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Middle-class Muslims Fuel French Halal Boom

April 8, 2010 by  


french halal Retailers and restaurants cash in on rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks

Halal butchery and poultry shelves in a supermarket in Illzach, eastern France. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Few things define the traditional good life in France better than champagne and foie gras, but few would have thought them symbols of social integration – until now.

A boom in sales of halal products, including alcohol-free bubbly and goose liver paté approved by Islamic law, is being driven by the emergence of an affluent middle class of young Muslims.

Known as the beurgeois – a play on bourgeois and the word beur, slang for a French person of North African descent – these new consumers are behind a rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks.

With spending power worth an estimated €5.5bn a year, according to the opinion pollsters Solis, these under-40s are forcing international food suppliers to cater for their demands.

Yanis Bouarbi, 33, an IT specialist who started the website paris-hallal.com, which lists restaurants in France serving halal food, says young Muslims are at the heart of a mini social revolution.

“When our parents and grandparents came to France they did mostly manual work and the priority was having enough to feed the family,” said Bouarbi, who arrived from Algeria at the age of three.

“But second or third-generation people like me have studied, have good jobs and money and want to go out and profit from French culture without compromising our religious beliefs. We don’t just want cheap kebabs, we want Japanese, Thai, French food; we want to be like the rest of you.”

The demand for halal products, currently increasing by an estimated 15% a year, has captured the attention of food giants such as the supermarket group Casino, which has stocked an increasing variety of halal foods – mostly meat products – for the last three years.

The fast-food chain Quick has a number of halal-only burger bars; the opening of the most recent caused a political storm before the regional elections last month, but the row has since blown over. Muslim corner shops selling exclusively halal foods and drinks including eggs, turkey bacon and pork-free sausages as well as alcohol-free “champagne”, known as Cham’Alal, are also flourishing.

Halal foie gras, first introduced into supermarket chains across the country two years ago at the end of the Muslim feast of Ramadan, has proved an unexpected success. “It’s one of our best sellers; we have around 30 foie gras bought a day,” Cyril Malinet, manager of a major Carrefour supermarket, told Libération.

Annick Fettani, head of Bienfaits de France, which specialises in halal duck, said: “Until now we’ve had to fight to sell our foie gras but today everyone wants it.” Bouarbi believes the halal boom is taking place because young Muslims have more money. His website now lists more than 400 restaurants in Paris and its suburbs, and he plans to expand it to other French cities.

In Paris’s trendy 11th arrondissement, Les Enfants Terribles restaurant, run by brothers Kamel and Sosiane Saidi, serves halal French haute cuisine. “Before, Muslims wishing to eat halal would go to a restaurant and it was fish or nothing. Now we have a choice,” said Sosiane, 28, who worked in the property market before setting up the restaurant three years ago.

“Young Muslims have money and want to eat out like everyone else but according to their religion. The food doesn’t taste any different; we have many French customers who don’t even know we’re totally halal. To us, that is what integration is about.”

Like Yanis and Sosiane, younger members of France’s estimated 5 million-strong Muslim community – with whom relations have been strained by the recent debate on national identity and threats by Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-of-centre government to ban the burqa – are asserting their economic muscle. As one French website put it, halal is “very good business” for French companies.

“Supermarkets aren’t benevolent charities, they’re in it for the money,” said Bouarbi. “And they’ve discovered halal sells.”

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