The halal food sector in Russia is expanding, particularly in Muslim-majority areas such as Dagestan and Chechnya in the south and Tatarstan in the Volga River basin.
The majority of the enterprises there already have experience selling to Gulf countries. They are increasingly aiming to grow into Southeast Asian markets such as Malaysia. Understanding the halal criteria for ASEAN countries, particularly Malaysia, is critical because they differ in each country.
For instance, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), the agency responsible for Islamic affairs, has strict requirements to issue halal certificates.
JAKIM criteria include everything from the product to its manufacturing procedures, including raw materials, ingredients, processing equipment, and other handling equipment employed throughout the manufacturing process. It complies with the standards of Islamic law (Shariah Law).
The Russian Muslim way
Despite the fact that Russian Orthodoxy is the most widely practiced faith in the 145 million-strong country, the halal food sector has enormous potential. There are over 25 million Muslims in Russia, with four million living in Moscow alone.
With that statistic, the halal food industry, which includes meat, dairy products, and other things considered acceptable for Muslim eating according to Islamic precepts, is predicted to expand.
According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the value of halal goods produced in 2020 surpassed RUB10 billion ($137 million), or 3% of the republic’s total agricultural production value. Tatarstan exports $300,000 worth of halal products to the rest of Russia and overseas in 2019, with the figure expected to rise to $2.5 million in 2020.
However, the large market potential brings challenges, particularly in ensuring that the items produced match worldwide halal regulations and in ensuring that the certifications are not exploited.
“It is extremely difficult to handle halal items on the market. Each Muslim center in the region has its own accreditation “Radik Amirov, a Muslim Business Consultant in Moscow, agreed.
“The main issue is not simply a lack of agencies that can supervise the giving of halal certifications, but also a lack of law enforcement against parties that misuse halal certificates,” he added.
Traditionally, booths, eateries, and restaurants in Russia were known to be halal by word of mouth. The Islamic greetings from vendors and symbols on the walls with signs like “halal” or “helal” were sufficient confidence.
This dishonest certification practice stifles the expansion of the halal industry, making it difficult for halal items to expand in international markets, particularly in the ASEAN market due to its stringent halal standards.
“There are also occasions where international investors who come to Russia to create halal product cooperation come to a halt because we are unable to verify that our products are halal and organized,” Amirov explained.
According to 2017 data, the country has approximately 200 accredited manufacturers who have received certification from the International Center for Halal Standardization and the Russian Mufti Council.
Efforts are on their way
Despite the problems of establishing halal food sectors in Russia, things are significantly better than a decade ago, thanks to efforts by institutions such as the Russian-ASEAN Business Council (RABC) to assure market continuity not just in the nation but also overseas.
“That’s why we are working with the government to establish a clear institutional understanding of how halal certification should be handled for all manufacturing facilities,” says Daniyar Akkaziev, Chief Executive Officer of RABC.
For example, for the last year, RABC has collaborated with Russia’s Muslim Religious Department and the Muslim Council of Russia. “We have webinars with ASEAN nations to address halal sector certification difficulties so that we can go forward,” Akkaziev says.
In Malaysia, unlike Russia, JAKIM is the country’s official halal certifier for not only food but also other products such as kitchen equipment and cosmetics.
“In Russia, we have numerous centers that generate halal certification, but they are not combined under one agency; it is not centralized,” he added. “The difficulty today is to consolidate everything so that one agency is accountable for everything.”
“Our ASEAN partners will have greater clarity once it is centralized. For the time being, we may ship to Malaysia, and we hope that the process of obtaining the halal certificate will go smoothly after that “Akkaziev adds.