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Islam is the religion of a vast and growing number of consumers around the world.
There is strong evidence to suggest that religious affiliation plays a significant role in consumer behaviour.
As sources like the Journal of Euromarketing point out, enhanced knowledge of religious differences in consumer decision-making can have a marked impact on the effectiveness of global marketing strategies.
The European Muslim market is a significant market segment: estimates put it at 25-30 million and rising. The UK has a growing Muslim population of two million; while at five million or 8% of the population, France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community; and Germany has three million Muslim inhabitants.
There are also sizeable Muslim populations in Belgium, Norway and Sweden, with Mohammad the first or second most popular boy’s name in cities such as Brussels, Oslo and Malmo. Europe’s Muslims have diverse backgrounds but as consumers they are unified in three areas: they want Halal food and products; Sharia financial products which conform with the prohibition on payment of interest; and modest clothing.
The tendency of Muslim families to have more children means that targeted marketing is an attractive proposition. Current population figures across Europe are impressive, but the growth rates are more so. Europe’s Muslim population, even at conservative estimates of around 25 million, increased at a rate of 140% over the decade to 2005.
Muslims make up less than 1% of the Irish population, but statistics show a 70% increase in the community’s numbers from 2002-2006. Similarly, the number of Muslims in Austria increased 15 fold from 1971 to 2006, and Islam will overtake Protestantism as the country’s second-largest religious group by 2010, according to a recent study from the Austrian Society for International Understanding, while Belgium’s approximately 400,000 Muslims represent 4% of the total population. And this year, El Pais reports, Spain’s burgeoning Muslim community established Life Halal to defend its rights as consumers and citizens
The UK is the largest centre of Islamic banking and finance in the Western world. Its first specialist Islamic bank opened in 2004, and HSBC and Lloyds now offer Sharia-compliant mortgages and accounts. Lloyds’ research shows over 75% British Muslims want banking services that fit with their faith, but they also want all the benefits they’ve come to expect from banks. Other European countries, such as the Netherlands, have recognised this as a potential growth market and have expressed interest in offering similar services to their resident Muslim communities.
To accord with Muslim sensibilities, the Burqini swimsuit was launched in 2006 and is now sold internationally, mainly online. The polyester suits are a cross between a burqa and a bikini, and are designed in accordance with Islamic law requiring women to dress modestly. A survey by advertising agency JWT confirms the view that the Muslim market presents considerable opportunities for clothing retailers.
A JWT spokeswoman said she hoped to convince H&M to introduce a line of modest clothing, noting that survey respondents had entreated: “Tell H&M to sell more conservative clothing we can enjoy, especially long sleeves in the summer.” And for Muslims who are offended by the idea of their daughters playing with a blonde, busty Barbie doll, an alternative is now available in the form of Fulla. She has dark hair and a small chest, and wears a headscarf and coat. Unlike Barbie, Fulla does not have a boyfriend or a job, say her makers. She spends her time cooking, reading and praying.
Islamic law defines the eating habits and therefore purchasing choices of millions of people Europe-wide. Muslim consumers are therefore one of the largest market sectors in the food industry and constitute a complex and diverse market demographic: spread across the globe and straddling all income brackets. The Muslim customer eats the widest range of foods, encompassing everything from spaghetti suppers to stir-frys, and fine dining to fast food.
A spokesman for Malaysian Kasehdia, the media company behind the annual World Halal Forum, identifies Europe as a growth area for niche Halal foods: “In France, for example, second and third generation Muslims are no longer happy eating what their parents bought in the local stores. They want pizzas and hotdogs that are certified Halal.” The forum attracts major global players in the food industry, including McDonald’s, KFC and Nestlé, eager to talk-up their new ranges of Halal products. “What they are starting to realise now is in the UK and Europe there are these identifiable Muslim markets,” the spokesman adds. Leading supermarket chains have recognised that by offering Halal foods they can tap into a consumer-base that previously shopped at small ethnic stores.
Leading the way on the fast food front, last year McDonald’s began serving Halal Chicken McNuggets and other food items permissible to Muslims, at one of its London outlets. Demand is strong, sales are increasing, and McDonald’s is thinking about extending the experiment reported the Economist. Meanwhile, Boots, a UK chemist chain, is running a trial of Halal baby food in 30 stores. While Tesco, which like other supermarkets, sells Halal certified meat at some stores, is looking to include new products, such as ready meals. In France, to cater to the sensitivities of affluent Muslim consumers, manufacturers of gourmet foods are producing Halal foie gras.
