But sometimes they move in mysterious ways. In an election season dominated by Donald Trump, Muslims haven’t always been made to feel welcome in America. Meanwhile sales of halal food, prepared according to Islamic law, are surging — and not just among the fast-growing US Muslim population: Adventurous millennial foodies are embracing it too.
Shahed Amanullah could only find about 200 places that served halal food in 1998, when he launched a website to help Americans find it. Today, he’s tracking 7,600, and he says halal is making inroads even among people who are wary of Muslims. "Food is a great medium for cultural sharing,” Amanullah said.
There’s a well-trodden path in America’s food culture, leading from ethnic-specialty status to the mainstream. It happened long ago with Italian cuisine, and to some extent with kosher food, which offers a closer parallel to halal.
At every level of the US food chain, halal already occupies a small but rapidly expanding niche.
In grocery and convenience stores and similar outlets, research firm Nielsen estimates that sales reached $1.9 billion in the 12 months through August, a 15 percent increase from 2012.
Overall, from restaurants to supermarkets, halal sales are projected at $20 billion this year, up by one-third since 2010, according to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, which certifies halal food and promotes education on the topic
Whole Foods Market Inc., which has been among the pioneers, ranks halal among its fastest growing categories, with double-digit sales growth in each of the last five years. It’s been running Ramadan promotions since 2011.
For early-adopting retailers, there’s been some flak — especially in the corners of social media where Islam comes under regular criticism. Amanullah said his "where-to-find-it” website is often used in such circles as a "who-to-boycott” guide — though he said such efforts typically backfire and end up helping his business.
When Whole Foods ran its initial Ramadan campaign, it was criticized for failing to tout other religious holidays. Rick Findlay, global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods, says the company wasn’t deterred.
"People look to Whole Foods to be that trend setter,” he said, "We’re happy to be on that cutting edge and take some risks.”
A look at the demographics makes halal seem less of a risk. There were 3.3 million US Muslims last year, but the number’s projected to grow to 8.1 million by 2050 — and about halfway through that time, Muslims will surpass Jews as the largest non-Christian religious group in the US, according to Pew Research Center.
Source: Halal Focus