Speaking from her office in Hong Kong, the company’s general manager, Dalene Wray, says it is organic certification, along with the company’s efforts to lead Australian exports of halal-certified beef, that differentiate OBE from other producers.
“We are one of the few Australian meat companies that have embraced the fact that our products are certified both halal and organic, so we actively market to halal consumers in Asia and the Middle East,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Differentiation through certification
The company backs this up with a Facebook page dedicated to halal consumers, which is liked by over 7,000 followers. This, Wray says, is one of the innovative ways the company backs its halal credentials.
“We mention halal on our labels, and there is a big halal logo on our website. Halal for us means integrity; it means we are speaking to a huge group of consumers who are concerned about what they eat, and we want our consumers to know that our product is not only certified organic but it’s also certified halal.
“It gives us a marketing advantage. Everyone is jumping on the natural bandwagon, and many products are being marketed on the basis that they are natural. But natural isn’t regulated or certified—you can have GMO products that are so-called natural.
“We differentiate because we go through the certification processes, and we are audited annually by different organisations. Also there are halal consumers who want to purchase organic food, which is difficult for them because there’s lots of organic food on the market, and there are lots of halal foods available, but there isn’t much in the way of products that are both organic and halal. That’s our point of difference.”
Safety and quality assurance
While OBE has targeted the Middle East as a major growth region, the company’s biggest market is the US, where there is a huge demand for organic protein, though in Asia, the big players are currently Hong Kong and Taiwan.
From a halal point of view, the company performed some consumer research in 2009 to find that there is definitely potential for a halal market in China, though this will come over time.
“The Chinese have a huge appetite for beef, so halal is a secondary requirement at the moment, but I don’t think it’s too far in the future when halal will become important in China,” explained Wray.
“We know that the halal market is regulated and is clean and safe, but the Chinese have bigger problems to worry about than that. They are very close to food scandals, so they worry about safety. They are less worried about halal and more worried that the meat they eat.”
However, there is little doubt that halal’s focus on the provenance of food items will soon go a long way to establishing greater confidence—an important strategy in an area where trust in food is very low.