The business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector, a Nestle executive said on Tuesday.
Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world's biggest food group, told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Halal Forum in The Hague he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 percent within the next decade.
The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.
"We are starting to see that these products are not just in specialty shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers," said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain's Tesco and France's Carrefour, which stock halal goods.
The halal industry is based on a belief that Muslims should eat food and use goods such as cosmetics that are "halalan toyibban", which means permissible and wholesome.
Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestle has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.
Nestle is the world's leading manufacturer of halal food, selling about 5.3 billion Swiss francs ($5.23 billion) worth of halal food in 2008, about 5 percent of its annual revenue.
Its established halal food markets include Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries, while France, Britain and Germany are emerging as its key halal markets in Europe.
"Twenty percent of the world's population is going to be Muslim one day and they have expectations, they have needs," said Van Dijk.
"If they want to be confident that what they eat and drink is in line with their beliefs, then a company likes ours has to make an extra effort to try and meet those needs."
About 85 of Nestle's 456 factories globally are now halal-certified but Van Dijk said different interpretations of halal standards around the world were a challenge for the industry.
Muslim jurists do not always agree on what is halal. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork and prescribes how animals must be slaughtered, but there has been debate on the acceptability of non-alcoholic beer, collagen and vinegar.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is working on a single standard to be applied in its 57 member countries, a move that would boost the industry, although politics and varied interpretations may complicate the task.
Van Dijk said the industry needed more transparency and clearer labeling on products would help consumers make up their own minds about whether standards met their expectations.