11 years ago, the recipe for McCain Deep’n Delicious Cake – a decades-old Canadian classic – changed.

For many Canadians, the removal of beef gelatin from the cake components may have gone unnoticed. But for Muslim shoppers accustomed to checking food ingredients, it was cause for celebration.

“It went viral within the Muslim community, like, ‘Oh my God, we can eat this,’” said Salima Jivraj, director, client services, at food marketing agency Nourish.

It’s easier than ever to find halal meats, snacks and desserts in grocery stores as the industry expands in response to Canada’s growing Muslim population, and Ms. Jivraj said she doesn’t worry. Don’t expect this growth to slow down anytime soon.

“Demand continues to grow. So it’s a really good business to be in,” she said.

Nearly 5% of Canadians are Muslim, according to the 2021 census, a proportion that has more than doubled since 2001, with immigration a key driver.

Nearly 19% of immigrants admitted between 2011 and 2021 were Muslim, according to Statistics Canada data.

“Because the demand is there, the industry is paying more attention to it and as a result, more products are hitting the shelves,” said Omar Subedar, imam as well as COO and co-founder of the Halal Monitoring Authority (HMA).

It’s not just about meat. Many common grocery products contain animal byproducts such as gelatin (in marshmallows, for example) or rennet (found in many cheeses), Jivraj said. However, these products are also increasingly available in halal versions, she added.

Halal consumer packaged goods or other food products must also be free of alcohol.

The HMA was launched in 2006 to combat malpractices and fraud in the halal food industry, Subedar said. It certifies products labeled halal and monitors the practices of the companies it certifies.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Maple Leaf Foods, which produces a variety of meats and other protein products, has seen increasing demand for its halal products in recent years. The company’s halal brand, Mina, was launched in 2013 and is certified by the HMA.

“We expect strong growth to continue in the coming years,” said Patrick Lutfy, the company’s senior vice president of retail marketing, in an emailed statement.

There are now many more options for Muslim consumers in grocery stores and restaurants than there were when Mr. Subedar was growing up. He remembers his mother making pizza at home with naan bread because he couldn’t eat pizza at a chain restaurant like many of his friends did.

“Look how far we’ve come,” he said. Now we have a multitude of different options. »

Much of the innovation in halal food is found in small, independent, specialty grocery stores, not to mention often much wider choice, Jivraj pointed out. These stores tend to understand their customers better and are also more agile, she said.

But over time, large retailers also realized they needed to invest more in halal products, Jivraj said.

Nourish has been conducting a regular survey of Canadian halal consumers since 2016. The 2022 study found that more major food companies are catering to the needs of shoppers looking for halal products, with big box stores becoming a larger share importance of halal consumers’ grocery purchases.

The study also found that the Muslim community is savvy online shopper, Jivraj said, presenting a challenge for independent stores – and an opportunity for major grocery chains, which have invested heavily in the business electronics during the pandemic.

Metro, one of Canada’s largest grocers, has seen a “significant increase” in demand for halal meat, spokeswoman Stephanie Bonk said. So the grocer has dedicated more store space to halal products with a much broader assortment, she explained, and halal products have seen double-digit growth in recent years.

When Ms. Jivraj started blogging about halal restaurants in Toronto more than 10 years ago, there were far fewer options – and even those that claimed to be halal couldn’t always be trusted , because there was fraud throughout the supply chain.

Jivraj said there is a lot more confidence in the halal food industry today than when she started blogging about it. One element that has contributed to this is increasing transparency in the labeling of halal products, she said.

In 2016, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) began implementing new requirements for halal labeling and advertising. All halal claims must be accompanied by the name of an organization or person who certified it.

Since the change at the CFIA, more and more organizations have emerged to meet the demand for halal certification, Subedar said. However, it is not a perfect system since these organizations are not regulated themselves, he said.

Fraud remains a problem in the halal food sector, Subedar said. He advised consumers to do their research when they see a product labeled as halal and learn about how different organizations go about their certification.

Nonetheless, this decision by the CFIA was helpful for the consumer, Subedar said.

“Before, you could just write halal and no one could really question it,” he said. But now there is an authority or an organization behind all this. »