Halal Buzz Evident at Annual Natural Products Expo

Community News

Over 22,000 attendees, 1,200 vendors show food revolution growing

This past September in Baltimore, Maryland, thousands of producers, retailers, and leaders from the natural, organic, and healthy movement came together for the Natural Products Expo East tradeshow. From September 25 through September 28, 2013 at the Baltimore Convention Center, over 1,200 vendors featured their products and their philosophies, which embraced in various ways that which is natural and good.

The Muslim philosophy for that which is pure and permissible is called Halal.  While most companies at Expo East offered Halal products, such as alcohol-free beverages, gelatin-free candies, and lard-free pies, only a few businesses had acquired the formal Halal certification. One such company is Sol Cuisine, a maker of vegetarian foods, including mushroom rice burgers and quinoa sliders. Jess Abramson, Vice President of Sol Cuisine, proudly advertised the Halal certificate and explained, “More and more retailers are concerned about that certification.”

Retailers who do not yet meet Halal guidelines also expressed interest. Chuck Marble of Ian’s Friendly Food for Life, specializing in foods ranging from chicken nuggets to onion rings, expressed this sentiment: “We see the Halal certification as a trend. That’s one that I think we should explore.”

Other retailers were unsure whether a Halal certificate would make their products more desirable, and they asked me off the record for my thoughts. Since pork and alcohol hide without a trace in packaged food items, I believe that a Halal label on such items would be useful for Muslim consumers. Plus it would save one the headache of inspecting every ingredient on a box, and turning to Google to determine if an ambiguous word represents something pork-based.

While a Halal stamp on a box of cookies would be helpful, it is not mandatory. I could do my research and decide to eat the cookies or not. The place where a Halal stamp is necessary for most Muslims is on packages of meat.

Expo East featured three halal certified meat companies. In addition to carrying the Halal label, each of the companies at Expo East also practices ethical treatment of the animals. Joohi Tahir, Vice President of Crescent Foods, the largest provider of premium Halal poultry in the United States, emphasized the point. “We stress the whole process, not just the slaughter,” she explained. The animals for Crescent Foods are raised in the Midwest by Amish farmers and given a vegetarian feed with no animal byproducts. The slaughter, Tahir explained is “all done by hand by Muslims.” Crescent Foods represented the only Muslim-owned meat retailer at the tradeshow, and their presence helped spread the meaning of Halal. As Tahir put it “Halal is humane, Halal is natural.” They featured their line of chicken items including various cuts, marinated specialties, burger patties, and a new item: chicken nuggets with all white meat. Their products were well received; she said “We are getting interest from people who may not have seen us otherwise.”

Crescent Foods is available in the poultry section of many mainstream supermarkets including Wal Mart, Pete’s Fresh, and Superior Groceries, and according to Tahir, “the demand is there, beyond Muslims.” Their mainstream retailers estimate that up to 70% of buyers choose Crescent Foods for the health benefits of the all-natural product.

The other two Halal certified meat companies at Expo East sell meat products from overseas: New Zealand Grass-Fed Meats; and Australian Beef and Lamb, respectively. Keith Marx, Sales Manager representing NZ Grass-Fed Meats proudly explained that, “Every container we get is Halal certified.” The animals are raised free range on a 100% grass diet in New Zealand, slaughtered humanely according to Halal principles, and packaged and shipped to the Philadelphia port, and then sold directly to consumers. “There is a shortage in the Halal industry of fine meats,” Marx explained, and he is eager to reach out to the Muslim community to help meet all needs.

A new Maryland-based company, Simply Natural, which wasn’t present at Expo East is joining the fine meat industry offering chicken, beef, lamb, sheep, and goat year-round, as well as Qurbani for Eid Al-Adha. Like the retailers at Expo East, Simply Natural emphasizes the ethical treatment of animals. A part of their mission statement reads “to be protectors of the meat supply by ensuring that our animals are treated in the best manner from the beginning of their lives, after they have been harvested, and up to the time you receive it.” They are currently offering a promotional free delivery to the DC/Baltimore Metro area with a minimum order of $75.

Halal cares about the animal from start to finish, and many businesses are rising to meet this divine standard. However, as the industry grows, a bureaucratic threat looms. Tahir summarized it nicely: “There is no one set standard of Halal in the U.S … nobody is regulating what Halal means. There is a need for standardization,” explained Tahir.
The Halal meat from one store may have originated from an animal in a confined feeding operation, where it was made to eat the remains of other animals during its lifetime, and then slaughtered according to Halal guidelines.  This “Halal” hardly sounds Halal. Stakeholders ought to come together to create a single set of Halal guidelines in the U.S. to preserve the quality of Halal.

Building business based off of principles was the resounding theme of Expo East. Raj Sisodia, founder of the Conscious Capitalism Institute, who gave the keynote address, provided a butterfly metaphor. During the caterpillar stage, the bug consumes as much as it can; when it becomes a butterfly, it gives back to the world, pollinating flowers and helping fruits blossom. Sisodia urged all businesses to become butterflies, and cautioned against staying in the caterpillar stage: “if all you care about is making money, eventually you won’t make any money at all.”

This idea of consciousness in business is also central in Islam, and a part of what it means for a product to be Halal. Hundreds of ahadith enjoin retailors to be God-conscious in every move, from treatment of workers to the handling of the product. One such hadith follows:

Asked ‘what form of gain is the best? [the Prophet] said, ‘A man’s work with his hands, and every legitimate sale’. (Ahmad, No: 1576)

God-consciousness in business is so important that several verses of scripture also address this matter. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah counsels:

You are the best nation that has been raised up for mankind; You enjoin right conduct, forbid evil and believe in Allah. (3:110)

Halal means pure and good. The showcase of Halal at Expo East proved popular, and this is just the beginning.