Monday, February 26, 2024

South Korea loves pork and booze. It desires to be the following halal powerhouse | Meals

Seoul, South Korea – On the Malaysia Worldwide Halal Showcase final September, an unlikely sight caught the eye of many attendees.

Nestled among the many cubicles from Muslim-majority nations corresponding to Indonesia and Kuwait, a kiosk representing pork-loving, hard-drinking South Korea beckoned guests to take a look at halal merchandise starting from seaweed laver to sanitary pads.

“The halal meals market is a blue ocean with nice potential for progress,” Lee Yong Jik, the top of the meals export division at South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Meals and Rural Affairs, informed Al Jazeera.

After taking the worlds of movie, TV and pop music by storm, South Korea is setting its sights on the worldwide halal business, which caters to the dietary guidelines and life-style necessities of some 1.8 billion Muslims world wide.

Halal is just not simply related to historically homogenous South Korea, the place the Muslim neighborhood is estimated to quantity fewer than 200,000 individuals, or lower than 0.4 p.c of the inhabitants.

However surging demand for Korean delicacies and snacks in Southeast Asia, the place Korean popular culture has a faithful and rising fanbase, has turned Korean exporters onto a doubtlessly profitable alternative.

Muslims’ spending on halal meals alone reached $1.27 trillion in 2021 and is projected to achieve $1.67 trillion by 2025, in keeping with analysis agency DinarStandard.

South Korea’s authorities has been eager to encourage companies to capitalise on the pattern, offering help starting from meals ingredient evaluation to subsidies for certification charges and promotional occasions to attach patrons and suppliers.

In 2015, then-President Park Geun-hye signed an settlement with the United Arab Emirates to advertise companies in new markets, together with halal meals.

In Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest metropolis, native authorities have spearheaded a “Halal Meals Activation Mission” geared toward rising the variety of halal-certified firms within the metropolis tenfold and tripling exports to $200m by 2028.

Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo not too long ago described the halal market as a chance that “can’t be ignored”.

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Korean meals giants corresponding to CJ CheilJedang have rolled out halal merchandise for his or her Muslim clients [Ahn Young-joon/AP]

Lotte Meals, CJ CheilJedang, Daesang and Nongshim are among the many Korean meals giants to have rolled out halal-certified merchandise from kimchi to rice truffles.

Final yr, South Korea started exporting halal Korean native beef, often known as hanwoo, for the primary time after receiving the go-ahead from Islamic affairs officers in Malaysia.

Samyang Meals, certainly one of South Korea’s main meals producers, exports halal merchandise to 78 nations, together with its wildly fashionable “Buldak Ramen” instantaneous noodles.

Samyang’s gross sales of halal merchandise reached $200m in 2022, accounting for about 45 p.c of complete exports. Gross sales in 2023 had been anticipated to achieve about $270m.

Samyang has “constantly recognised the significance of the Muslim market” and has been actively working to advertise “Okay-food” globally, an organization spokesperson informed Al Jazeera.

Other than the meals business, gamers within the so-called “Okay-beauty” sector have additionally cashed in on the pattern.

Cosmetics producer Cosmax, which has its headquarters in Seoul, has been producing halal merchandise at its services in Indonesia since 2016.

Regardless of the rising market, gaining halal certification can appear daunting for a lot of companies, particularly smaller corporations.

“Step one is to find out in case your product is halal and whether it is, then assess whether or not you really need halal certification,” Saifullah Jo, chairman of the Korea Halal Affiliation (KOHAS), informed Al Jazeera.

A South Korean nationwide who transformed to Islam, Jo based an Islamic consultancy agency for Korean firms and has translated a guide about halal into Korean.

“Simply because an organization requests certification, doesn’t imply we’ll grant it. Some individuals come to us looking for certification for issues which will technically be certifiable nevertheless it’s not at all times sensible,” mentioned Jo, whose organisation is certainly one of South Korea’s 4 halal certification our bodies.

“We have to contemplate the viewers and the real necessity for certification.”

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KOHAS is certainly one of South Korea’s 4 halal certification our bodies [Raphael Rashid/Al Jazeera]

Whereas alcohol, blood, pork and animals not correctly slaughtered within the identify of God, and meat from animals that died earlier than slaughter, are thought-about haram, or prohibited, even seemingly innocuous gadgets like rice and mineral water may be candidates for halal certification.

