| KUALA LUMPUR
KUALA LUMPUR May 21 On some of its
international routes, ANA Holdings Inc is starting to
offer an unusual type of snack - rice crackers that are
certified halal, an Arabic word meaning "permissible".
Such rice crackers will become less unusual as Japan's
biggest airline teams up with a Malaysian halal caterer to
overhaul its menu and better meet the dietary requirements of
Until recently, Muslim travellers had either been humble
pilgrims or jet-setting emirs. In the last few years, growing
middle-class wealth has spawned a new genre of Muslim travellers
who pursue leisurely escapes to atypical destinations like
Japan, China and Thailand. The tallest hurdle for these new
destinations is convincing Muslim tourists that the food they
consume is halal. Pork and alcohol are haram, or "forbidden".
Malaysia - a pioneer in certifying, producing and
distributing halal food - has been busy marketing its halal
expertise to non-Muslim countries. At stake is a $1 trillion
halal food market that is forecast to expand markedly over the
next few years.
Malaysia has decades of halal experience under its belt.
Even Nestle SA, which sells halal products in mainly
Muslim countries, gets its halal certification from Malaysia. It
is only now that Malaysian halal companies are pressing the
pedal on their global ambitions as they wake up to an expanding
international market fuelled by middle class money in the Muslim
world and rising demand from non-Muslim countries.
In January, Kuala Lumpur-listed Brahim's Holdings Bhd
, the world's biggest in-flight halal meal provider,
clinched a rare deal with ANA to help create halal Japanese
cuisine on ANA flights. The airline is also planning to increase
its supply of halal meals to third-party carriers.
The number of visitors to Japan from Southeast Asia, which
has the world's biggest Muslim population, have surged as the
Japanese government relaxes visa requirements.
The influx from Indonesia in particular more than doubled in the
three years to 2013, data from the Japan National Tourism
A recent survey shows that Japan has exhibited the greatest
effort among 60 travel destinations in making itself
Muslim-friendly over the past year. From publishing a travel
guide for Muslims to installing prayer rooms at some airports,
Japan is fast working its way up an annual halal vacation poll
by Singapore-based travel specialist Crescentrating.
The Japan Halal Association, one of two organisations in the
country granting halal certification on behalf of Malaysia, also
approved six applications in March. That compares with nine in
2012 and 2013 combined, a report by the government-backed Japan
External Trade Organization shows.
The big increase in Muslim travellers highlights the urgency
for non-Muslim countries to be more halal-compliant. Muslims are
expected to spend $181 billion on travelling by 2018, up by
almost a third from 2012, according to an estimate by U.S.-based
research and advisory firm DinarStandard.
Nasreddine Hamadi, a PhD student returning to Dubai after a
holiday in Malaysia, can't wait to go to Japan.
"Malaysia is the furthest country I've been to so far," said
the 31-year-old neuroscience student as he counted the minutes
to boarding time at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. "I'd
really like to go to other countries like China and Japan."
Malaysia's halal industry as a whole - from halal
certification to production and distribution - accounts for 5 to
6 percent of gross domestic product, or 33 billion ringgit
($10.13 billion) currently, underlining the importance of the
Whether this contribution to GDP can grow significantly and
whether more Malaysian halal companies can achieve what Brahim's
Holdings has achieved in in-flight halal food services depends
on consumer branding and outside competition.
"Brahim's is a role model story for a halal company's growth
and expansion, but is this replicable?" said Rushdi Siddiqui,
senior partner at DinarStandard.
The answer lies in being a competitive food and agriculture
company first and making halal integrity almost a pre-requisite,
Siddiqui told Reuters.
"Ultimately, consumer brands drive market recognition -
again note Nestle's recognition in this regard," Siddiqui said,
pointing to fast-food chain Marrybrown as an important name to
represent Malaysia's halal-led consumer brands.
Malaysian companies also need strong marketing strategies if
they are to venture into the global arena, said Jamil Bidin,
chief executive of Kuala Lumpur-based Halal Industry Development
Jamil cited Mamee-Double Decker, which hails from Malacca
state, as a good example. The supplier of snacks and beverages
exports to over 60 countries. In 2011, it inked a sponsorship
deal with Manchester United Football Club under which it
featured Wayne Rooney on the packaging of its Mister Potato
Also waiting in the wings are countries which aspire - or
have the credentials to aspire - towards becoming a halal food
Indonesia said in October it plans to establish a centre for
the industry by 2015. Dubai is planning an international
accreditation centre for halal food. DinarStandard's Siddiqui
listed Turkey, Brunei and Pakistan as other possible contenders.
"Even though we (Malaysia) are a lot more well-known among
the Muslim market for halal, we also have our limitation," Jamil
said. "We are not a big country, we don't have everything in
Malaysia. We must bring our expertise to other countries that
have got bigger resources."
For now, competition is not a worry due to the sheer global
demand for halal food, he said.
"Even if you have all those companies to meet the demand,
it's still very far to fill up the gap," Jamil said.
The halal food trade deficit within the 57 member-countries
of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation amounts to $72
billion, data from DinarStandard's Global Islamic Economy Report
The market to process, produce and distribute halal food and
beverages will grow into a $1.6 trillion industry by 2018 from
about $1 trillion in 2012, according to DinarStandard.
($1=3.2585 Malaysian Ringgit)
(Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO; Editing By