Appetite for Halal Food Strong in UK, As is Movement for Animal Welfare

Tahira halal burgers

There has been much contention regarding halal products in the United Kingdom over the last five years, with large numbers of British consumers boycotting supermarkets selling meat derived from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter.

Although current UK law requires animals to be rendered immobile or unconscious before slaughter to prevent them from suffering, exemptions are allowed that permit non-stun slaughter for religious purposes that serve Muslim and Jewish communities.

The Arabic word halal is defined as “permissible,” and the rules of slaughter are according to Islamic law. This requires the live animals to be healthy before the process of slaughtering, which is performed by a Muslim butcher who ritualistically recites a religious verse. The animal's throat must be cut by the blade of a sharp knife severing the carotid artery, jugular vein and windpipe in a quick, single slash. Thereafter it is essential for the blood to be immediately drained out of the carcass.

hmc uk logoDemand for halal food in Britain, where the Muslim population was reckoned to be 3.3 million by the Office of National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey April 2017 to March 2018, is rising. The figure is expected to triple in the next 30 years, according to projections from the Pew Research Center. Globally, and it is estimated that 1.2 billion or more Muslims strictly follow halal dietary guidelines. This is a demographic that retailers cannot ignore.

Indeed, Statista cites Islam as the second largest religion in the world, which means there is huge demand for halal products in many regions. In fact, the second largest sector of the global halal industry is halal food, with a 36% market share.

However, the method of preparation of halal meat products doesn’t always sit well with many UK residents who value animal welfare in high regard. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the nation’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates suggest that almost 90% of animals slaughtered by halal procedure in Britain are stunned in a manner deemed religiously acceptable by many Muslims.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), 65% of halal meat in the UK comes from animals that have been stunned prior to slaughter. However for many Muslims this still would not be permissible to eat as it is classed as carrion, or deemed as decaying flesh, which is forbidden by Islamic law. Therein lies the problem, which is very much a case of animal welfare verses religious beliefs.

Legislation Change Sought

The RSPCA has joined forces with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to call on the government to end non-stun slaughter without exception. In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, the RSPCA and BVA called on the UK government to change legislation in England to bring an end to non-stun slaughter, providing further transparency on the issue of non-stun slaughter.

Until such legislation is in place, the RSCPA and BVA are calling for:

  • Meat to be labeled with the method of slaughter
  • Non-stun slaughter to only be permitted at levels that meet local religious community demand for this type of meat
  • A ban on export of meat from non-stunned animals or live animals destined for non-stun slaughter
  • An immediate post-cut stun for cattle, sheep, goats and deer

“We're opposed to non-stun slaughter and we're calling for an end to the practice,” said Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA. “Our concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief, but the welfare of animals.”

Despite the call for a ban on non-stunned halal meat, there remains huge demand from Muslim communities, which creates difficulty for UK supermarkets keen to please customers of all faiths and from all walks of life.

Halal meat remains a controversial subject in Britain, and as such all the major supermarket chains contacted for this report declined to comment on the subject. However, the majority of them sell branded halal products from un-stunned animals.

Asda Gino pizzs Asda states: “At Asda we stipulate that all of our meat must be stunned pre-slaughter.”

However, the retail giant does sell 11 halal items under the Humza, Gino’s and Shazans brands which include Gino’s southern fried chicken popcorn and pizza products, Humza Premium Food Products’ Meat Charcoal Seekh Kebabs, and Shazans’ Meat Samosas.

Morrisons also states that 100% of its fresh branded meat is stunned prior to slaughter, although there is no mention of its frozen meat products. The supermarket does, however, offer a range of eight frozen halal products under the Salaam Foods, Humza and Allgroo brands. Products range from vegetable gyoza mandu and meat samosas to southern fried chicken pops and cooked chicken breast strips.

In its corporate responsibility statement, Morrisons declares: “We respect the fact that some religious communities want to eat food produced in accordance with their beliefs and sell branded halal and kosher products where there is strong customer demand. It's clear from the labeling that these products are halal or kosher.”

SainsburySainsbury’s also follows other supermarkets’ stance by abstaining from selling own label halal products, but offering a range of 35 halal items under the Azeem, Salaam, McCain, Smooze, Fry’s, Tahira, Humza, Gino’s, Taj, Easy Chef, Street Delights and Liberty brands. Products range from kebabs and tilapia fillets to pizza and fruit ice pops.

