KUALA LUMPUR: South Korean businessman Min Tae-Soo did not realise that the concept of halal went beyond meat.
The owner of a cracker chain in Seoul attended the Global Halal Summit 2019 in Kuala Lumpur this week looking to find a halal supplier for the beef ingredient in his product so that he could export it to Muslim countries.
At the event, however, the 42-year-old was surprised when he saw that halal products also included non-food and beverage items like lipstick, shampoo, moisturizer, lotion and even medication.
“I’ve always wanted to certify my crackers halal because using halal beef meat would open up the possibility of selling to Muslim countries,” said Mr Min.
“But I never realised halal (products) also included things you don’t eat or drink. I even saw a Malaysian company selling halal car wash detergent. Maybe there’s room to export more of such goods when I get them halal certified,” added Mr Min, whose company also manufactures toothpaste and bath gels.
Mr Min was among the tens of thousands of visitors who attended the Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS) 2019, which opened on Wednesday (Apr 3) and ended on Saturday.
A key feature of this year’s edition was to showcase halal products and services outside the food and beverage industry.
The potential reach of these products and services go beyond Asia. In fact, some of them have drawn interest from consumers in the west.
Traditionally, halal is a standard that makes a product suitable for consumption by Muslims. But this is a narrow definition, according to a senior official from the Malaysia Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), the government body which organised the showcase.
MATRADE’s director of lifestyle and life sciences Mr Abu Bakar Yusof told CNA that halal is a universal standard that provides assurance of quality.
“Many non-Muslims think that halal is just about slaughtering animals in the supply chain, but it’s beyond that. It’s about the processes, the cleanliness, the hygiene, the safety of the product,” he said.
“These products have gone through stringent checks to make sure that they are safe for consumers. Halal comes from Islam, but the concept of halal is something that will give consumers more confidence, regardless of their religion,” he said.
HALAL MODEST FASHION STANDARDS?
A new addition to this year’s MIHAS exhibitor list was modern fashion, where businesses showcased lines of clothing that were suitable for Muslims.
The summit also saw the debut of the MIHAS fashion show where models strutted the catwalk dressed in clothing that limited skin exposure.
Mr Abu Bakar highlighted that currently, the Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (JAKIM) does not have a set of standards applicable to clothing.
However, he hinted that this could change in the future. “Showcasing fashion shows like this could just be the starting point. Maybe later on, fashion companies may work with JAKIM or other relevant halal certification bodies to look into modest fashion standards,” he said.
He highlighted that the standards may be focused on the fabric, rather than the length of the hem line.
“They will look into the supply chain, the raw material - whether they are halal certified or not - to make sure that they are from the halal sources. The type of leather used for example. There must be processes to ensure the cleanliness and hygiene (of the materials),” he said.
However, Mdm Alia Azman, a local Malaysian who was present at the MIHAS Fashion show, told CNA that the clothing on display might not necessarily adhere to Muslim standards.
She said: “Some of the clothing are skin-tight and show the outline of the female body. This is not modest to me.”
Fashion designer Sharifah Shawati, whose clothing line Adamaya includes black laced clothing, said her products are a form of “women empowerment” as they give women the freedom of choice.
“Take one of my kebayas. If you want to, you can wear this top fastened or unfastened,” she said, demonstrating with a laced black top which came with a camisole.
“As long as you’re Muslimah-compliant, which is to cover your neck and skin, you can be bold and dress however you want,” she said.
HALAL CERTIFICATION AS TICKET TO MUSLIM MARKETS
Besides fashion, other products looking to penetrate Muslim markets include everyday items like liquid cleaning agents used on stoves, pipes and other metallic surfaces.
Taiwanese company Micro Tech, which produces cleaning agents that are certified halal by the Taiwan Halal Integrity Development Association, said its product is "selling fast" to the Muslim markets.
A senior executive from the company, Ms Lisa Kuo, said that the firm exports to countries in the Middle East as well as Malaysia and Indonesia.
“We export to Muslim communities where mosques, hotels, restaurants, street vendors and even schools use our product. They are attracted to the value of the halal certificate we have,” she added.
South Korean cosmetic firm Chobs, which sells skincare products, shares the same sentiment. Its manager, Mr Ted Lee, said customers in Malaysia do not want to commit to non-halal products, even for cream and lotion they apply externally.
Chobs products are halal certified by the United Arab Emirates’ certification body ESMA, and Mr Lee said his company’s processes are subjected to random visits by ESMA officials.
“They even check the grease we use in our factory machines, the detergents we use. Every single thing they ask for evidence. The thoroughness gives us confidence in our own process,” he said.
But on top of that, Mr Lee said Chob’s non-Muslim customers have also benefited from the halal certification checks.
“Our customers in the Korean market, Europe, UK and Sweden have realised that halal is quality, and they too have requested for it even though their customer base is not Muslim,” he added.
JAKIM’s director Sirajuddin Suhaimee noted that that many foreign companies see halal certification as a marketing tool to penetrate the Muslim market.
“For two of the same product, the one that is halal certified will excel in both the Muslim and non-Muslim market,” he said.
“JAKIM has expanded its certification expertise to cosmetics, pharmeceuticals and even medical devices,” he added. “The halal industry is not static, and we as certification bodies must also be open to new ideas.”
HALAL WAVE HEADS WEST
The interest in halal products extend beyond Asia.
Modest fashion designer Yani Bakhtiar, whose clothing line Yans Creation was also displayed at the MIHAS 2019 fashion show, told CNA that she has an increasing number of clients from Europe and the west who are attracted to the concept of “covering up their skin”.
“Modest fashion is not just about wearing the Arabic jubah (long robe) or Malay baju kurung. In the West, covering up is practical especially in the winter, so wearing elegant clothes like these makes sense,” she said.
“It encourages them to cover the shape of their body, and (to think) that doing so is beautiful, even more sexy. It exudes elegance, exclusivity and style,” Ms Yani added.
MATRADE’s Mr Abu Bakar highlighted how non-Muslims are a major driving force in the modest fashion industry. He said out of the US$207 billion global modest apparel market, Muslim companies only account for US$44 billion.
“Modest fashion is not about religion. It’s about comfort, personal choice and cultural background. It has even entered the mainstream and big players like H&M and Uniqlo have their own segments (of modest clothing line),” he said.
HALAL FRENCH WINE: YAY OR NAY?
Besides non-food and beverage items, another product that caught the attention of many buyers and visitors was alcohol-free halal-certified wine, offered by French company La Petit Beret.
According to the company’s CEO for Asia, Gregory Silva, the wine is made from natural ingredients like grapes, jasmine and rose. He added that it is certified halal by the Grand Mosque of Paris and recognised by Malaysia’s JAKIM. The product has been exported to 33 countries including Brunei.
Mr Silva emphasised that the taste of the halal wine is “largely similar” to original wine.
“We work only with the best of the grapes. We boil it and add natural ingredients to give it a wine taste. It’s more fruity than wine, but it has the same aftertaste,” he added.
But some Muslim visitors CNA spoke to were doubtful of the halal authenticity of the wine despite its certification.
A Malaysian visitor who declined to be named said: “I would not drink it. I know they claim not to have alcohol but the bottle looks the same as normal wine, and I have my doubts.”
Egyptian Mohd Malik Anas said he tasted the wine, but admitted it might not be marketable in his country.
“Even if you want to sell it (in Egypt), people won’t buy because its external container is like regular wine, in spite of the label that says it is non-alcoholic,” he said.