NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – In the ballroom of an upscale hotel a short train ride from New York, advertisers, food industry executives and market researchers mingled — the men in dark suits, the women in headscarves and Western dress. Chocolates made according to Islamic dietary laws were placed at each table.
The setting was the American Muslim Consumer Conference, which aimed to promote Muslims as a new market segment for U.S. companies. While corporations have long catered to Muslim communities in Europe, businesses have only tentatively started to follow suit in the U.S. — and they are doing so at a time of intensified anti-Muslim feeling that companies worry could hurt them, too. American Muslims seeking more acknowledgment in the marketplace argue that businesses have more to gain than lose by reaching out to the community.
“We are not saying, `Support us,'” said Faisal Masood, a graduate of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and management consultant. “But we want them to understand what our values are.”
There are signs the industry is stirring: Masood, a Wall Street executive who organized the gathering, had attracted only 200 or so attendees when he started the event last year. This year, he had to close registration at 400 to keep from going over capacity.
The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.