In a statement on animal welfare, Sainsbury’s comments: “We know that animal health and welfare matters to our customers. And as you might expect, with sourcing with integrity being one of Sainsbury’s core values, it’s very important to us too.

“Pre-slaughter stunning all the livestock and farmed salmon, trout and pangasius, which go towards Sainsbury’s brand products, are stunned before slaughter according to both regulatory requirements and current best practice industry guidance. We do not accept meat for our own brand products from abattoirs that slaughter without stunning.

“To meet customer demand, we do sell a range of branded halal and kosher meat in some stores. These are very clearly labeled as kosher and halal.”

As an international retailer operating in European and Asian markets, Tesco stocks products that appeal to its customers’ different cultures and religious beliefs. In the UK, meat components in Tesco’s own label items are sourced from animals that are stunned before slaughter. However, in a small number of stores it sells branded meat or hosts concessions that offer un-stunned halal meat. This meat is clearly labeled so customers can make informed choices.

Tesco Humza halalTesco states: “Halal food is food which is permissible or lawful according to traditional Islamic law. The description halal relates to both the type of food eaten and its method of preparation. For meat, the process requires a Muslim to recite a dedication, known as tasmiya or shahada, and can be either stunned or unstunned before slaughter.

“All our Tesco branded meat suppliers to the UK market stun the animal before slaughter, even though some of this is also processed to halal standards, the point of difference from conventionally-slaughtered animals is that the animal receives a blessing before slaughter. This allows the processors to export parts of the carcass not used by European customers to other countries, such as those in the Middle East, where demand for halal meat is higher, a practice which helps to minimize waste. As we do not specify to these suppliers that halal practices should be followed, such as a blessing, we choose not to market the meat as halal. For example, the vast majority of New Zealand lamb sold in the UK is processed to the halal standards described.”

Halal-certified brands sold at Tesco include Humza, Easy Chef, Aisha’s, Tahira and Tubzee. Products range from lamb sausages and chicken nuggets to donner kebabs and ice cream.

While the majority of supermarkets sell a small variety of frozen halal products, there still remains a large disparity between demand and supply. The retail sector is missing out on a lucrative market, it seems, from fear of public opinion. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

New Chicken Products Rule Roost of Value Added Poultry Innovation in UK

190131 newchicken graphic01Chicken has long been a staple part of consumers’ diets in Europe and North America. According to the latest figures its popularity shows no sign of waning on either side of the Atlantic. According to the National Chicken Council USA, based in Washington, DC, consumers spend around $95 billion dollars on chicken annually. This number has grown steadily over the last two years. In fact, AVEC, the voice of the European poultry meat sector, reports that poultry is the most traded meat globally, highlighting the huge consumer demand for the protein.

In the United Kingdom, poultry now makes up half of all the meat eaten by volume. Consumption is up 2% year-on-year and this follows a 4% volume uplift in 2016/17, a 5% rise in 2015/16 and 1% growth in 2014/15, reports Kantar Worldpanel.

Many high street food retailers, including UK retailer Iceland, are taking advantage of this demand for poultry by investing in own brand, value added poultry (VAP) product innovations to secure sales.

We have a 22.1% share of the UK value added poultry market, compared with our overall grocery market share of 2.3% and over 70% of sales in value added poultry come under the Iceland own label,” explained Sally Bentley, a senior buyer at Iceland UK.

Street Style
190131 newchicken graphic02Global influences and street food trends continue to drive product innovation in the retail sector, meeting increased demand from consumers for a taste of takeaway at home that they can easily prepare and eat as an affordable treat for the family.

Birds Eye UK, a unit of Feltham, England-headquartered Nomad Foods, for example, launched a range of takeaway-style chicken last November under the Chicken Shop banner. The new range of sharing boxes contains pieces of chicken combined with a variety of coatings and marinades, including Buttermilk Strips, Hot & Fiery Chunks, Maple & BBQ Wings, and Southern Fried Wings, with an MSRP of £4.

“Chicken is incredibly popular at the moment because it’s tasty and versatile,” said Markos Papavlasopoulos, senior brand manager for Birds Eye Chicken. “We’re also seeing an increasing trend towards the informal eating occasion – ‘movie nights in with friends and family’ is a prime example. These occasions lend themselves to foods that are great for sharing, easy to prepare and can be eaten quite happily with your hands.”