“The complexities come up within the manufacturing processes. For instance, when rice is separated from husks within the milling course of, the equipment concerned might utilise lubrication and a few oils might include animal-derived components,” Jo mentioned.

“This causes cross-contamination and presents a problem for guaranteeing the ultimate product is halal-compliant.”

To make issues extra difficult, Indonesia, dwelling to the world’s largest Muslim inhabitants, final yr introduced that meals firms would from October be required to acquire halal certification inside the nation.

In November, the South Korean and Indonesian governments reached an settlement to exempt agricultural and meals merchandise from certification within the Southeast Asian nation as long as they’ve acquired the halal label from two of South Korea’s certifiers.

Whereas South Korea has made no secret of its ambitions to forge enterprise connections with the Muslim world, social attitudes in the direction of Muslim individuals and Islamic tradition are sometimes not so pleasant.

“Muslims in South Korea are considered at greatest with apathy and, at worst, with worry,” Farrah Sheikh, an assistant professor at Keimyung College who specialises in Islam in South Korea, informed Al Jazeera.

Sheikh mentioned some Koreans view halal merchandise as a conduit for Islam to “invade” Korean society.

In Daegu, the place officers are aggressively pursuing the Muslim market, plans to assemble a small mosque have encountered fierce opposition from residents and conservative Christian teams.

In August final yr, rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed “critical concern” to the South Korean authorities over its alleged failure to deal with the marketing campaign towards the mosque, which included the show of pig heads exterior the development web site and banners describing Islam as “an evil faith that kills individuals”.

After the federal government started selling the halal business in 2015, a number of Christian teams started warning in regards to the potential “Islamification” of South Korea, an alleged inflow of Muslims and issues about safety dangers related to halal meals, main the federal government to challenge an explanatory doc to dispel misinformation and rumours.

In 2016, the proposed development of an industrial zone for the manufacturing of halal-certified merchandise within the western metropolis of Iksan fell by means of as a result of opposition from Christian teams.

That very same yr, a model of potato chip made in Malaysia attracted controversy over halal certification on its packaging, which was later eliminated with out clarification.

In 2018, South Korea witnessed a wave of protests towards the arrival of a number of hundred Muslim asylum seekers from Yemen. Throughout the identical yr, plans for a prayer room on the Winter Olympic Video games had been cancelled, following vehement protests by anti-Muslim campaigners.

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Damaging attitudes in the direction of Muslims and Islam should not unusual in South Korea [Raphael Rashid/Al Jazeera]

For Muslims really dwelling in South Korea, halal merchandise may be troublesome to seek out.

Whereas there are eating places providing halal meals, they’re primarily clustered in Seoul and different giant cities with substantial Muslim communities.

With little in the way in which of halal merchandise out there on grocery store cabinets, some Muslim residents have resorted to re-importing halal-certified “made in Korea” instantaneous noodles for his or her consumption.

Requested in regards to the lack of halal merchandise in South Korea, Samyang Meals mentioned there was inadequate home demand to help a market at current.

“Nevertheless, because the variety of Muslim guests and residents in Korea will increase, curiosity in halal merchandise is rising. Samyang Meals can be reviewing the marketability of promoting halal merchandise within the Korean market to make it extra handy for home Muslim customers to buy halal merchandise,” a spokesperson mentioned.

Sheikh, the Keimyung College professor, mentioned Korean firms couldn’t be blamed for eager to money in on a profitable market.

“Nevertheless, once we see Korean attitudes in the direction of Muslim refugees, or as we have now seen in Daegu, we have now a transparent discrepancy and an enormous social drawback,” he mentioned, including that South Korea should enhance its perspective in the direction of Muslims if it desires to higher goal markets abroad.

Saifullah Jo of KOHAS mentioned he sees a shiny future for Korea’s halal business regardless of the challenges.

“Taking a look at it from the Korean business’s standpoint, we’re conscious of the potential, and we must always transfer swiftly. One in all Korea’s key strengths is its skill to adapt quickly,” he mentioned, including {that a} rising halal market may promote tolerance and understanding.

“Regardless of some damaging minds, we’re considering positively about going into this new market, and Koreans are studying as effectively. It helps us open up culturally.”

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