Big British business wakes up to spending power of Muslim female shopper

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Nadiya Hussain is probably one of the most famous mums in Britain right now.

Pictures of last year’s winner of the TV series The Great British Bake Off smile out from the weekend supplements and recently the 31-year-old had the honour of making Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday cake.

Ms Hussain represents a breakthrough in the British Muslim community but she is also part of one of the most overlooked consumer groups in the country: the Muslim female shopper.

Muslims make up nearly 5 per cent of the UK population and British companies are starting to make tentative efforts to reach this growing and under-served consumer group, but there is a long way to go.

This year, Marks & Spencer started selling a “burkini” in its flagship London store and House of Fraser has been selling “sporty hijabs” designed for Muslim women to wear when exercising or swimming.

The fashion retailer Monsoon also has a range of Ramadan partywear for children and offers an online selection of adult outfits appropriate for Eid. But Fazila, the owner of my local hair and beauty salon, seems surprised when I mention these high street names.

Last year, H&M made headlines when it used a Muslim model in a hijab in an advert.

Designer brands including Dolce & Gabanna, Oscar de la Renta, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY have all released so-called “modest wear” capsule ranges.

Shelina Janmohamed, the vice-president of Ogilvy Noor, an Islamic branding agency, and a columnist for The National, says that many big British businesses are beginning to recognise the size and spending power of the Muslim consumer sector.

Tesco launched its first Ramadan campaign last year and this year it donated £20,000 (Dh97,000) worth of food to mosques in poor areas, to help feed those in need during ­Ramadan.

Tesco expected Ramadan sales this year to be up to £30 million, with a 70 per cent average increase in sales on key items such as chapatti flour, rice, oil and dates. “The supermarkets began this by noting Muslim festivals and occasions and offering products for them,” says Ms Janmohamed.

“Ramadan is now the third-largest festival for supermarkets after Easter [and Christmas]. They got a good response, largely, with Muslim customers pleased that they had been noticed and catered for.

“However, there were some complaints from Muslim customers that they were being sold inferior products.”

The major high street names are addressing the sector cautiously and quietly.

“Brands need to make sure that they hit the right note and that it feels authentic. It’s not enough to put a halal stamp on something and paint it dark green,” says Ms Janmohamed.

She says young Muslim customers are increasingly sophisticated, health conscious and international in their outlook. They are interested in provenance and are willing to seek out and pay for a more expensive product. Ogilvy refers to this group, aged 15 to 35, as “Muslim Futurists” also known as Generation M or GenM. Ms Janmohamed is publishing her book Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World in September.

She sees this influential group, which makes up 42 per cent of the world’s Muslim population, as leading consumer trends.

“They have grown up after 9/11 and in the age of the internet and the war on terror. They experience the scrutiny of Muslims, but are also proud of their faith and want to wear it as a badge of honour. They have strong values and want to communicate them and seek brands that reflect those values,” Ms Janmohamed says.

This age group is tech savvy and many of the businesses they are setting up are online, which gives women in particular a lot of freedom to carry out a job that might have been frowned on by their families in the past.

“They are establishing a global identity and without the internet they wouldn’t be able to reach their target group. We are seeing lots of small entrepreneurial businesses being set up by women in fashion, food and cosmetics,” Ms Janmohamed says.

The Muslim lifestyle market is worth US$2.6 trillion according to research. Muslim spending globally on fashion and cosmetics is estimated to be worth $464 billion and $73 billion, respectively, by 2019. Muslim customers already account for 11 per cent of all the money spent on clothes globally.

But the changing lifestyle of Muslim households in the United Kingdom is also creating new markets beyond fashion.

For instance, many young educated Muslim women work full time outside the home and when it comes to having a family they are increasingly looking for useful products – from halal ready meals to halal baby food. Influential Muslim Futurists meanwhile, are interested in eating out and travelling the world.

