Taiwan is encouraging its food exporters to tap the Muslim world’s huge market for halal food, but the response has been lukewarm so far as companies do not yet see a profit in producing food that complies with Islamic law.
At the Taipei International Food Show, held from last Tuesday to last Friday, Taiwan for the first time opened a Halal Pavilion with 40 companies setting up booths.
The halal foods they showcased were few — rice, biscuits, soya sauce, vinegar, pickled vegetables, chocolate paste and an ice desert called “Snow Ice.”
Many Taiwanese queued up for a free cup of Snow Ice, but few foreign buyers placed orders for the halal products.
“Some Southeast Asian buyers stopped by and talked with us, but they did not place orders,” said Hsu Chih-ho, manager of the ASI Channel Service Co, which makes fruit vinegar.
At the booth across the aisle, Fufann Enterprise Co (福汎企業) drew a small crowd tasting its chocolate-covered biscuits.
“We have just received the halal certificate, but haven’t begun exporting to Muslim countries yet. We are here to find buyers,” a company representative said.
Their products include chocolate paste, sesame paste, coconut paste, creamy paste and garlic paste, which can be put on toast or bread.
But the Charmy Food Co (翔美食品) that sells Snow Ice is optimistic about the export market for its halal Snow Ice — a bowl of shaved ice topped with fruits and nuts.
“We plan to open franchises in India and Jordan in the coming year and are looking to move into other Muslim countries,” Charmy manager Hsu Shih-ho said.
Some Taiwan companies, though not producing halal food in Taiwan, have opened factories abroad to produce halal food there.
The Uni-President Enterprises Corp (統一企業), Taiwan’s biggest food conglomerate, has opened factories in several Southeast Asian countries, and its plants in Vietnam and Indonesia have obtained the halal certificate, company spokeswoman Wu Hsu-hui (吳旭惠) said.
Taiwan is one of the world’s top-20 exporting countries and has a good reputation for its food products — meat, fruits, vegetables and drinks.
Last year, Taiwan’s food exports totaled US$2.7 billion, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA, 外貿協會) said.
Yet producing halal food is only a recent thing, and it has been overshadowed by the rush of Taiwanese food companies opening factories in China, the world’s biggest production base and consumer market.
Taiwan began to encourage its food exporters to tap the halal food market in 2006, with TAITRA holding introductory seminars and the Chinese Muslim Association (CMA) — Taiwan’s highest Muslim authority — issuing the halal certificates.
The reason is clear: There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, or a quarter of the world population. The annual production value of halal food is estimated at US$600 billion a year and is growing.
Taiwan, where most people are Buddhists, has 50,000 Muslims plus 100,000 foreign Muslims, mostly Indonesian workers. The island has six mosques.
CMA said it is happy to see Taiwanese food companies are paying attention to halal food, but hopes they will not only focus on exports, but also supply halal food to Taiwan-based Muslims.
It also hopes that the government will involve the CMA more in promoting halal food to prevent making it into a purely commercial thing. Imam Ma Hsiao-chi (馬孝棋), deputy secretary-general of the CMA, said the organization is happy to help Taiwanese food companies receive the halal certificate, but must ensure all the requirements are met.