Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 2, Issue 1 - September, 2009


Cultural and Preference Understanding to Develop Halal Niche Markets

Fisher, J.C., Extension Educator, The Ohio State University Extension - Pike County
Mangione, D.A., Extension Educator, The Ohio State University Extension - Ross County
Nye, L.A., Extension Educator, The Ohio State University Extension - Clinton County
Stock, R., Leader, Business Research Group, University of Dayton


Six focus groups were conducted with Islamic Centers in Ohio. The objective was to understand Halal meat purchase patterns and consumption patterns with special attention to goat. Ohio State University Extension personnel are utilizing research results to enable goat producers to understand and meet requirements of the Halal meat market. Participants identified Zabiha slaughter as the most merciful. Many participants held tremendous concerns relative to feeding of animal by-products, hormone use, and adulteration with pork. These trust concerns led to decisions about where to purchase meat with 72% purchasing from a Moslem owned retail store, 13% purchasing from a large grocery and only 8% direct from a farmer. Participants indicated consumption patterns according to weekly, seasonal, and variations of geographic origin. Average meat purchase was 23 pounds with an occurrence of 12.5 times per annum. Purchasing trends indicated 78% prefer lean over marbled cuts. Nearly 86% prefer fresh over frozen goat meat and nearly a third responded that they would pay more for fresh. Intact males were preferred by 42% of the respondents. Preferences for meat goat cuts were: Leg (71%), Chops (42%), Shoulder (24%), Breast (7%). Demographic shifts in the United States indicate there are almost 53 million people with a preference for goat meat. Based on consumption trends of this study, goat demand exceeds inventory by 160%. Meat goat consumer trends are changing regarding religious concerns, convenience, food safety, and food quality issues. Opportunities exist to develop niche marketing with local ethnic or faith based populations.


The Business Research Group at the University of Dayton conducted six focus groups with people who attend Islamic Centers in Ohio. Three focus groups were conducted with attendees of the Greater Cincinnati Islamic Center in West Chester. Three focus groups were conducted at the Cleveland Islamic Cultural Center in Parma. There were approximately 10 participants in each of the groups. A single focus group of primarily Somali meat market owners and consumers was conducted in Columbus. Additionally, a written survey had 84 participants from the Greater Toledo Islamic Center indicate their purchase and consumption preferences.


The objective of the focus groups was to understand in general, Halal meat purchase and consumption patterns of the Moslem population in Ohio with special attention to goat. In each group, the topic was introduced as follows: “We are going to talk about your purchases patterns with respect to meat in general but have a particular focus on Halal meat. Ohio State University is working with meat producers in Ohio to understand what the requirements of the Halal meat market are and what producers need to do to meet the requirements of that market.”

Results and Discussion

Meat Consumption Patterns
Thinking of your household’s consumption of meat products, of whatever type, both when you eat out and when you eat at home how often do you eat meat? For most respondents meat was consumed every single day and often twice a day. Some participants took pains to note that it might only be a small part of a meal with several other dishes and ingredients involved so that meat was not necessarily the center piece.
What meats constitute the bulk of the meat you eat? There was a group of respondents that were either born in the United States or were from particular parts of the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine, Iran) who predominantly eat chicken or beef with occasional use of fish or lamb. There was a second group from the Middle East of primarily Arab origin who supplemented the chicken consumption with more lamb consumption and less beef. Finally, there was a group of participants from Pakistan and India who consumed chicken, goat, and lamb predominantly. Participants in both Cleveland and Cincinnati noted that those from the Middle East were more likely to eat lamb and those from India and Pakistan were more likely to eat goat. While a substantial number of participants consumed beef, they brought up very specific concerns about beef being fed animal by-products.
Participant Views of What Constitutes Halal Meat
We are going to be speaking of Halal Meat, so what does the term Halal meat mean to you? Is there a continuum here…or is it a very discrete thing. At one level, participants noted that Halal simply referred to all meats that were acceptable for a Moslem to eat. Participants used the term “Zabiha” to refer to Halal meat that had been slaughtered in the appropriate fashion. These elements included: 1.) a quick and merciful slaughter that allowed the blood to drain from the animal. The Zabiha approach to slaughtering was the most merciful and caused the animal the least pain noting that it was important that the goat or lamb never see the knife and that the knife should be very sharp. 2.) a prayer to God. “When you slaughter an animal it should be slaughtered in the Name of God (Allah).” Participants noted that in general “Halal” often gets used for “Zabiha.” and that some people take the position that any meat you buy in this country is Halal because Christians or Jews do the slaughtering in contrast to India where Hinduism dominates.
Meat Shopping Patterns and Attitudes
Where do you shop for meat? Most participants indicated they shopped at a Halal market/grocery that typically would have other ethnic spices and foods as well. Some noted they would periodically go to Detroit, Michigan because there was a slaughter house there that sells direct. Others acknowledge buying meat from large grocery chains. One noted she would purchase an Amish brand in that you could know that a practicing Christian had conducted the slaughter. Participants had some experience in purchasing direct from a farmer indicating that had been more frequent several years ago when there were fewer Halal meat outlets. The trips to the farm are associated with the practice at Hajj of sacrificing an animal. The participants would conduct the slaughter and ask the farmer to do the rest of the butchering. Farmers were mostly found through word of mouth. None of the participants went to specialty retail butchers who were not Halal due to concerns about contamination with pork. Almost no participants had ordered Halal meat on the internet due to concerns about freshness and inability to see the meat.
Of all these establishments we’ve discussed, where would you prefer to shop for your meat?
The immediate response in every group to this question was “the regular grocery store.” Almost all participants described their current meat buying process of going to a Halal store as extremely inconvenient. Beyond the inconvenience of the Halal market, participants often felt a regular supermarket would be more hygienic, have better packaging, and provide a broader array of cuts.
What are the characteristics of the place you prefer to shop for meat that are important to you?
Almost the first word out of everyone’s mouth was “Cleanliness” or “Trust.” The trust issue often involved the Halal meat being purchased really was slaughtered in the appropriate manner with the proper prayers (Zabiha) said at slaughter. There were some concerns about health issues at Halal markets with some participants noting it was important to know the store had been inspected. While participants indicated store ownership by a Moslem was not important as long as the meat was Zabiha, they felt it was easier to trust if the owner was a Moslem.
Details on Halal Meat Consumption
Are there particular holidays or special days when you would consume more Halal meat?
Across all focus groups there was agreement that meat consumption rose substantially during Ramadan due to the rounds of parties and impromptu visits that were typical after the sun fell. Every group mentioned that the second time where consumption increased on the Day of Sacrifice (Eid-ul-Adha). There is a requirement that every person who is able, to financially sacrifice an animal. The rules for distribution of the meat indicate one third should be given to the poor, one third to family and friends, and one third for your self. Due to the difficulty of finding an animal, it has become custom for those not born in the United States to send money to their home country to have the sacrifice done as more poor people can be fed. One focus group specifically suggested there was a market opportunity for a farmer that advertised their willingness to provide sacrifice goats on this day.

