GLOBE AND MAIL – HALAL HAPPY MEALS?
Globe and Mail Update
October 25, 2007 at 7:59 PM EST
The figures are impressive: There are about 800,000 Muslims in Canada—a number that’s expected to jump to roughly 1.2 million by the end of the decade. And the market for halal meat—which is prepared and killed according to Islamic law—is already worth more than $214 million a year. Yet when it comes to eating out, it’s slim pickings for observant Muslims. Those looking for a quick bite are relegated to either small ethnic restaurants or a rather incongruous option: fried chicken, southern style.
Popeyes Chicken & Seafood has been serving halal meat at its more than 30 Canadian outlets—all of them in the Toronto area—for well over a decade. Head office in Atlanta is reluctant to talk about it, however, and the company doesn’t promote the fact in its corporate advertising. Thanks solely to word of mouth, the chain—which had revenues of $153 million (U.S.) in 2006—has a dedicated following in the community. One Toronto franchisee says sales take a downturn during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sun-up to sunset.
Dixy Chicken, meanwhile, is all halal and proud of it. The chain was started by British entrepreneurs Amjad Ali and Abid Mahmood in 1986, and so far it has more than 100 fried-chicken franchises in the U.K., along with a few in Norway, India, Syria and Brunei. It’s moving into the U.S. this year. No plans have been announced for Canada, although it’s safe to assume Muslim Canadians would embrace some new options. In 2005, the government of Alberta surveyed Muslims across the country, in search of new markets for the province’s beef farmers. Three-quarters of respondents said they’d eat out more often if more restaurants put halal options on the menu. The problem, says Omar Subedar, spokesman for the Toronto-based Halal Monitoring Authority, is that it’s easy to slap the word “halal” on your restaurant’s sign without actually living up to the designation. “There’s huge demand for halal,” says Subedar, “but it’s expensive, and there’s not enough supply—not exactly music to franchisees’ ears.” There’s even talk that Popeyes isn’t truly halal these days. Still, Subedar has good news for Muslim diners: A foreign-owned halal chain is now looking at the Canadian market. He wouldn’t give specifics, but it’s a good guess there’ll be fried chicken somewhere on the menu.