In the weeks leading up to Ramadan (or Ramzan to the subcontinent), Britain’s main supermarket chains have pulled out all the stops to woo their Muslim customers. Aisles have been designated for relevant products’ and decked with banners saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’, or some such message, often illustrated with a star or crescent moon or minaret…
Apart from jumbo packets of rice and chapatti flour, boxes of dates, packets of chickpea flour, tinned chickpeas, couscous, all sorts of fruit or energy drinks and biscuits have been stocked up in the Ramadan aisles. This has been happening for quite some time but it seems that every year the supermarkets seem to start this specific marketing earlier and earlier — not just in the week before the month of fasting begins, but two to three weeks in advance.
The major UK supermarkets now do a lot of marketing and displays targeted at specific communities or customer groups but festivals and events in the Asian communities yield particularly good results probably because of the extended family/community nature of the celebration and the high level of food consumption. Holi, Diwali and Besakhi displays all pop up at various times of the year — but Ramadan is a particularly lucrative time as families tend to stock up many products ahead of the month.
According to some estimates the Ramadan economy in the UK is worth “at least £200 million pounds” so all the major supermarket chains try to get a slice of this by wooing shoppers particularly in areas with a large Muslim population. The marketing campaigns are very similar to those used for Christmas and this year one supermarket (Morrisons) is even selling a ‘Ramadan countdown calendar’, similar to the traditional Christmas advent calendar.
Promotions include not just food but also gifts: Eid gifts are a major marketing thrust and many companies are promoting this.
And it’s not just the supermarkets – London’s swanky West End mall Westfields (which is Europe’s largest shopping centre apparently) is hosting its first Eid festival next month. The festival will have live performances, catwalk shows, pop-up food stalls and all sorts of shopping offers.
The festival organisers are quite candid about their reasons for organising the event: festival promotional material says, “The Muslim pound is seen as a valuable and largely untapped opportunity in the UK economy”.
‘The Muslim pound’ carries some weight it seems. And the UK Ramadan economy is part of a wider trend of a specific global economy of halal products (not just food but also cosmetics, pharmaceutics and travel), modest clothing and Islamic finance. According to the state of the Global Islamic Economy report this economy is projected to be worth more than £3 trillion by 2021, and is growing at ‘nearly double the rate of the general worldwide economy’.
Retailers and businesses are increasingly kowtowing to the clout of this purchasing power.
And in Britain, the recognition of the importance of the ‘Muslim pound’ is also being seen as a way for Muslim communities to be acknowledged and understood. Many are appreciative of the fact that Ramadan and Eid are becoming as much a part of the cultural and retail landscape as Christmas, Chinese New Year or Diwali, yet they remain unhappy about the fact that Eid is not acknowledged as a public holiday thus forcing many families to celebrate on the following weekend rather than on the day itself.
The demand for an Eid holiday however is undermined by the fact that Muslim communities here cannot agree to celebrate Eid on the same day. The absurdity of this of course weakens the demand even as it did when some Muslim MPs (Chaudhry Sarwar included) put this to Tony Blair well over a decade ago.
Muslim pound or not, a lack of Muslim consensus definitely weakens the case…