Demand for halal products in the Netherlands is on the rise, as the domestic Muslim population grows. However, confusion about the true meaning of halal has led to misunderstandings and missed opportunities. How can food companies better address the needs of the country’s growing Muslim population?
The Dutch population surpassed the 17 million mark earlier this year, nearly one million of whom are Muslim, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Around two-thirds of Dutch Muslims are of Turkish and Moroccan descent. The country’s Muslim population is forecasted to increase to around 1.5 million by 2050, according to Pew Research Center.
A 2012 survey by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research showed that nearly half a century after the first Muslim migrants arrived, about half of Dutch Muslims still feel a strong connection with their or their parents’ country of origin, and nearly all feel strongly about their Muslim identity.
For example, 95 percent of Dutch Muslims of Moroccan descent considered Islam an important part of their identity and 94 percent claimed to eat halal every day, compared to 85 percent and 80 percent of Dutch Muslims of Turkish descent respectively.
A 2013 study by the Belgian Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery in 2013 estimated the Dutch halal markets to be worth 2.7 billion euros ($2.89 billion). Assuming growth in line with the total spend on food in Belgium, estimated at 1.4 percent CAGR between 2013 and 2015, the total market would be 2.78 billion euros ($2.94 billion) in 2015.
SUBSTANTIAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
“The European halal market as a whole is growing and the Dutch market is no exception,” Miran Ismael, Director of Halal Expo Europe, told Salaam Gateway. “There are some 1 million Muslims in the country and they have become increasingly more aware as consumers.”
Earlier this year, Ismael organized Halal Expo Europe in the city of Eindhoven. The two-day event attracted 110 participants from 20 countries and 3,000 visitors from 30 countries, compared to 56 participants from 14 countries and 1,400 visitors from 20 countries in 2015.
“Especially in the big cities, more and more supermarket chains offer halal products,” said Ismael. “Also, more and more ‘real’ Dutch companies offer a halal range of products, while restaurants and fast food chains, such as Wow Burgers and Halal Fried Chicken, offer a halal menu.”
Rene Wokke, Head of Marketing and Communication at Pure Ingredients, a Dutch company specialized in frozen halal foods and snacks, confirmed the market is growing fast.
“First of all, the traditional market is growing – that is just a demographic fact,” Wokke told Salaam Gateway. “Secondly, there is a growing demand from non-Muslim consumers looking for healthy products. Products that contain less fat or salt, for example.”
The history of Pure Ingredients illustrates market developments in the Netherlands over the past decades. When Dutch national Wout van Eeuwijk, a former market merchant and supermarket owner, received more and more requests for halal products, he saw a niche in the market and in 1993 started Mekkafoods.
Renamed Pure Ingredients in 2014, the company today employs 180 people and supplies retailers and supermarkets in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and parts of France with a range of over 30 frozen products.
According to Mariam Aaras, a dietician, halal consultant and founder of the online Halal Food Information Office (www.ikeethalal.nl), Muslim consumers are generally becoming more aware of what they consume.
“On the one hand, people increasingly want to know where their meat comes from and how the animal was killed, how a product was made and which ingredients were used,” Aaras told Salaam Gateway. “More people want to practice their faith by eating halal, but are also aware of the health benefits of such a diet.”
“On the other hand, however, there is still a lot of confusion about halal, which leads to misunderstandings and missed opportunities,” she added. “Many Dutch people, for example, believe halal only refers to un-stunned religious slaughter, which is of course not the case.”
Aaras launched her website, which offers information and consultancy services regarding Islamic dietetics, following the 2010 cheese controversy.
Cheese controversy of 2010
To meet increasing demand, several Dutch supermarkets started to offer halal cheese on their shelves. But due to a relatively small, yet very vocal anti-immigration and anti-Islam movement present in the country, there was a backlash against halal food.
While the anti-Islam element within Dutch society constitutes by no means a majority, some companies fear offering halal products may label them as being “Islamic” and, as a consequence, they could lose market share.
“One Dutch multinational offers halal-certified products in Malaysia, yet these are not available in Holland,” Aaras said. “Likewise, I saw Dutch halal cheese in France, which I cannot buy here.”
Certification, ritual slaughter issues
Currently, the main debates regarding halal in the Netherlands concern certification and a proposed ban on ritual slaughter. There are over 40 halal certifiers in The Netherlands, of which five are major ones, while there is hardly any government oversight.
“People ask themselves what a halal certificate is still worth these days,” said Aaras.
The Dutch authorities have launched a special commission to develop a national halal certificate. However, the attempt has come under severe criticism for having only a few Muslims on board, while representatives of the meat industry and retail sector seem over-represented.
In February 2016, the Dutch government passed a set of measures, including enhanced supervision and inspection, to discourage the un-stunned ritual killing of animals. It is feared this is only a prelude to an all-out ban. In 2011, the Dutch Animal Party and the rightwing Freedom Party had proposed such a ban. It was shot down by the Senate, which deemed it in violation of religious freedom in the country.
“Unfortunately, Islamic scholars do not speak with one voice regarding the stunned and un-stunned killing of animals,” said Aaras. “The Dutch government uses this ambiguity to push for a ban.”
Despite the anti-Islamic rhetoric used by some right-wing elements within Dutch society, the outlook for the halal market in Holland is generally positive. Not only is demand growing domestically, the country with its many ports and rivers has always been known as the gateway to Europe.
“Holland is relatively small and multicultural,” said Miran Ismael of Halal Expo Europe. “Many investors perceive it as an ideal test market, while the country’s logistics make it a great jumping board to get into Europe.”