Although frozen chicken penetration has reached its highest point in the last three years (66.8%), according to Kantar Worldpanel, there is a still plenty of scope within the sector for further growth.

“The two biggest penetration barriers for frozen chicken are low quality perceptions and a lack of relevant propositions for consumers,” stated Papavlasopoulos. “Our new range is perfect to address these tensions and add value into frozen chicken.”

Birds Eye’s Chicken Shop range has proved a hit with consumers impressed with the quality of the offerings. Additionally, the take out-style packaging encourages people to use the products during sharing occasions.

To drive awareness of Birds Eye’s move into this new occasion, the brand has also rolled out a significant £3.5 million promotion campaign, spanning TV advertising, digital, social, in-store activations and PR.

Also keen to cash in on the global food trend is Iceland, which offers a wide range of own brand VAP products. Consumers can choose from Southern Fried Chicken and Hot & Spicy Chicken Breasteaks retailing at £2 for a 760-gram bag, four Nacho Chicken Toppers for £2, or Let's Eat American Buttermilk Chunks with Honey BBQ Sauce at £3 for 400 grams, to name just a few.

Finger foods and sharing platters are extremely popular with consumers and also tap into the street food vibe. Many manufacturers offer bite-size chicken products in a whole host of flavors and formats to appeal to consumers looking for a less formal eating experience at home.

Assurances Sought
190131 newchicken graphic03The public's attitude to ethical issues changed significantly over the last five years or so, with fast food giants such as McDonald’s, Nando’s, Domino’s and Burger King in the spotlight regarding animal welfare issues. Consumers want more assurances that the food they eat has been responsibly sourced.

“There is no doubt that the public is taking an increasing interest in welfare and ethical issues,” said Bentley. “Witness the massive response to our plastics and palm oil initiatives last year, and the strong growth of our expanding, exclusive range of vegan products. We have always insisted on high welfare standards from all our suppliers, including those of VAP.”

Traceability and welfare are important matters to consumers, which is why the retail food industry is taking note. Suppliers now offer these assurances as standard, with many highlighting their credentials online.

Birds Eye’s website, for example, is clear about the fact that their birds are only treated with antibiotics if unwell and are reared in barns, never in cages. The company can trace chickens back to the farm from which they came, and assure that they were fed only quality vegetable-based feed.

“Consumers want to be sure that all animals being raised for food are treated with respect and are properly cared for during their lives,” said Tom Super, senior vice president, communications at the USA’s National Chicken Council. “The people and companies involved in raising chickens for food share the public’s concern. They recognize that they have an ethical obligation to make sure that the animals on their farms are well cared for.”

The value added poultry products sector’s growth can be attributed not only to the demand for convenience, but also to the improved quality of products. With big fast food chains like McDonald’s highlighting their 100% breast meat message, retail outlets have followed suit with private label products.

“Health and environmental concerns have prompted many people to cut back on processed meat,” said Alice Baker, research analyst at Mintel. “However, premium products can tap into the widespread ‘less but better’ mindset to support value growth.”

The demand for VAP products shows no sign of abating any time soon, which is great news for producers. However, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union could have a significant impact on the EU poultry sector. Could this mean Brits are now stockpiling chicken wings, dippers and nuggets? Watch this space. – Reported by Sarah Welsh

Technology and Consumer Shifts Shaping Supermarkets of the Future in a Big Way

Food businesses around the world will have to adapt and change in order to remain competitive now and in the future – both online and in-store on the retail level, as well as at sorting and grading stations in the field and at processing plants where value is added to enhance product line offerings. Bjorn Thumas, the director of business development food for Leuven, Belgium-based TOMRA Food, has written about what we can expect to see in this regard in the article that follows.

Disruptive change is coming to supermarkets and this will have a ripple effect throughout the food industry supply chain. Technical innovations, and shifting consumer demands will re-shape the supermarket of the future. And that future is approaching fast.

Tomra onlineshoperProof that we are on the brink of a supermarket revolution came last year when e-commerce giant Amazon invested $13.7 (€11.7) billion in acquiring the Whole Foods Market supermarket chain. This promises to be a game-changer in food retailing. And it is not only in funky-looking offices in Seattle where the supermarket is being re-imagined. Other specialized enterprises already fulfill online grocery orders by delivering directly to customers’ front doors, and more businesses will jump on the bandwagon.

