NMK Foods, Kebab Factory brand kebabs which prides itself on being all natural. Kebabs are not Canadian, but they’re a food staple in many other cultures. They’re a safe, versatile and quick meal option for working millennial/ethnic Canadians who also happen to live with (or close to) their not-so-modern boomer parents.

Next was Tandoori Oven, a line of frozen pre-marinated chicken products. They were there to  introduce a new line of frozen Tandoori chicken pizza and chicken sliders. Chicken sliders were being sampled at their booth and I admit to eating more than a couple.

The product had me feeling inspired by the multitude of uses and personal touches I could add to suit my entire family. This one appeals to my inner millennial.

Venturing away from meat, there were many CPG products that (if not halal certified) were halal friendly. Kosher certification on cheese and baked goods can help eliminate a lot of the guess work, with the exception of alcohol. Vegan-certified foods should in theory be safe from alcoholic content due to an additive used in the refinement of alcohol called isinglass, which comes from fish, or may be filtered with bone char. However, vegan certifying bodies that I have come across do not make note of alcohol in their list of standards. Nonetheless, both are still great tools for the halal consumer to use when shopping their grocery aisles if halal certification is not present.

From the plethora of CPG products at the show, Campbells line of halal certified soups and — my personal favourite, born-again McCain Deep and Delicious, stuck out. McCain cakes were recently reformulated to exclude gelatin and other not-so-great-for-you ingredients. So simple, yet halal consumers openly rejoiced on social media and offline in their peer groups. However, I should note that other ingredients like those pesky mono and diglycerides, are still questionable.

Overall, I had a great time at GIC 2014; I learned a lot and really felt that brands and retailers were opening up to halal. With more emphasis being placed on halal food globally, it’s refreshing to see that many are keen on at least opening lines of communication to learn more.