News Analysis: Brands tap into British faith groups

As Britain's first halal chocolate bar goes on sale, Dan Bloch examines the effort to capture the Muslim pound and investigates how companies are targeting products at the UK's different religious communities.

Last week's launch of the UK's first halal chocolate bar added to a burgeoning list of products launched by, or for, Muslims. While none of the producers claim that their products are aimed exclusively at one group, they argue that the phenomenon is a sign of the times. And elsewhere, companies are finding innovative ways to target other religious groups.

What makes products targeted at Muslims suitable for their consumption depends on the product. The Ummah Caramel Chocolate bar, which became available last week, is made without any contact with meat products or alcohol, while the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), which launched in September, does not pay or charge interest and has an ethical investment policy that avoids companies in tobacco or alcohol-related industries.

Some manufacturers are also cashing in on the so-called Muslim pound by appealing to their political sensibilities. Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola, both launched in the UK in the past two years, aim to provide Muslims with a means to boycott US-produced soft drinks.

A niche with potential

The size of the UK Muslim market makes it an attractive proposition and a niche with potential to exploit. 'If you think that the vast majority of savings accounts use an interest-based system, that's quite a big problem for the 1.8 million Muslims in the UK. For those trying to adhere to their religion, that's a bit of a dilemma,' says Alison Love, deputy MD of McCann-Erickson PR, IBB's agency.

'We think the size of the market is way over two million,' says Ummah Foods MD Khalid Sharif, who estimates the disposable income of British Muslims at around £30bn a year, based on Mintel's 2001 estimate of £20bn. And anecdotal evidence suggests demand is healthy. 'Distributors and cash-and-carry stores are not asking us for our products - they are asking us what other products we make,' says Sharif.

Companies are using a range of techniques to target their brands at consumers from different religious groups. Those with big budgets, such as the AIM-listed IBB, have used the national press, TV and radio, ethnic-minority broadcast media - such as the BBC Asian Network - and Muslim newspapers such as the Muslim Weekly News, as well as local media in areas of high Muslim density, including Leicester and Birmingham.

Meanwhile, kosher-food producer Rakusen's has used media relations and packaging design to communicate the benefits of its salt-free, low-fat matzo crackers, and is revamping some brands to appeal to younger Jews.

Since its launch, Qibla Cola has relied heavily on local radio, but chief communications officer Abid Hussain says word of mouth is highly effective. 'If people pass around the fact that Qibla Cola is against injustice and exploitation and gives money to charities, that is the most powerful tool in local communities,' he says.

Pete Andrews, a director at 7wear, which makes and sells T-shirts printed with Christian slogans online, also believes in the power of word of mouth for reaching its target 20 to 30-year-old market. But a mix of media is crucial. Sharif says: 'Our research shows that you need the Muslim media, but it would be wrong to ignore the mainstream. Some Muslims are more traditional, some are more modern.'

He adds that different people have different preferences for where they get information, but concedes: 'These are pretty difficult times for Muslims in the UK. There is a general distrust of the media. A lot of people won't take on board what the mainstream media say. That's why it's also important to stand outside mosques talking to people.'

Community media

On the other hand, companies need to be mindful of the trust that Muslim communities have in media dedicated to them. Ahmed Versi, editor of The Muslim News, a print and online-based newspaper, says: 'If a commercial venture says it is sharia-compliant, we have to investigate it to make sure it is 100 per cent so before we write about it.'

Some believe the proliferation of Muslim products is indicative of modern times. 'As we continue to see the development of current affairs globally, consumers are becoming more aware of Muslim products and are making their voices heard through buying-power,' says Hussain.

Sharif agrees: 'Muslims feel that non-Muslim corporations have been ignoring their demands. But with the level of education they have attained, they are now in a position to move from being consumers to producers.'

He believes there is a strong connection with the post-9/11 environment: '(Attention) focused on us quite uncomfortably. Out of this period we are having to speak up, but it is happening in a positive way. A lot of the companies being created are giving part of their proceeds to charities. That is really great.'

But purveyors of religious-based products have aspirations to appeal beyond their religious kin. 'Mass appeal has got to come through the product's quality,' says Sharif. 'A large proportion of our consumers are non-Muslim, (but they buy our product) because they like the taste.'

FAITH-AFFILIATED PRODUCT LAUNCHES - Ummah Caramel Chocolate

Launched pilot in East London in May; nationwide push coinciding with and continuing beyond Ramadan PR team in-house

Strategy sampling at charity events, outside mosques and in areas with high Muslim concentration; media relations using Muslim and Asian media

- Islamic Bank of Britain

Launched September

PR team McCann-Erickson PR

Strategy media relations push using national media, as well as national and regional ethnic and Muslim media

- 7wear (Christian T-shirts)

Launched October 2003

PR team in-house

Strategy viral marketing; sponsorship of Christian youth events; Christian radio and magazine coverage

- Qibla Cola

Launched January 2003

PR team in-house/Zero Design

Strategy media relations focused on local radio in inner-city areas with a high concentration of ethical consumers, as well as through ethnic and Muslim media; Scottish-based Zero Design provided planning, design and project-by-project support.

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