Food producers eye Islamic market

JIJI

Japanese food-makers are increasingly seeking halal certification for their products, with the global Islamic population forecast to grow from 1.6 billion at present to more than 2 billion by 2030.

Halal, an Arabic word meaning “permissible,” is used to designate foods that comply with Islamic law. Halal foods do not use pork and alcohol, while the use of poultry and other ingredients is permitted only after they are processed under particular methods.

Food producers must also keep their production lines clean and be honest with consumers. In short, integrated management “from the farm to the table” is required for halal foods. Authorized foods carry a halal certification label. For such authorization, religious elements are taken into account alongside food safety and the health of consumers, according to Haji Saifol Haji Bahli, general manager for training consultancy of the International Institute for Halal Research and Training in Kuala Lumpur.

Japanese companies designated as makers of halal foods held a fair to exhibit their products in the city of Fukuoka in February. It was the first such fair in Japan.

Tsukasa Yoshimura, president of a seafood-processing company in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, sees halal foods as a possible way to tackle the shrinking domestic market and use nonstandard marine products. “The concept of halal is not irrational,” Yoshimura said. “Although it may be costly (to remain in compliance with Islamic law), we won certification as a new sanitary code.”

Yoshimura’s company developed “gyoza” dumplings featuring meat from horse mackerel smaller than the standard. After the dumplings were certified as halal in October 2011, exports were started to Singapore, where Muslims account for some 15 percent of the population.

Eiko Yamashita, a marketing consultant in Fukuoka, surveyed 79 Muslims at a trade fair of Japanese halal foods in Singapore in March last year and found most were interested in the products. Muslims “long for and trust genuine Japanese foods,” Yamashita said, adding that this offers business opportunities to Japanese food companies for “everything, including snacks and seasonings.”

Shinsuke Nagaoka, associate professor of Islamic finance at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Asian African Area Studies, believes the barriers against entry to the Islamic market are low for Japanese companies. “The Islamic economy is close to the Japanese way of doing business, as it puts weight on fair transactions and production of goods and on contribution to local communities,” he said.