UK halal firm Haloodies aims to go global

In a little over three years, the London-based founders of Haloodies have got their premium halal food products into the British supermarket mainstream. Their ambition is now to build on that success and take their brand worldwide.
Above, Haloodies products. Courtesy Haloodies
Above, Haloodies products. Courtesy Haloodies

LONDON // “We’ve hit a sweet spot,” says Noman Khawaja, the co-founder of the premium halal food company Haloodies.

Little more than three years ago, London-based Mr Khawaja and his business partner Imran KausAr founded their firm based on a hunch that modern Muslims had outgrown the paucity of Britain’s halal food offerings. Since then, the mass migration of affluent Muslims to high-end dining options has unequivocally proven them right.

Muslims are getting wealthier. The global Muslim middle class is expected to triple to 900 million by 2030, driving consumption as well as social and political change. The Reuters State of the Economy Report 2016 forecasts the halal food and lifestyle industry to be worth US$2.6 trillion by the end of this decade. And the growing number of British Muslim converts – estimated at around 100,000 – like modern food that appeals their old eating habits and new faith.

Haloodies (a catchy portmanteau of “halal” and “foodies”) is the United Kingdom’s first halal food brand to gain shelf space in nearly every mainstream supermarket chain.

And the founders have big ambitions – planning to create the world’s first truly global halal food company, with the help of their big-ticket private equity backers. After the UK, they have set their sights on the UAE, the wider Arabian Gulf, France and Germany. “The trends in many of these countries are the same, such as health and convenience. There are many young Muslim professionals with busy lives and who have a bit of cash to spend,” says Mr KausAr.

“We can’t go global soon enough. It mainly depends on straight-up commercial issues, such as trades and tariffs, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say that in the next five years we want to be in the major continents and then look to grow in those markets quite rapidly.”

Mr KausAr and Mr Khawaja first tested out the demand for quality halal offerings by founding the Halal Food Festival in London in 2013, an annual event that the organisers claim is the largest of its kind in the world. Mr KausAr says the initial idea for the festival came from his own struggle to find halal versions of non-south Asian food while growing up in Glasgow, Scotland.

By any measure, the first Halal Food Festival was a success. Thousands of visitors were plied with halal fare, from street food and desserts to drinks, with demonstrations by star culinary figures such as the French chef Jean Christophe Novelli.

“The festival put us in a unique position – we knew the food buyers and we had the full view of what the customer wanted,” says Mr KausAr. “We saw the gaps in the market, such as halal baby foods and top-end deli foods.”

Mr KausAr decided that British Muslims were no longer “economic migrants trying to make do but affluent and aspirational members of the middle class who wanted to expand their culinary horizons”.

The 40-year-old entrepreneur says Haloodies aims to capitalise on this growing demand for premium halal food. The overall value of the UK’s halal food market is £700 million (Dh3.19 billion), according to the Muslim Council of Britain. But it is not just Muslims who are demanding high-quality meat. “A proportion of our customers are non-Muslims who prefer meat that demonstrates provenance and higher ethical standards,” says Mr KausAr.

Since its launch in 2014, Haloodies has become the first company to offer a halal meat brand to Ocado, a British online supermarket, as well as the first ever halal meat brand to introduce a fresh range with Harrods, the famous store in central London’s upmarket Knightsbridge. Haloodies now has its fresh and pre-cooked meats ranges – including peri-peri chicken skewers and charcoal-cooked chicken fillets – in more than 300 stores, in the UK including Amazon Fresh, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s.

This is all a far cry from the days when halal meat was largely be found on the peripheries of East London, often languishing in old-fashioned butcher shops.

“Our core customer group is millennial Muslims who are concerned about the general quality of halal products on the market and are actively seek out a brand they can trust,” Mr KausAr says.

The millennial Muslim is a growing demographic in Britain. In essence, these are young people who have been born in the UK and are seeking to balance their fast-paced western lifestyles with a desire to respect Muslim values. “‘Generation M’ has an increasingly modern and international outlook but the range of products and services on offer to meet their needs is limited,” says Abdulhamid Evans, the founder of the halal research firm Imarat Consultants. “Many Muslims don’t feel the major brands market to them in a way that respects their cultural differences.”

It is no surprise then that Mr KausAr attributes the success of Haloodies in part to its founders’ devotion to market research and develop a deep understanding their target customers. “With other halal brands, they’re not necessarily run by people who are Muslim, they’re just offshoots of companies who supply into other markets. Halal is an add-on for them – it’s not the focus,” he says. “For us it’s purely the focus, we are participants in that market ourselves.”

Mr KausAr also highlights Haloodies’ strong relationships with national retailers and suppliers as a key success factor. “We have a professional attitude with the retailers, they know that we are strong suppliers who are able to deliver. We do what we say. I think that’s quite attractive to retailers. And then, of course, when we get into some of the big ones [supermarkets] then it grabs the attention of the others and the prophecy starts becoming true. We’re stocked in places that show we have a degree of pedigree and quality to us and that attracts yet more retailers. It allows us to magnify the fact that we’re the ‘go-to’ halal brand in the UK,” Mr KausAr says.

Mr Khawaja notes that the single biggest driver and differentiator for his company is the brand. “Other companies have come forward with halal products but they haven’t necessarily emphasised the brand as much. We’ve invited the consumer to engage and exchange dialogue with us on our social media channels and we go to meet them at trade shows, so that has certainly propelled us.”

Mr KausAr says that Haloodies’ fresh and accessible international branding appeals to young Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as does the convenience factor of pre-cooked and pre-flavoured meats. The founders rely on extensive market research to come up with new products in conjunction with their suppliers, CP Foods.

Today, the firm is riding on a wave of growing national tastes for healthy and convenient foods. Its most popular product lines are peri-peri chicken skewers, pre-cut Cajun slices and chargrilled mini-chicken fillets. “These products were designed for consumers who have busy lives,” says Mr Khawaja.

Within the next 12 months, Haloodies plans to launch the nation’s first pre-packaged quality halal meat snacks.

Mr Khawaja notes that within the non-halal consumer base, meat snack products such as Pepperami and Matteson’s Fridge Raiders are so popular that they are now included in the UK government basket for inflation tracking.

“We’ve spotted a gap in the halal market as more people eat at their desks at lunchtime and the trends move away from high carb and high-fat products,” Mr Khawaja says. “There’s a strong belief in more protein-based snacks and the halal market falls short [at the moment]. ”

Mr KausAr says the company is well placed to expand rapidly. “Things move quickly these days. Through the internet, customers can find a product and demand it and retailers can respond quickly.

“Our lean set-up is designed to deliver rapidly, so we could go global even sooner than expected.”

business@thenational.ae

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Published: February 28, 2017 04:00 AM

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