WFM store

Traditional bricks-and-mortar supermarket chains, seeing that they are at risk of losing power and profits in this revolution, are strengthening their own e-commerce capabilities. The value attached to Whole Foods Market by Amazon will have come as a wake-up call: established food retail chains must use CRM data to increase sales. While it is true that Whole Foods Market has stores only in the USA and the UK, and that today’s online innovators such as Instacart are mostly US-based, the shift to selling more food online will quickly sweep through developed nations.

Look to Asia for Growth

During the next decade the global grocery e-commerce market is forecast to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 13.5%, from an annual value of €43 billion today to €135 billion by 2025. Business analysts note that although e-commerce players are making efforts to establish a foothold in the USA and Europe, they face serious challenges here because the existing grocery market is saturated and margins are low. This means global growth in food e-commerce will be driven by Asia, where there is highest consumer willingness to purchase groceries online, combined with rapid urbanization, low labor costs, and a relatively undeveloped retail market.

Alibaba Group logoTo give just one example of growth potential, in China, the world’s most populous nation, the e-commerce share of the grocery market is currently only 4.2%. To put this into perspective, in nearby Japan the share is 7.2% and in South Korea it is already 16.6%. This is a sure indicator that businesses such as the Chinese multinational conglomerate Alibaba Group, owner of Alibaba.com, will be at the vanguard of big changes.

Rising Expectations

Widespread food shopping online and fast deliveries to customers’ front doors will be just the beginning of this brave new world. Computer codes and algorithms will also enable supermarkets to personalize their offering to customers, using data gathered about shoppers’ individual habits and preferences. The “Recommended for You” web page so familiar to buyers of products such as books and electrical goods can also direct shoppers towards the foods they like.

In turn, food shoppers will develop higher expectations and a more critical eye when buying fruits or vegetables. The growing number of people around the world with middle-class incomes and lifestyles will become more aware of food safety and more curious about how their foods are being sourced and screened. Discerning “foodies” will even be able to check information about the origins and nutritional value of produce, and see suggestions for recipes and food pairings. This will attract and addict greater numbers of customers while cleverly making each one feel as if they are being treated individually.

The ad-hoc demand created through these online “nudges” will challenge the traditional food supply chain. Processing lines will need to know in precise detail what is coming in from the field and what is in storage in order to meet demand. And quality and safety standards will have to be higher than ever. In the past consumers might have ignored a defect or made a complaint only seen by the grocery chain or food manufacturer, but social media will change that. A photo of something like a frog in a bag of lettuce can quickly go viral and global, reaching enough people to cause brand damage.

Technology to the Rescue

These opportunities and threats mean that machines produced by TOMRA, a provider of optical food sorting and peeling equipment, will play an increasing role in meeting customers’ expectations and protecting suppliers’ reputations. Grading and inspection equipment – at point-of-origin, prior to shipment to the supermarket, or from the on-line dispatching warehouse – can ensure the produce has the desired size and ripeness without bruising or mold. In addition, sorting equipment at different stages in the supply chain will be able to provide essential information on sizing, quality and other quality markers.

In readiness for these needs, the sorting equipment made by TOMRA is being enabled to share data to ensure the highest standards of quality and safety. These machines are also being fine-tuned in data gathering and application to help processors pick the correct incoming material, to get to the final product in the most efficient way.

Traditional supermarkets are fighting back against the online disruptors – and information about shoppers’ preferences and habits will be an important weapon. Consumer-facing technologies, such as shopping cart-mounted devices or smart phone apps, will steer customers towards the aisles and shelves where they are more likely to make purchases. Sensors in the store’s shelves will keep track of the items shoppers put in their carts and bill their mobile payment system as they exit the store.

This live data will enable supermarkets to rely to a greater extent on “just-in-time” stock deliveries, minimizing the cost and space of keeping stock on site. Live data will also help suppliers make the packaging and transportation of foods more time-efficient. Supermarkets and specialized grocery stores will have the option of reducing on-site running costs by becoming smaller.

Another likelihood is that supermarkets will remain the same size but change in concept, becoming destinations for click and mortar shopping. Because retailers need to offer consumers a consistent omnichannel experience, stores will connect the physical and digital worlds. Here, consumers can see and feel products they might order online. Here, too, the online product offering could also be accessible via interactive screens.