Muslims are also going online to find markets and restaurants with Halal products. A popular US website, zabiha.com, now features listings from Muslim communities across Western Europe. “The Muslim community in the West is a very internet-savvy community,” says the website’s creator.
Certification is key to the Muslim market, with supermarkets such as Tesco backing the drive for a set of global as opposed to local Halal standards, so the supply chain for products is easier to manage.
And it’s not just meat, Halal is a wide category encompassing everything from butter to soy sauce. It’s now commonplace to see a Halal logo on a variety of food items: milk, bread, juices and soft drinks, sauces, prepared meals etc. The Halal logo is also spreading to toiletries and cosmetics, and even to pharmaceutical and medicinal products.
Muslims are also attracted to certain Kosher certified food products, as they provide an assurance against hidden ingredients that are ‘haram’ (forbidden). In the USA, approximately 16% of sales in the $100 billion Kosher industry are to Muslims who lack adequate Halal options. One leading manufacturer of Kosher foods has recently launched a campaign designed to reach out beyond Jewish customers; an approach that could be exported to Europe.
The Halal symbol attracts not only Muslim consumers, but those alarmed by food scares such as BSE and Bird Flu, and recent scandals surrounding food contamination. These consumers associate Halal with purer products and the use of fewer chemicals. There is evidence of significant but so far unquantified numbers of non-Muslims eating Halal food. In the UK there are approximately three million Muslims and yet, according to the UK Food Safety Authority, there are six million consumers of Halal meat
The Muslim market presents major untapped opportunities for cosmetics and personal care products, according to management consultancy firm A T Kearney. “At a time when many other large consumer segments are reaching a saturation point, Muslims are a new outlet from which to build a box for future growth,” reads a company report. “Since Muslims are the fastest growing consumer segment in the world, any company that is not considering how to serve them is missing a significant opportunity to affect both its top- and bottom-line growth,” the report concludes, as reported in Cosmetics-design-Europe.com. A number of cosmetics companies are beginning to develop this lucrative market, releasing Halal certified ranges that contain no animal ingredients and are not animal-tested. The cross-over potential of marketing to Muslims and vegetarians, and those concerned about animal welfare, are obvious.
Colgate-Palmolive is ahead of the game with a number of toothpaste products that are certified Halal, while Australian firm Almaas produce Halal mascaras and eye shadows. The Body Shop, although not certified Halal, has also proved popular with Muslim consumers due to its stance against animal testing and its use of natural ingredients in its products. Its success shows that clever marketing strategies may be as important as offering certified Halal ranges.
JWT claims to be the first global agency to identify Muslims as a consumer group, and compares it to the Hispanic market in America: “Twenty years ago, if you said ‘Hispanic’ I’m not sure people would even know what you meant. Today this segment makes up about 15% of American consumerism.” JWT’s recent study, “Marketing to Muslims”, sees the faith group as Britain’s largest untapped niche market, and one that is certain to grow: it comprises 3% of the population, is Britain’s second largest faith group and has the youngest age profile. JWT is encouraging clients, including Unilever, Nestlé, HSBC, Esteé Lauder and Johnson & Johnson, to develop strategies to reach this global market.
Other companies, while not officially segmenting their customers by religion, are nevertheless seeking to reach out to the Muslim consumer. Coca-Cola, for example, runs a series of marketing initiatives each year during the holy month of Ramadan. One of their advertisements focuses on sharing food during ‘iftar’, the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast, and has proved extremely popular.
A striking feature of Islam is its diversity, as recognised by an IKEA advertisement showing people from varying ethnic groups, some in traditional dress and some in Western attire. With the proliferation of satellite channels across Europe, reaching target audiences has never been easier. Many of Germany’s Muslim citizens are of Turkish origin, and there are more than 40 Turkish-language stations available nationally, a number closely rivalled by Arab-language channels.
When advertising to Muslims, a more modest approach than that used for a non-Islamic audience is preferable. Because European Muslim communities are not homogenous, and have a variety of ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics, interpretations and attitudes differ, so variations in the portrayal of women in advertising can be expected. In light of the uproar caused by the inappropriate use of verses from the Qur’an, sensitivity to religious sensibilities is required.
The European Muslim consumer represents a large and rapidly expanding market segment, one which increasingly wants to participate in the global marketplace in ways consistent with Islamic religious law. It’s a market that companies cannot afford to ignore.