UK set to capitalise on halal lifestyle economy

The Islamic consumer market is one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, projected to reach $3 trillion by 2021 – and that means opportunities for start-ups and big global brands.

A wave of new businesses is springing up in the UK combining convenience and faith values, ranging from fashion to cosmetics. Tim Ireland / AP Photo; Darren Staples / Reuters
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LONDON // The United Kingdom is in pole position to capitalise on the trillion-dollar Muslim lifestyle economy, according to the experts behind London’s biggest B2B halal conference.

Hundreds of household retailers, entrepreneurs and businesses took part in MLE Connect 2017 in the City last month to discuss how businesses can capture a slice of the global Islamic economy.

“The attractiveness of the UK market from a global perspective means the value of the Muslim lifestyle economy cannot be underestimated or ignored,” says Tahir Mirza, the founder and director of the MLE Connect event.

A report by Euromonitor estimates that Muslims will make up more than a quarter of the world’s population by 2030. The Islamic consumer lifestyle market is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world, expanding to an estimated US$1.8 trillion in 2014 and projected to reach $3tn by 2021 according to a report by Reuters and Dinar Standard.

“We feel strongly that 2017 is a year of opportunity for those who embrace the sector and adjust their offering accordingly,” Mr Mirza adds. “The opportunities that exist for all businesses, regardless of religion, are too big to miss.”

Alongside British household names such as the retailers Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and the mortgage lender Nationwide, the event brought together sector experts, investors and industry specialists from across the United Kingdom, as well as delegates from the UAE and wider Middle East, Turkey and Malaysia.

In the past five years, a wave of new SME businesses has sprung up in the UK. These start-ups range from innovative fusion-food businesses that combine convenience and faith values, to permeable nail polish companies and mobile apps. A slew of newly incorporated e-commerce sites have been created to sell everything from colourful hijabs to halal-friendly lipsticks and Islam-friendly holidays.


At a glance

What: Muslim millennials are creating their own businesses to connect to their values.

Why: Of the 1.6 billion Muslims globally, 55 per cent are under 30 years old.


Shelina Janmohamed, the vice president of Ogilvy Noor, the world’s first Islamic branding agency, has undertaken extensive research into Muslim buying behaviour. Speaking at MLE Connect, she underlined the youthfulness of the global Muslim population. Quoting data from The Pew Research Center, she said that of the 1.6 billion Muslims globally, 33 per cent are under 15 years old and 55 per cent are under 30.

Ms Janmohamed, who is also the author of the best-selling Brit-Muslim memoir Love in a Headscarf, added that during her research, she found that more than 90 per cent of Muslims said their faith affects their buying behaviours. "How do you help people live the life they want to aspire to?" she said.

She says the big global brands are now thinking specifically about how to reach this segment and urges international companies to aspire to build “honest and authentic relationships” with Muslim millennials or “Gen M”.

“Young Muslims have grown up with the dark cloud of terrorism hanging over them … the era of the internet has given them a home to express and explore their faith and identity, through global connectivity and Muslim lifestyle consumption.

“Around 50 years ago, it was a dream that you would connect to other Muslims around the world. Globalisation has allowed young Muslims to connect their values.”

She says that “sparky” Gen M is creating its own businesses to meet its own demand for halal products. “The Web is an important kick-starter for Gen M. The youngsters are the superheroes of their own lives and they want to lift the whole community with them.”

Mohammed Nazir, the chairman of Islamic telecoms start-up firm Ummah Mobile, tells The National that in the past five to 10 years there has been a huge expansion in vertical markets in the Muslim youth lifestyle sector.

“These recently sprouted British SMEs have sprung up to service the professional young Muslim that has both the taste and deep pockets,” he says.

Mr Nazir, a former government consultant, says Ummah Mobile is set to launch the Muslim world’s first “super app” in the coming weeks. He says Ummah Mobile is the world’s first app-based network dedicated to the international Muslim community, offering free instant messaging, video chat and competitive low-cost calls to more than 50 countries, along with Sharia-compliant global money remittances and Muslim lifestyle options.

“We are an example of an SME that is focusing on generation M,” he says. “For a potential investor, Ummah Mobile’s key USP [unique selling point] is the convergence of technology along with a multitude of key halal growth markets. These markets are all now worth hundreds of billions of dollars globally and growing.”

Imran Kausar, a doctor and the Scottish Muslim co-founder of the global Muslim millennial food brand Haloodies, says while the British Islamic economy is not yet booming, there are “lot of shoots of opportunity”. Dr Kausar’s company is now the only convenience halal food to be stocked in all of the UK’s major supermarkets and is also on the upmarket e-commerce site Ocado. “The fundamentals of business are agnostic when it comes to faith. It’s about numbers,” he says.

He urges new start-ups to take the time to understand the financial aspects of what they want to do. “A lot of entrepreneurs are creative so they focus on curating the idea but they don’t think about how it will make money. When will it break even? These are all very practical real things that will have an impact on whether they attract investment.”

The seasoned entrepreneur says the biggest obstacle to a business succeeding is having a strong business plan. “Investors are good at knowing about opportunity but there is a lot of opportunity in the world right now, such as India, China – or renewable energy,” he says.

“The investors are aware of halal as a sector but they don’t know how much it covers now – it’s not just food. It’s one word that covers a lot of sectors – that’s the bit they need educating on.”

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