Report from NSA Breakfast Club webinar: 'Accessing a growing market - An early morning farmers' guide to halal sheepmeat'.

5th March 2021

The seventh session in the NSA breakfast club series invited speakers from the UK halal sector to discuss Accessing a growing market - an early morning farmers' guide to halal sheep meat ".

Dan Phipps, NSA Chairman, welcomed panellists and attendees and stressed that this webinar would be focused on practical tips for farmers to understand and access the halal market and not a discussion on the controversial subject of stun vs non-stun halal slaughter.  

Awal Fuseini, officially from AHDB but speaking on behalf of the UK halal sector began splitting the halal sector in three key locations: The UK, the EU and outside the EU. The UK Muslim population represent only 5% of the UK population, but interestingly 88% of these are under 50 years and classified as the younger generation. Reports from 2010 suggest that our Muslim population consume around 20% of sheepmeat in England and in comparison to 6% of the non-halal UK population, 60% of halal consumers eat lamb at least once a week, if not more, highlighting the importance of sheepmeat within the Muslim community. In addition, the variety of sheepmeat products on sale as standard within halal butchers include items such as sheep heads, liver and tripe, giving great opportunity for fifth quarter sheepmeat products domestically.

Awal then discussed the EU halal market, explaining that one third of sheepmeat exported to EU is halal. It has been suggested that the Muslim population in Europe is increasing from around 4-7%, with sheepmeat being the second most consumed protein in the Muslim community (after poultry).

Finally, Awal discussed the Middle East market, demonstrating that there is an appetite for UK lamb as they import around 90% of their lamb and beef. Interestingly, the volume of both fresh and frozen sheepmeat has increased from 79-657 tonnes between 2019 and 2020 and is mainly used as an important component of the diet, for social events and festivals. The population is increasing, and it is a premium market, even though volumes are not huge.

Across the globe, there are three main festivals that farmers need to be aware of:

  • Ramadan (12th April-12th May): Despite the fact that fasting takes place during daylight hours, protein becomes a key source in the evening to combat the 18-19h fast. Therefore, lamb consumption does increase over the 29-30 day period.
  • Eid-al Fitr (13th May): The end of Ramadan, where families come together around the dinner table. Whole lamb carcasses are usually desired to feed the large families.
  • Eid-al Adha aka Qurbani (20th July).

In addition, naming ceremonies of newborns (Akikah) provide further opportunity. However, festivals are based on the lunar calendar, so they can be difficult to predict annually and don’t always work around the UK sheep calendar.

Rizvan Khalid, Managing Director of Euro Quality Lamb then built upon Awal’s discussion. His family runs a Shropshire based abattoir, where conception of their company was focused on the export market, but in the last 10-20 years halal has become more important both domestically in UK and in Europe. Halal is NOT one homogenous market as culture and cuisines differ depending on where Muslim communities originated. For example, the UK halal demand for Mutton is huge, constituting to around 80-90% of consumption, whereas there is little mutton demand on the continent. In general, lean carcasses are more important than confirmation for most Muslim populations, with fat being less important in comparison to non-halal consumers for flavour mainly due to halal sheepmeat being used more commonly in curries over a roast. Smaller carcasses are favoured by the younger Muslim generation as they are perceived as being younger in age and therefore more tender, but there is still interest in larger lamb carcasses for the catering/restaurant chains. Therefore, the is huge variety within the halal supply chain, which is by no means standard. In a positive way, the UK stratified sheep sector is perfectly suited to meet these demands.

Rizvan then moved on the highlight that the drivers for halal standards date back to religion, with modern slaughter methods mimicking the way of the prophets from the past. Huge knowledge gaps are present in both halal and non halal consumers as to the slaughtering methods required to be compatible with halal criteria, and with both government and industry collaboration already active on this front, future research, the ability to demonstrate and ability to educate could result in the removal of non-stun slaughter all together. All parties are in agreement that animal welfare is paramount and any ways to improve animal welfare (and that of the workers in processing facilities) is desired.

Adnann Malik, an Artisan halal butcher, social media enthusiast and street food seller delivered and eye-opening presentation into how they meet the demands of the new halal generation. Similarly, to changes Rizvan has observed, in the last 2 years, Adnaan has seen drastic changes in his business due to new generation of Muslims having more disposable income and being driven by quality purchases. Evolving eating habits of the generation being more adventurous in foods they are willing to try to satisfy their palette have also forced change. He also mentioned the impact of social media on the younger generation with both the quality and presentation of the dish being more important than in the past – e.g. food is now seen as a status symbol. Because of these factors, there has been a shift for a demand in quality, tender lamb over traditional mutton, but mutton is still seen as ‘trendy’, for example Adnaan finds their mutton loaded fries extremely popular with the consumer. Digital Marketing is a huge influencing factor for the next generation, and we’d encourage those selling direct to their consumer to use this as a valuable marketing tool, showcasing your available products. There is also scope to target a wider consumer audience by encouraging your customers to share food creation dishes at home and tag your business page, making them do the hard work for you.  

Rhys Llywelyn, Market Development Manager (HCC) explained that from a Welsh perspective, HCC has been actively pursuing the halal market for over 10 years and it is hugely important for Wales as 70% of lamb is slaughtered for halal alone, most if which is exported to countries such as the Middle East.

He was followed by Tom Gibson, Director of Market Development (QMS) sharing a different perspective that although you don’t see much of a halal market in Scotland, of the one million or so lambs that travel into England and Wales for slaughtering, 70% of these go into the halal market, so halal is key in the Scottish supply chain but not as significant in direct processing.

Finally, Dan chaired an interactive and engaging Q&A session ranging from topics such as Brexit effects on the halal market, continued role of mutton with changing habits to the impact of gene editing consultation and halal views on this. All parties involved had homework in identifying the key knowledge gaps that NSA, the devolved nations, government and our expert halal panellist will be working on collaboratively in the future.