Ansari says the current generation of American Muslims is different from those in the past: “The market is growing and it makes good business sense for companies to start [marketing toward them] now. They’re different from the immigration population of 30 or 40 years ago. These people are Americans. They want to join their faith with being an American.”
Some businesses haven’t been ignoring Muslim shoppers, and have benefited as a result. Adnan Durrani, the founder of the halal food company Saffron Road, is a prime example of how Islamic-inspired products can succeed by focusing on the broader appeal of the religion's ethics.
Saffron Road, which uses only products sourced from sustainable, family-owned farms, became a focus of controversy in the summer of 2011 when Whole Foods ran its first Ramadan-focused campaign by promoting Saffron Road’s products. The campaign was met with bigoted calls urging Whole Foods to rid their shelves of the products.
That didn’t deter Saffron Road, according to Durrani, who dismisses the incident. He says that, in fact, the uproar brought his company business. “Our sales went up over 500 percent on that promotion,” Durrani said. “We had thousands of consumers who had never gone to a Whole Foods before buying our products. It was a phenomenal success. Whole Foods has increased its shelf space [for Saffron Road] from four to 50 [products]." Durrani claims that, according to Nielsen, Saffron Road is the fastest growing natural frozen entrée brand in the country.
In an era when frozen entrée sales have declined, Saffron Road has flourished. The company's all-natural, antibiotic-free meals stand in stark contrast with the nutritionally underwhelming fare typically found in the frozen-food aisle.
Saffron Road's success suggests that brands that don't pigeonhole themselves as made only for Muslims can do quite well. Many young Muslims who aren't restricted to the foods their parents eat are excited about the company's Korean tacos and beef bulgogi—two products not normally thought of as halal. Janmohamed calls this new generation of consumers “the futurists,” and says they will be instrumental in developing a base of consumers who aren’t necessarily interested in purchasing based on religious beliefs, but rather based on a company's practices.
Food and retail aren't the only industries that would do well to take heed of Muslim values, Ansari says. She points to finance: Banks have cropped up that cater to the Muslim belief that lenders shall not collect interest on loans. “[Islamic banking institutions] are slowly gaining attention because they tend to be ethical and socially responsible investments,” she said. The charitable aspect of the religion also appeals to many tired of big banks and corporate extravagance.
Durrani says Ramadan would only represent the beginning of the American cultural and economic acceptance of the religion and its adherents as a viable demographic force. He recounts being at an iftar and sidling up to a Whole Foods senior buyer, who happened to be Jewish. "It’s really beautiful, and it’s finally happened," Durrani remembers the man saying. "The stores now understand what this holiday means and how to appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims."