23 Nov 2018 by Jennifer Sutcliffe

Big Retail and Restaurants Respond to Gen M and Halal Bloggers

When it comes to restaurants, supermarkets and products in the U.K. there is definitely a shift occurring. Some have been ahead of the curve but silently so, such as Tesco, who have been selling halal products since the end of the 90s and who even sell un-stunned meat. While others offer halal in a specialist way, like Ocado, which has an online halal store or Asda, which has opened Haji Baba Halal butcher meat stands in a number of outlets. All the major supermarkets and restaurant chains have statements on their provision of halal meat, but most qualify whether this includes stunned or un-stunned meat. McDonalds, Costa and Pret do not serve halal meat at all, while Subway, Pizza Express and KFC have halal only branches.

How Halal Can You Go?

Not surprisingly, restaurants that provide authentic food from the Middle East, like Comptoir Libanais and Shawa, also provide meat that comes from approved and certified halal suppliers. Founder Tony Kitous says, “We are proud to provide halal meat, so that our chefs feel at home and our guests can experience real, wholesome, healthy and delicious food. The kind of food I had when I was growing up!” Comptoir Libanais does serve alcohol, which some Muslims do not drink, but this is in keeping with Tony’s mission to make food from the Middle East as popular as Italian food. He is trying to bring people together through food, but also drink!

Restaurants like Meat & Shake, however, are responding to the demand in their communities (Tooting, Ealing and Watford), by catering to a stricter halal diet. As The London Haloodie, says “ I LOVE that there is no alcohol on the menu and that Meat & Shake are so openly halal.” Haloodie refers to a foodie who happens to follow a halal diet and this particular haloodie is part of a growing number of halal bloggers who are helping Generation M find their halal food.

Hold Up, What is Generation M?

It stands for Generation Muslim AND Millennial. With their focus on food, we reckon this demographic should at least get the nickname of Generation Mmmm, but who are we to coin a trend? As a PR agency we are more focussed on spotting them and in assessing the shifting cultural-economic landscape. Although the idea of Generation M was conceived a couple of years ago, we believe the potential impact this generation can have is more relevant than ever to the declining meat and dairy industry.

This is especially so when one considers that one-third of all Muslims are under the age of 15, and two-thirds are under 30. Generation M is therefore a huge proportion of Muslims in the U.K. and they are increasingly more vocal. Their ability to vocalise and influence have been shaped by two things…

The Global Response to the Muslim Community Post-9/11 and the Internet

This is according to Shelina Janmohamed, author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World. The former has galvanised religion for this generation, while the latter acts as “the glue that binds [Gen M] together and creates the critical mass that turns them into a globally influential force.”

Across the internet, haloodies can help each other out, by providing reviews, directories and even apps that let users find halal food and restaurants.

One such app is Halal Gems, which encourages users to rate as they go, like an alternative TripAdvisor. Halal Gems also provides a digital magazine and houses all its content with guest features on a very swanky website, which is just as well as their focus in on fine dining. Although sites are mostly stylish affairs with polished social media profiles to match, there is a real range of halal bloggers, each catering to different sub genres.

Tell Me More About These Halal Bloggers

On first inspection, the majority appear to be young and female haloodies, who have made use of the freedom that the internet gives them to connect with each other. Traditionally marginalised voices within the community, they have, as Janmohamed says, been “given space…to express their views.” When it comes to food they are doing so with rating systems and food imagery that is on point.

For Halal Girl About Town her reviews are like any other food blogger, except that in the rating section there is an additional pork/ alcohol question, i.e. do they serve it there.

What started for Layla Hassanali as a hobby at uni. turned into a full time job once she graduated. She puts this down to the fact that “there was no resource for halal restaurants in London at the time, so I started to journal my food adventures online and it just took off from there.”

Like many halal bloggers she was answering her own need to be catered for and this is what really defines the halal blogger and more generally, Generation M; their determination that the world should cater for their needs.

With her blog boasting over 5 million views, appearances on the BBC and features by The Observer and The Guardian, Hassanali really is influencing things. She wants to “show  [her] followers that halal dining doesn’t need to be limited to stereotypical Indian or Pakistani cuisine, and can range from European to Filipino too. Things have changed quite rapidly in the last few years, with lots of restaurants now accommodating the halal consumer.”

She is right and this often means it can be difficult to know whether a halal blogger is even showcasing halal food at all, if you’re just going by Instagram feeds. If it weren’t for their name or bio, or in the case of the brunching biologist, a silhouette profile pic of her hair in a hijab, you wouldn’t know. Others you would guess from their hashtags or from imagery of them in the hijab, but generally the signposting is very subtle and indicative of how Generation M “straddles different heritages and feels comfortable in all of them”.

This hybrid identity of religion and modernity that Janmohamed defines is what makes Generation M’s voice so unique and it is thanks to halal bloggers that we are able to hear them more clearly.

This Voice Is Not Just a Female One Though

Halal Food Guy has a very slick website with every category covered, from Halal Michelin Starred Restaurants to Where to go for Ramadan/ Iftar. One thing unites every review though: halal is always in the heading. The whole rating and sticker system is very professional and more detailed than most. It not only covers whether there is pork or alcohol, but also whether there is a mosque 10 minutes’ walk away or a prayer space inside.

Other popular male halal bloggers include Halal Hunt who seeks out burgers and “man food”, Steak and Teeth whose focus is made quite clear, the brilliantly named Man Vs Halal Food, who does what he says and usually wins, as well as the massive halal blogger London Foodee, whose feed is full on delectable.

However, it is not just the male bloggers who have a penchant for pow food aka burgers and all things big and beefy. Halal blogger collectives like haloodie and female halal bloggers like Halal Food London are also repping the super tasty melt your eyeballs treats. We would call them #foodporn shots, but we know that they don’t because the word is pretty immodest.

Although they mainly spread awareness of the U.K./London food scene, some halal bloggers focus on their hybrid heritage, like Makan Inda Beranti  This duo proudly declare their search for great food in both London and Brunei. Whilst even halal bloggers based in Canada, such as Halal Foodie, are able to share food posts that are relevant due to their regular travels abroad.

The Eco Halal Movement

From male to female, professional to part time and from junk food to fine dining, halal bloggers are giving voice to their community. For most of their reviews of halal food, taste, presentation and halal are the defining factors, but what about the environment and animal welfare? Well, this takes us back to our earlier definition of halal.

For many Muslims, halal food & drink refers to no pork, no alcohol and meat that has had its blood drained. But as per our list in part one of this blog, which attempts to define halal, there is quite a lot of emphasis put on rearing livestock in a natural way and in killing animals with kindness. As mentioned previously, this approach is called tayyib and evidently has varying levels of observance.

The Vegan Muslim Initiative define tayyib as “pure, clean, good, wholesome and a host of positive meanings”. While this definition is vague and open to interpretation, there is clearly a belief on their part that meat and dairy consumption does not qualify. Other vegan Muslim bloggers tend to agree, like One Arab Vegan.

Historically, Veganism and Islam Have Been Seen as Mutually Exclusive

This is keenly exemplified by the annual celebration of Eid Al Adha which involves the ritual slaughtering of over 100 million animals during a 48 hour period. More generally, many Muslims see eating meat as an integral part of everyday Islamic life. For them, because meat is mentioned in the Quran, it is therefore condoned and if there is halal certification then they are following the Quran.

But What About Tayyib?

The online publication Animals In Islam argues that the lack of observance of tayyib means that truly halal meat is “largely a myth in the industrialised world”, and that “none of the conditions requiring that the dignity of the creature be respected and maintained are met in today’s world of industrial meat production”. This view certainly chimes with the concerns of modern day non-Muslim consumers, who crave cruelty-free products that are also organic and sustainable.

Hence the emergence and success of Willowbrook Farm and Halal Exotic Meats. The former is based in Oxfordshire where animals roam freely and are reared organically while the latter is based in Yorkshire where they observe the highest animal welfare.

Owner of Willowbrook Farm, Lutfi Radwan, says that “Sustainability and renewability are part of the Islamic idea of ‘stewardship of the Earth’”. To deliver his halal produce “Resources must be properly respected [and] workers in primary industries must not be exploited.”

There is therefore an interesting convergence of halal with the demand for organic sustainably-sourced animal products by non-Muslim consumers. The focus or association of halal with higher welfare is perhaps why it has become increasingly popular among non-Muslims in China and Europe.

As globalisation and commercialisation have disconnected people from the source of their food, halal (tayyib) seems to reconnect them and allay their concerns. Hence the lucrative trend of halal food manufacturers catering to the trend for both religiously-permissible and organic food. Alongside this is also the trend for eco Muslim bloggers like that belonging to Zaufishan Iqbal whose blog claims that “if it’s not organic, it’s not halal”.

Whether pushing for environmentally sustainable meat or for veganism, these viewpoints are clearly filtering through to the more mainstream halal bloggers, whose Instagram stories and reviews are starting to cover this kind of halal food.

Halal Bloggers Don’t Just Herald in the Change, They Make It!

According to MuseFind, 92% of consumers are likely to trust a social media influencer over an advertisement or celebrity endorsement. And according to the Global Muslim Economy Report, social media and influencers are the top opportunity within the consumer needs ecosystem, i.e. this is the arena in which needs are most clearly and significantly expressed.

It is little wonder that businesses look to influencers for direction and to, well, influence! Many of the aforementioned halal bloggers work professionally reviewing and sharing content for a brand, because the brand is making it worth their while. But because these bloggers have honed authenticity in their blogging and generally stay true to their values, principles and aesthetic, this is mutually beneficial for all.

This system is obviously nothing new, but within the context of Generation M and the Muslim market it is certainly starting to impact the British and global F&B industry in a more noticeable way. We see how brands don’t have to be a “Muslim” to successfully connect with Generation M, but we also see how Muslim brands don’t have to be overtly Muslim to appeal to non-Muslims.

To Conclude…

In general, non-Muslim businesses are waking up to the spending power of the Muslim pound while Halal Lifestyle conglomerates are starting to mimic the broad offering of those such as Nestle. Amongst this growing convergence and acceptance, the definition of halal still varies wildly, but while debate is sure to continue, one thing is for sure – haloodies really love to eat!

Food is central to many religions and cultures. Perhaps for the Muslim faith, where family togetherness is so strong and drinking is so frowned upon, this accounts for the huge importance of food; it is something everybody in the family can enjoy.

With the UK’s trend for drinking less and for being more sustainable it seems like the modern eco halal way of life is much closer to home than many would think. So hurrah for Gen M and halal bloggers who champion their identity and culture!