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Home Emdad's Articles The Ummah is changing

The Ummah is changing

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With a Bismillah and a yummy milk chocolate caramel bar, Ummah Foods began its journey in 2004.

The aim is to give the sweet loving Muslim community in the UK something that tastes really good, and also has a positive impact on the world. EMDAD RAHMAN talks to Managing Director of Ummah Foods, Mr K Sharif on the future of Ummah foods.

Tell us briefly about your product portfolio?

We have two products at the moment.  We launched our first in 2004 which was a chocolate bar with a soft caramel centre called Ummah Caramel.  It went down really well, and the media liked the odd idea of a "Muslim chocolate bar".  One name that stuck was "Chochalal" which the Daily Mirror gave us ! Recently we launched our second product, which is a chocolate bar with a creme orange centre called Ummah Orange.  We have started planning the third which is a mint flavour and will be out next year Insha'Allah.

Your personal confectionary favourites?/ Cadbury's or Galaxy?

Ummah Orange is my favourite of course!

-White, Milk, Or Dark?

White or Milk.

-Are you contributing to charity

Yes charity and community are at the heart, and the foundation of our organisation.  We are slightly different from other companies in that we are trying to build up our company from day one using a community based model.  We aim (once we become profitable) to give a percentage of our profits to charities (Muslim and non-Muslim).  We have our chocolate wrappers designed by young artists to encourage more youngsters to turn their creative abilities into commercial ones, and for the Ummah Orange wrapper it was designed by Mohammed Ali of Aerosol Arabic who merged street graffiti with Arabic script to produce quite an amazing design.  We also use any marketing muscle we have to promote charities, and for the Orange launch we made sure
every poster/promo card etc gave space to an amazing charity called Muslim Youth Helpline which supports young Muslims facing serious issues such as bullying, drug abuse, social problems, or mental health.  Muslim business should use the media coverage they receive to help the community, and we are very much open to suggestions on how we can use our existing business process
in this way.

Our company works on a London Sustainability Exchange project called Diverse London, which helps BME led businesses shift to greener products and services, and cleaner, more efficient production processes.  Ummah Foods has also signed up to the Mayor's Green Procurement Code which aims to stimulate demand for recycled products and materials.

I personally am still involved in charities and community projects so this drives my understanding of what is needed in the community, and I feel we can make a difference as long as we don't try to be everything to everyone on day one.  Good
intentions with small steps is our approach Insha'Allah.

Tell us about the history of Ummah? When did you realise that Muslim customers required tailored chocs and how did you go
about meeting that demand?

Well Ummah Foods is a small company that serves the Muslim community with Halal chocolates.  I know you are all thinking what on earth makes a chocolate halal and its a good question.  With a greater understanding of how packaged products are made Muslims have seen that even if a base ingredient was acceptable it may well have come into contact with something that is certainly not.  So a perfectly vegetarian ingredient may have been extracted/processed/filtered using animal fats or alcohol.
This is simply not acceptable for Muslims and they are making their concerns known with their purchases.

We also need to ensure that the cleaning process in the machinery doesn't use alcohol, and even check if the glue in the bar wrapper doesn't use animal fat.  I think you get the idea, and even vegetarian may not be suitable if we can't confirm there is no alcohol in a product.  It has become a lot more complex but customer is King and if mainstream can't provide niche
companies always will !  The demand has come from the Muslim consumer asking for products that meet their religious needs,
and its not only about halal.  The demand is also there for companies to actually try to support their local communities, and
unfortunately Muslim issues are rarely considered by large corporations.  The Muslim buying power is substantial and the
failure of mainstream companies to recognise our needs has given birth to many Muslim focused products and services including
our own.

We started with small bookshops, grocers and newsagents.  We now also have Colleges, Universities, hospitals, and councils as
customers as the need for Halal products in the UK is growing.  Halal meat and poultry have always been big in the UK, and
now most of the catering managers/ethnic & halal buyers know that the demand for halal products is rising fast so we do see
the overall market growing - Estimate of international annual halal market by 2010 is $500 billion so you can appreciate why
the supermarkets are paying attention.  But anyone who fails to see the economic, social, or educational issues the Muslims
are facing shouldn't expect their custom on a plate.

How's the competition in the confectionery market?

Very tough but Alhumdulillah we have a unique selling point of being the only community based halal chocolate company.  No one
else can compete with this, and Insha'Allah it will be successful.

With diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular diseases predicted to considerably affect consumer practices, what will this mean
for your sales forecasts?

