When Consumption Embraces the Faith

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The Marketing Implications of Halal in Canada

 During the 3rd Annual Conference of Multicultural Marketing organized by Rogers Marketing in Montreal last March, several interventions highlighted the potential of ethnic markets, and the need to approach visible minorities more efficiently, who, in their majority, have very specific needs.

However, little has been said about the relationship between religion and ethnic marketing.

Consumption’s Faith

Religious tenets strongly influence the choices of many consumers from religious communities such as Jews and Muslims. Regarding the latter, and contrary to popular belief, the religious influence is not limited to food, but transcends all aspects of daily life including financial services, apparel, entertainment and education.

Demographic Facts

The number of Muslims in Canada was 884,000 in 2006, is expected to reach 1.4 million by 2017 and 3,297,000 in less than 20 years1. This is the strongest growth among all religious groups. By 2031, among non-Christians, one in two people will be Muslim (35% in 2006).

In 2006, the three major Canadian cities (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) housed 70.25% of Muslims in Canada, 62% in Toronto and Montreal alone.

Consumer Facts

Like any other religious group, Muslims observe certain attitudes vis-à-vis various products and services.

Here we will highlight some of the main trends in Muslim consumption, and offer some suggestions as to how Canadian companies, with only minor adjustments in many cases, can successfully penetrate this religious market.

  •  Food Traditions

Like all other facets of Muslim daily life, food habits are based on two concepts: halal2 and haram3, the lawful and the forbidden. While there are grey areas or nuanced situations in which the distinction between the two is not perfectly clear – something may be considered mashbooh4 or “questionable”– on the whole Muslims will choose conservatively and avoid such items for peace of mind.

The food needs of the Muslim community in Quebec and Canada are largely met by small shops and mini supermarkets, a distribution system that is disorganized and highly fragmented. The products there are typically imported from the countries of the different ethnic groups in the community that the shop is serving.

In large cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, some major retailers do reserve a limited space on their shelves for halal products, but normally the selection is limited to meat products only. Certainly halal meat products weigh heavily in the basket of a Muslim household56, but meat is not the only thing sought after by the consumer. Halal regulations also apply to dairy products, pickles, beverages, ice cream and other ingredients.

  • Banking / Finance

Islam prohibits any transaction that is based on interest (credit cards, mortgage). Consequently, many Muslims, particularly in Quebec, remain under-banked and often hold only checking accounts.

In the absence of halal mortgages (sharia compliant mortgages), many Muslim families have been forced to remain tenants in rental situations for years, or else have had to access traditional mortgages with a crisis of conscience7.

Although a study conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and published in 20108 concluded that it was not appropriate to adapt legislation to offer Islamic mortgages in the banking market, several funding formulas have been developed by some associations, particularly in Ontario.

  •  Fashion and Beauty

In terms of clothing, many Muslim women with a leaning toward fashion are struggling to find items that suit them.

Far from the stereotypes of the burqa or niqab conveyed by the media, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, and non-form fitting skirts or pants constitute the major clothing needs of these women, not forgetting of course accessories such as shawls and scarves. In terms of intimate apparel and cosmetics, Muslim tastes are the same as the majority of Canadian women.

  • Travel and Entertainment

Married Muslims prefer go to family-oriented tourist facilities offering halal, vegetarian or seafood menus. Unmarried girls prefer facilities with gender-segregated areas.

An important event in the life of a Muslim is the Hajj (pilgrimage). Considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim who can afford it should perform the Hajj to Mecca at least once in their life. Many Muslims go on the Hajj more than once, or perform the Umrah (almost the same rituals but not required) each year.

22 small-sized travel agencies are licensed to sell Hajj packages, which come at an average price of $5500 per package.

The entry of big players should evolve this market to include high added-value services such as travel insurance, packages combined with the Hajj, and so on.

Unlike in Europe, particularly in France and Britain, canadian companies are still hesitant in approaching the Muslim community, yet the potential for growth in the local market and for export is very high.


1Statistics Canada.

2 Arabic term meaning lawful or legal according to Islamic law.

3Arabic term meaning forbidden or sacredaccording to Islamic law.

4A product or service designated as mashbooh is an item whose status is doubtful or questionable. Some Muslims may reject all mashbooh items.

5A study from Alberta Agriculture, Food & Rural Development (AAFRD) (2004) found that a Muslim household spends $31 per week on meat products. This is almost double the Canadian household meat expenditure of $17 per week.

6 In a recent online survey, MarkEthnik found that 94% of respondents consider the Halal aspect of meat products ”Important” or ”Very Important”. Other results may be obtained on request info@markethnik.com.

7In the same online survey, 74,6% of respondents consider having a Halal morgage as ”Important” or ”Very Important”, but only 41,3% have a morgage that is lawful according to islamic religion.

8This study presents several limits: Benchmarking study alone cannot cover this topic.