Whittaker's tries luring Muslim tastebuds

JESSY EDWARDS
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014

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From a Porirua factory, Whittaker's is trying to break into the $150 million Malaysian market - but it won't be able to tempt Muslims with its alcohol-infused rum and raisin bars.

The chocolatier's range of 27 Muslim-friendly halal-certified slabs, bars and blocks is now being shipped to Malaysia in temperature-controlled ships.

Halal-certified products are ones considered fit for consumption according to Islamic dietary guidelines.

They cannot include unlawful or "haram" ingredients such as alcohol or animal fats, and must not come into contact with haram substances during processing, transport, or packaging.

Whittaker's head of international markets, Matt Whittaker, said the company became formally halal-certified three years ago, initially moving into the Middle East, and had now started selling in Malaysia, where more than 60 per cent of the 30 million inhabitants were Muslim.

"Chocolate doesn't really have too much of an issue because there are no pig by-products used in chocolate traditionally, so generally speaking it's very easy to be halal-certified," Whittaker said.

However, rival Cadbury recently encountered a storm in the Muslim market when some of its chocolate produced a false positive test for pig DNA.

Cadbury Malaysia was forced to recall batches of halal chocolate last month after a periodic inspection by the Malaysian Ministry of Health.

Samples were tested again and cleared, but not before 20 Malay-Muslim groups had called for a boycott of Cadbury products.

Whittaker's halal certification has come from the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Associations.

Chief executive Sultan Eusoff said that there were special considerations when certifying chocolate.

"The important thing is the dairy milk, and how are they sourcing the dairy milk, and are there any more animal products in the items, ie animals fats or other additives like thickener or stuff like that," he said.

Other questionable additives could include vanilla flavouring that might contain alcohol, or whey that could be derived from milk curdled with enzymes from non-halal slaughtered animals.

Eusoff said the value of the Muslim market was somewhere in the trillions, and the federation had seen an increase in New Zealand companies seeking halal certification.

"We cannot underestimate the Muslim market or the halal market. We are keen to plug into the halal market more - companies with icecream products and other food products are coming around more and seeking certification."

Last weekend marked the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and worship for Muslims, but also a time for increased sweet consumption, with Muslims breaking their fast at sunset.

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