Meat Purchasing Patterns
When you purchase Halal meat, how many pounds do you purchase on average? The responses varied from 10 to 20 pounds depending on family size. One participant noted that we should think of average meat consumption as the same for other American families so if they are consuming primarily goat, it might be 270 pounds per year.” The Somalis preferred a 35-40 pound carcass because their perception is that carcasses over 40 pounds are from older goats and will lack quality. They believe a trim, tender carcass will cook fast. The smaller carcasses are usually stuffed and served whole with vegetables at larger family dinners. They prefer a lean grass fed carcass and indicated that they can tell the difference between grain fed and grass fed in the smell, taste, and texture of the meat.
Are you willing to pay more for fresh relative to frozen Meat? Participants preferred fresh relative to frozen meat because it enabled them to judge how recently it had been slaughtered. It was clear that many of the women would have difficulty initially choosing something that was frozen because of their desire to gauge qualities of the meat from smell, color and touch. While participants clearly preferred fresh to frozen, they were also very price conscious. The focus group identified average retail prices as $1.99 per pound for frozen goat meat and $2.99 per pound for fresh goat meat. Somali meat market owners reported buying imported frozen goat carcasses cheaper than fresh goat and estimated that 15-20 % of retail price is the transportation costs to and from Detroit to obtain the product.
When you shop for Halal Meat, do you prefer a whole carcass or specific cuts? As noted in the prior discussion on goat, most consumers are buying the whole goat carcass because of the problems of limited availability. There were some participants (with smaller families) who would have liked the option of getting just a leg or a shoulder. At the same time there were participants who felt they would want the whole carcass anyway because “there is not much meat there.” Intact males were preferred by 42% of the respondents. Preferences for meat goat cuts were: Leg (71%), Chops (42%), Shoulder (24%), and Breast (7%).
Are any by-products from the processed Halal Meat important to you?
With respect to goat,almost every part of the goat was mentioned by a subset of participants. These included the tongue, neck, liver, brain, kidneys, heart and lungs. Skins can be harvested from the goats and are made into purses and wallets. There were concerns raised about substitutes for gelatin and medicine capsules. Participants felt mostly gelatin was from swine.


Demographic shifts in the United States indicate that there are almost 53 million people who have a preference for goat meat. There are 2 million market goats in the US according to the 2009 Agricultural Statistics. Based on consumption trends of this and other studies, goat demand exceeds inventory by 160%. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of goats slaughtered in USDA federally inspected plants. Total head slaughtered increased 45.1% from 1998 to 2003. However in 2003, the U.S. imported more than 18 million tons of goat meat. With an average carcass weight of 35 to 40 lbs., an estimated 500,000 goat carcasses were imported. Current demand estimates indicate a need for 3.1 million goats.


As the industry has grown, so too has the market infrastructure in Ohio. Producers must realize that our markets are dependant on demographics, supply/demand, and cultural preferences. Accessing the ethnic/religious markets can currently be accomplished through public live auctions, direct-on-farm sales, brokers, meat purveyors and networks/alliances. Prices have seen increased strength due to increased numbers, Ohio being recognized as a good source for quality goats, and the development of graded pooled sales. Challenges include cultural differences, consumer and producer education, and having a place for harvest. Meat goat consumer trends are changing regarding religious concerns, convenience, food safety, and food quality issues. Also, chevon is a healthy meat and fits the designer diets of health-conscious Americans. Goat production is a great opportunity for small farm producers to target these markets and diversify their farm products. Opportunities exist to develop niche marketing and value added opportunities for fresh goat with local ethnic or faith based populations.


Partial funding for these studies was provided by a federally funded Kaptur Grant.


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