On the eve of Ramadan, almost two billion Muslims around the world are preparing for a month of fasting, reflection, and charitable giving. This is followed by Eid al-Fitr celebrations to mark the end of the most sacred month on the Islamic calendar.
For many Muslim consumers, there’s a notable increase in spending on food, fashion, gifts, and charitable donations. And yet, despite this huge market potential, mainstream brands are missing very obvious opportunities to not only expand revenue streams but drive genuine diversity and inclusion in society by connecting with a significant proportion of the population.
While there has been some progress by brands, by the way of stocking of halal foods in the big supermarkets, or Ramadan and Eid sections on fashion sites such as ASOS, George, Matalan, the attempt generally at engaging a new generation of Muslim consumers has been meagre.
For many British Muslims, mainstream brands are still not offering the representation, depth of cultural understanding, and reflection of values in their products and marketing. In the UK, Islam is the second-largest religion, made up predominantly of diaspora from across the world and subsequent generations. But there’s been a huge shift in the cultural landscape. First-generation immigrations predominantly cooked food at home, brought over clothes from their country of origin, or almost exclusively headed to hotspots such as Green Street or Southall (if you’re South East Asian) for their Ramadan and Eid attire. Second, third, fourth-generation Muslims, who have grown up in the UK, have grown up with the culture of their heritage at home but have also naturally developed affinities to British culture while practising Islam. They’ve developed a symbiosis between these aspects of their identity and this has paved the way for a huge shift in the products they’re buying and the brands they’re wanting to engage with.
British Muslims have a consumer spending power of over £20 billion and contribute more than £30 billion to the UK economy. Generation M – the young Muslim consumers with more disposable income are growing in numbers and in influence. Many are buying the same products that we’re all buying but want mainstream product extensions; in fashion, there needs to be a widespread embrace of modest fashion, young Muslims want to dress in line with current trends but are either ignored or pitched uninspiring outfits. Modest fashion can’t just be trendy when Billie Eilish does it. For many Muslims (and for many people generally) it’s common practice and a lifestyle choice. In the food and drinks industry, halal food and drink is set to grow by £1.5 billion by 2030. Nandos, KFC, Pizza Express have all chosen to offer halal meat but have received backlash from far-right activists, questioning this as a threat to British values. Brands ultimately will need to be prepared to stand by their convictions and offerings.
The charitable giving sector is another that needs to recognise the huge impact of the Islamic community giving. Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it requires a Muslim to donate to charity. According to figures by fundraising platform, Give Brite, UK Muslims donated £150 million to charity during Ramadan in 2020, more than any other religious group. The new generation of Muslims are moving away from traditional Zakat donations, given at the Mosques or donated directly back home, and require modern alternatives to donating to charity (much like the rest of the charitable sector). Brands like Just Giving and Toucan have launched Ramadan campaigns to help facilitate the new generation of Muslims to donate to charities. However, the marketing generally from the charities sector needs to be far more mainstream: Muslims are having to actively seek these new avenues out, so in an age where we’re being bombarded left, right, and centre, brands need to actively show what they’re offering across all content channels.
There’s always going to be a tentative approach to any religious market, from not wanting to appear to be aligned to a particular religion, to not wanting to offend anyone, but these can also be quite easily mitigated; no brand needs to fundamentally change, just extend their offering and give alternatives – for the Muslim market, offer halal options – and to avoid disrespecting the consumer, engaging and consulting the very group of people you want to market to is key. The former reason is certainly used as an easy cop-out when it comes to approaching Muslim consumers in particular. Painful and crass connotations and stereotypes have plagued the Islamic community globally with a negative narrative and brands only further and indirectly fuel this by not engaging a huge section of society. There should be more mainstream opportunities for anyone, to invest in Islamic businesses and products to help facilitate the growth of this promising market.
Despite the population size and economic contributions, the lack of mainstream recognition is part and parcel of why there’s a huge disconnect between brands and Muslims. Brands need to go further than just hosting a sub-section on their website devoted to Ramadan fashion or halal food. They need to extend this across social, television, and digital content. This not only drives visibility to the products but also creates visibility for Muslims in society. Brands need to use Muslim models, and lean on Muslim influencers. The cultural impacts of this should not be underestimated. According to research by Stanford University, when Liverpool Football Club signed Muslim footballer Mohamed Salah in 2017, there has been an 18.9% drop in anti-Muslim hate crimes in Liverpool. While the prospects of societal cohesion shouldn’t rest on star signings, it’s still a poignant example of the impact of how telling positive stories from the Islamic community can drive societal change. We can only begin to tackle discrimination of any kind when we begin to acknowledge each other, our values and differences (in a good way).
While this blog is out days away from Ramadan, it’s pertinent to note that this should be an all-year-round commitment to engage Muslim consumers and capture brand loyalty. especially when Islamic identity is constantly being threatened by negative stereotypes, this is a huge opportunity for brands to show that they really care about a huge proportion of society.
Finally, for Muslims celebrating Ramadan around the world, Ramadan Mubarak!
Written by Fatema Chowdhury