MAINSTREAM MOVE: More Muslims are shopping with major brands like Sainsbury’s at Ramadan; and (inset) Noor Jahan Ali

by ANDY MARINO RAMADAN NOW BIG BUSINESS IN UK BRITAIN’S Muslim population is just under three million, accord­ing to the latest census (2011), and accounts for about five per cent of the total population. It is estimated that a third of the Mus­lim population lives in London. This is a nationwide community with an enormously varied but dis­tinct identity, and as Ramadan ap­proaches retailers can expect cer­tain patterns of shopping to emerge. Fasting during daylight hours will impact retail grocery, but not in a simple way. A drop in normal lev­els of consumption will be accom­panied by other, sometimes high­er-value purchases for the evening meal as Muslim families celebrate the end of the daily fast, perhaps by inviting friends or family to the iftar supper and substituting expen­sive delicacies for affordable staples. It is estimated that extra spend­ing specifically tied to Ramadan is at least £200 million, half of it in supermarkets – Tesco sees a 70 per cent increase in sales of pro­motional items, worth on average £30m. Nationally, after Christmas and Easter, Ramadan is the big­gest consumer event of the year. Other areas of the high street will also see patterns of spending, ones that are particular to Mus­lims and to the period of Rama­dan – especially the festival of Eid Ul Fitr, which celebrates its close, with gifts and feasting. Some shop­ping centres report an increase in footfall of up to 47 per cent dur­ing Eid, with fashion and clothing performing particularly well. In overall terms, “the Muslim pound” – sitting in the wallets and purses of young Muslims, or “Generation M” (more than half of UK Muslims are under 19) – is estimated to be worth £21 billion annually to the UK economy, with £3bn being spent just on halal food. With the size of the UK’s Muslim middle class set to treble by 2030, the only way economically is up. Until recently, the Muslim community was regarded, and even saw itself, as marginal in this respect: it spent its money pri­marily with local Muslim retailers and halal outlets. Now though, the population having doubled since the end of the last century, UK companies are coming to view Britain’s Muslims as mainstream not minority consum­ers. Of course, not every purchase is specifically Muslim, but Muslim tastes are increasingly catered for. The effects of the Muslim pound are everywhere, as busi­ness attempts to cash in on grow­ing demand and affluence. Haribo confectionery, for example, now sells halal gummies. Brands as varied as Apple, Jeep, Coca-Cola, Nike and H&M have all featured Muslim references and models in their advertising campaigns. Following Samina Akhter’s inno­vative Sampure Minerals, new lines of cosmetics guaranteed free of pig and alcohol products, such as The Halal Cosmetics Company and BA­KEL, are appealing to Muslim wom­en. Other Islamic consumer brands are starting to appear too – for ex­ample fashion outfit Sanzaa and toymakers Ibraheem Toy House, who produce educational play­things and dolls dressed in hijabs. But with 50 per cent of the Ramadan spend going to super­markets, it is the responsiveness to – literally – Muslim tastes that is changing the face of grocery re­tailing, with special Ramadan aisles appearing and a fantastic growth in the range and variety of World Foods overall. Noor Jahan Ali is a senior buy­ing manager of world foods at Morrison’s, and during her career she has not only witnessed the transformation of world foods landscape, but also played a ma­jor part in making it happen. In 1992, Ali and her brother opened an ethnic supermarket in the UK’s curry capital, Bradford. It was a great success and eventually they sold it. She joined Asda next and by 2007 worked her way up to ethnic buyer for world foods, launching 1,200 new lines into the category. By 2012 Asda’s world foods sales were up 300 per cent. Morrison’s snapped her up, and she soon made deals with 85 suppliers to expand that super­market chain’s world foods, offer­ing from 500 to more than 1,350 lines. Sales shot up nearly 150 per cent annually, and last year Ali was awarded the British Empire Medal to balance on top of the pile of other awards she has previously received. Ali said: “Since creating the world foods category in 2007, something I am extremely proud of, the category has become more and more interesting every year,” adding that the market is growing more sophisticated, with the demand for authentic products widening. “We see more and more new suppliers – and new entrepre­neurs on this area. As a local busi­ness driver, we are keen to see small businesses develop and grow, and we realise the extra support and coaching for these smaller suppliers.” The key to world foods seems to be to live locally: Ali’s success with suppliers involves staying closely involved with the community. “[It’s] something I am personally also passionate about and go out presenting to help develop where possible – most recently at the Manchester Growth Hub – where I was able to share with small busi­ness on working with retailers and offering any advice and support. I also mentor prisoners on running a business and entrepreneurship.” Still a relatively new category, the world foods aisles are expand­ing fast, Ali said. “As our ethnic demographics grow, the ethnic cuisines are also becoming more prominent, with restaurants of various cuisines now developing.” Which are the growth areas? “Asian, African and Caribbean, Far Eastern, to name a few, are still key cuisines,” she said. “How­ever, we have recently launched Portuguese and Brazilian ranges.” The Muslim pound is playing an important part, along with the other ethnic highlights of multi­cultural UK. “Ramadan is a very important time for our Muslim colleagues and customers. We activate world foods events as part of our reli­gious calendar in the relevant stores – Passover and Diwali. We plan these events by listening to our customers, colleagues and suppliers on what suggestions they have to either improve on the previous year or for ideas on what we can bring new into the event.” Each year is different, and Ali tempts customers with profes­sional expertise. “For our world foods events and festivals, a com­plete marketing package – adver­tising on ethnic TV, ethnic media, point of sale on relevant products in store, POS signage if in seasonal aisle, etc. This year we developed and launched a Ramadan count­down calendar which has proved really popular,” she said. Most interesting are the chang­ing ways world food is consumed. It seems everybody is happily sam­pling everybody else’s cuisine. “Research shows all customers in the UK are becoming more ad­venturous and are keen to try dif­ferent things,” Ali said. “Where we have lines within our world foods category that have that wider foodie appeal, we make them available to more stores.” Cornish curry-lovers and Glas­wegian taco-aficionados should be gladdened by this news. UK grocery sales are forecast to grow by 15 per cent to £213 billion in 2022 (IGD). As Ali knows only too well, an increasing proportion of that growth will be composed of items in the world food catego­ry. Online will slurp a dispropor­tionate amount of the increase, with the discounters and conveni­ence following closely behind. Convenience could in fact do very well, with independent, local retailers responsively stocking and updating new world food lines according to their local customer profiles and demand. The dis­counters must keep prices low by stocking an edited range of lines. Everything will be impersonally available online, of course, but the role of the small retailer as curator and genial host of the impulse buy, food-to-go and top-up shop­ping trip might actually help c-stores become new masters of the world food revolution.