These changes align with the forecast growth in consumer demand for healthier, high-quality produce, more choice, and greater convenience – a demand which will increase massively as household incomes rise in developing nations, bringing 70 million more people globally into the middle class ranks every year.


About TOMRA Food

Bjorn ThumasBjorn Thumas, director of business development food at TOMRA Food, has more than 17 years of experience in the optical food sorting and peeling equipment sector.TOMRA Food, a unit of Asker, Norway-headquartered TOMRA Systems ASA, designs and manufactures sensor-based sorting machines and integrated post-harvest solutions for the food industry, using highly advanced grading, sorting, peeling and analytical technology.

Over 8,000 units are installed at the sites of food growers, packers and processors around the world for fruits, vegetables, potato products, seafood, meats, nuts, grains and seed. The company operates centers of excellence, regional offices and manufacturing locations within Europe, the United States, South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

2018 Weather Impact on Crops in Europe Worst in 40 Years, Confirms PROFEL

PROFELAs the main vegetable campaigns come to an end, the European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors (PROFEL) is drawing attention to the adverse weather conditions over the past three years that have significantly impacted frozen and canned production throughout the EU. The Brussels, Belgium-based trade group says that 2018 has been the worst year in four decades for the vegetable processing sector, though the severity of harvest shortfall has varied by crop and region.

A very wet winter and spring, destructive storms and an extended heat wave with long drought have affected many production areas on the continent. However, the impact has been less severe in some locations of Southern Europe.

In general, several crops “have been affected with heterogeneous consequences, depending on the product and the production region,” reported PROFEL in an assessment issued on November 23. For example:

  • Peas. The campaign has been disastrous in Western, Northern and Central Europe, with yield losses of up to 25% depending on the agricultural region. The low yields were the result of wet conditions at sowing time, followed by warm temperatures with drought at harvest.
  • Sweetcorn. The long period of warm weather and drought reduced the growing period and negatively affected the quality of the crop, which ripened earlier than forecast. The average yield per hectare was well below the expected levels. In addition to quality problems, it has been confirmed that the harvested volumes are 20-25% less than expectation.
  • Green Beans. Production regions have experienced yield losses ranging from 15 to 50%.

The situation is also severe when it comes to other autumn vegetables. Yield reductions are confirmed for carrots, broccoli, beetroot, celery, celeriac, onions and courgette (zucchini), spinach, leek, and Brussels sprouts. For onions the losses in Europe are dramatic, ranging from 25% to 50%, depending on the country.

High temperatures and rainfall in October led to a simultaneous maturation of autumn harvested crops such as spinach and cauliflower.

For spinach, the scheduled sowing programs were compressed into a much shorter period. This resulted in a loss of product quality and a lower yield per hectare, which is estimated around 15%.

For cauliflower, the situation has been similar, where the harvest has been concentrated over three weeks instead of the planned five to six weeks, resulting in a reduction in yield per hectare estimated around 20%, and lower quality than expected.

Additionally, the harvest of red cabbage, white cabbage and kale has been close to dire this year. In some regions, white cabbage losses are up to 40%, with losses in red cabbage as much as 50%. Kale, with a harvested yield cut by half, has been significantly affected.

About PROFEL

Infographic PROFEL new infogThe European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors represents over 500 companies in 11 European countries through national associations or direct company membership. Employing more than 80,000 people, combined turnover of PROFEL’s members generate combined sales of roughly €22 billion annually. Combined, they annual produce the following volumes during normal years: 3,300,000 tons of frozen vegetables; 2,100,000 tons of canned vegetables; 1,000,000 tons of canned deciduous fruits and compotes; 485,000 tons of fruit preserves and jams; 50,000 tons of dried vegetables.

Impressive Trade Figures

The processed fruit and vegetable business is worth approximately €47 billion, according to Eurostat. In general, the industry represents an average of 6% of the total food processing industry in Europe. External European exports of processed fruit and vegetables amount to about €6.2 billion. This figure is even greater when intra-EU trade is included, as processed fruit and vegetable trade flows are generally oriented to the internal market.

In 2017, the five leading export destinations outside the EU were the USA, Russia, China, Switzerland and South Africa. The most important markets in developing countries include Brazil, Russia, India and China, as well as Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Thailand.