When Nabeel Shariff started his Muslim travel agency business in Luton just over five years ago, his aim was to encourage British Muslims to travel “a bit out of their comfort zone”. But Serendipity Tailormade – which puts together luxury holidays in 28 destinations for travellers – has tapped into a growing global demand for more choice for religious Muslims.

Mr Shariff is now taking calls and emails from the United States, Canada and South Africa, the Middle East and even as far afield as Malaysia.

“Halal travel was previously just based around pilgrimage but Muslims do go on holiday,” he says.

About 70 per cent of his bookings are for honeymooners and couples who are looking for private pools, advice on how close the mosque is and hotels that are prepared to take the alcohol out of the minibar and replace it with soft drinks.

Serendipity is largely working with the same hotels as other operators, albeit at the luxury end of the market. “We are not asking for hotels to change all their operations. We don’t expect that from them and 90 per cent of the hotels we work with will serve alcohol. It’s about what they can do, rather than what they won’t do.”

In a few weeks Serendipity will launch a new version of its website that caters for family trips, as its core clientele moves from the newly wed stage to the family stage. Family rooms, children’s clubs and direct flights to luxury locations are all desired by the sophisticated travelling Muslims they are reaching.

Asked whether mainstream tour operators could target this segment of the market, Mr Shariff is doubtful. “I’m not sure it’s a big enough market for them. Could someone like [the Swiss multinational luxury holiday firm] Kuoni do this? I’m not sure they would have the trust relating to Muslim requirements,” he says.

Serendipity’s website is only the start of the sales process. With an average booking costing £5,000, many will visit the office in Luton, about 45km north-west of London, to discuss finer details of itineraries that can take six months to put together.

This is another area where Mr Shariff feels Muslim customers are becoming more demanding. “You could say that service in halal travel was lacking. We are changing that and customers expect it,” he says.

A high-end customer experience was also something Altaf Alim, the founder of the fashion retailer Aab, wanted to bring with his London and Bradford boutiques.

Mr Alim recognised that increasing numbers of young Muslim women wanted aspirational clothes and premium options when shopping for modest fashion. His brand is now one of the world’s leading online retailers of contemporary modest wear and 2,000 shoppers turned up when his East London store was opened by the hijabi blogger Dina Torkia.

Without doubt, other firms will have taken notice.

Ethnic minorities offer opportunities for British businesses

UK firms are waking up to the reality that they need to connect with the many different parts of the British community.

As a target market, ethnic minorities are a big business opportunity. A quarter of ethnic minority households earn more than £30,000 (Dh146,000) a year, according to a survey by Business in the Community, a business-community outreach charity.

In 2012, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) put the purchasing power of British ethnic groups at £300 billion an rising.

According to the Asian Rich List, there has been substantial growth in Asian wealth. The combined wealth in the 2010s of British Asians was £40bn. By 2016 it had accelerated to £55.5bn.

While ethnic minorities overall do not yet earn as much on average as their mainstream British counterparts, averages cover up some interesting disparities, according to the IPA.

For instance, the average British Indian man is on a higher income than his white British counterpart. According to Starfish Research, BME (black and minority ethnic) consumers are three times more likely to own a BMW than the wider population; and twice as likely to own a Mercedes-Benz.

Minority groups can be significant consumers for other luxury brands, points out Saad Saraf, the chief executive of the UK marketing agency Mediareach. A couple of years ago, he helped to organise the launch event for a new range of crystals from Swarovski, designed specifically to be worn with abbayas.

The way ethnic groups rent or buy homes also varies across different groups. Indians and Pakistanis/Bangladeshis being more likely to own their home and black and “other ethnic” groups are more likely to be renters. All groups, with the exception of Asians, spent the greatest share of their weekly expenditure on housing, fuel and power.

In addition, 50 per cent of Bangladeshis and 43 per cent of Pakistanis live in households with four or more people. A high proportion of these households are also multi-adult, indicating a tendency among South Asians for multi-generational families to remain under one roof. Lower expenditure on housing costs may therefore be linked to multi-adult households perhaps also being multi-income.