We see chocolate as a luxury item, and like anything shouldn't be taken in excess.  Chocolate sales have actually gone up in
the past year. 

Are you thinking of branching into healthier lines?

We very much take on board the feedback from our consumers, and we would like to branch into healthier ranges over time.
However we would not be around too long if we tried to make our product halal, low fat, organic, community based, etc all on
day one.  There is a cost involved in making a product halal, and cost involved in all the others and we need to come out
with a product that is economically viable.

What's the best country in the world for sweets?

The UK is easily the best for chocolates.

What are your strengths and market share of your brand?

It is a brand recognised as halal, and community focused.  Consumers do like the taste and we will always try to meet and
beat the quality of chocolate products already out there.  Our business tries to promote charities and community projects and
when consumers support us with their custom it means we can then invest more into the community Insha'Allah. 
Our package designs are a key strength in that they support Muslim artists and they also show non-Muslims a different side of
Islam.  There is nothing even close to the Orange wrapper out ther at the moment, and we are definitely one of the coolest
halal products out there (Thanks Aerosol Arabic!). 

We have noticed this year is that Muslims are starting to ask for our products in the supermarkets, and this has really
helped.  We are talking to all the supermarkets at the moment and they realise the product is very unique and appreciate they
can not ignore the demands of Muslim consumers.  Also the Orange design is very eye catching and this turns it into a category
driver for the halal or ethnic food sections.  Please do keep asking as it has made a difference and Supermarkets listen
carefully to every email, phone or mention at the till.

Alhamdulillah market share is good for a new brand. The reality of brands is that they take many years to become established,
and those that push to grow too quickly suffer in the long term.

What do you think about the standards with in the confectionery sector? 

The UK has the highest standards in the world, but there is a real lack of appreciation of the needs of Muslim consumers. 
There is a cost involved in changing processes to ensure they are halal and we have to appreciate this could be a
slow process.

I do think the confectionery sector is a bit boring at the moment, and we look forward to utilising that great creative drive
there is in the Muslim community to come out with some innovative Halal products Insha'Allah.

What changes do you suggest to the policy makers in promoting your sector in general?

I think policy makers have a lot of work to do in partnership with the Muslim community.   There is a real lack of
understanding that many Muslims would rather define themselves by faith as opposed to culture or nationality.  If this is not
understood how can they reach this community with any support when they fail to even recognise that they exist !
They also need to support initiatives such as the Federation of Islamic Goods & Services that encourage Muslims to direct
their energies into enterprise. 

What's your most popular range?

Ummah Orange has just launched and it is catching up with Ummah Caramel !!  The design is very eye catching and taste is
great.  It is a tough one to call but I would say this is slightly more popular.

-How and where do you expect to see your company in 5 years time?

Insha'Allah by this time we would like to see our international presence well established with a large family of products.
We would like to see our community support schemes working very efficiently, and actually making a difference at a ground
level Insha'Allah.  Lots of big plans Insha'Allah so watch this space !!

Next year we would like to use one of our products to promote the strong scientific heritage Muslims have and I think that will
be fun iA.

Do you export your products to any country, if so how much?

We have just started our first international orders which are a small percent of our sales.  We see our international orders
growing rapidly over the next 2 years Insha'Allah.  However we are quite keen not to overstretch as the resources needed to
manage the marketing & sales in a region are quite substantial. 

How is the government supporting Ummah Foods?

There are a few schemes but overall there is very little support for Muslim product businesses.  Foodwise is one of the most helpful
schemes I have found so far but I only found about it recently, and I am quite sure the support is not reaching the right places.

However I think Muslim businesses have to also ask what are they doing to support the Government.  Although it has taken away
time from our business we are supporting initiatives in the DTI, Office of Science & Technology, The London Sustainability
Exchange, and have proposed initiatives to several other departments.  Muslim businesses that grow from the community have a
duty to take the community issues along with them as businesses do have a voice.  We are not a political organisation but
appreciate the need to engage the political structure to help address the inequalities our community is facing in this
difficult time Insha'Allah.

Ummah Foods is keen to partner with other Muslim and Non-Muslim businesses and we have really enjoyed working with the The Hijab Shop team on their promotional offer. An Ummah Caramel Bar with each hijab order - Who can resist that ! Community-based businesses are the way forward, and Ummah Foods would like to thank the businesses that have broken the rules and made it possible to give something back Insha’Allah.
For more information contact: Khalid Sharif (Director) This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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