Most consumers tend to focus on the halal status of foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and there is still very little attention paid to how these products are packaged. That’s according to an expert on halal packaging, who says the subject is often overlooked by manufacturers and treated by consumers with ambivalence.
“You could say that it is neglected because packaging is part of the logistics process, and the logistics process on the whole is ignored,” Dr. Syazwan Talib, a professor of halal logistics at Universiti Brunei Darussalam and one of the few recognised academic authorities on the subject, told Salaam Gateway.
“What is most important for the consumer is the halal-ness of a product’s ingredients and how it is manufactured. There is also a lack of research that outlines the concerns of halal packaging.”
It does not help that halal packaging standards are often vague, compared to the codes in place for manufactured products, which are far more stringent.
Under the procedure for Malaysian halal certification compiled by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), which is used as the benchmark for many accreditation authorities around the world, little is mentioned about packaging beyond “the … material shall not be made from materials which are classified as najs” and various clauses that govern how a product can be labelled. Najs, or najis, refers to things or persons that are considered ritually unclean in Islamic jurisprudence.
JAKIM also says that paper is not eligible as a category for the application for halal certification, though this could change based on the words and images printed on it.
“When it comes to JAKIM, they are not concerned about the origin of the materials and manufacturing process to make the packaging,” said Dr. Syazwan. “They are more concerned about the marketing aspect: what pictures not to put on a product, what wording not to use.”
Occasional high-profile incidents have highlighted this priority in the last few years. In 2014, JAKIM forced a mineral water manufacturer to change its labelling after it was found placing a picture of Hindu deity Lord Murugan near the “halal” logo on its labels.
“If the company refuses to change it, we can suspend the halal certificate issued to the product,” former JAKIM director-general Othman Mustapha told state news agency Bernama at the time.
Another case, in 2016, saw American fast-food chain Auntie Anne’s being urged to change the name of its Pretzel Dog to “Pretzel Sausage” in order to receive halal certification, as Malaysian Muslims consider dogs to be unclean.
Yet though halal standards governing physical packaging are rudimentary, they could be much more involved, especially if they were to relate to recycled packaging. If this were the case, manufacturers would need to look into the original purpose of all the individual materials that had been recycled, as well as how these had been transported and labelled.
“To an extent, it sounds quite ridiculous. In order to tick off the source of the original materials, you will have to go down to the very minor details,” said Dr. Syazwan, hinting that the vagueness of the halal regulations was useful in preventing the need for endless tracing.
HALAL-CERTIFIED PACKAGING SUPPLIERS
For JAKIM certification, a product can still be halal even if it isn’t contained in packaging from a certified-halal manufacturer, as logistics are covered by the accreditation body’s audit of the manufacturer. However, a handful of packaging materials providers have still had their products certified halal.
For Australia-based Cardia Bioplastics, which supplies biodegradable resins from which food wrapping films, bottles and plastic cutlery are manufactured, its JAKIM halal mark allows customers to fast-track their own halal certification process by being able to prove the source of their materials.
“Not many of our competitors have halal certification for their raw materials,” Kean Hwa Ong, its executive director in Malaysia, told Salaam Gateway. Other halal-certified companies in the field include Johor-based Indochine Bio Plastiques, which manufacturers tapioca-based resin end-products.
“Foods that are certified halal can still use the halal logo even if their packaging isn’t [certified, under JAKIM’s regulations]. It’s up to them to decide how far they want to take the interpretation of halal, if they want to follow a very strict requirement up to their packaging.”
This option has been good for Cardia’s business in Southeast Asia’s majority-Muslim countries because it also gives its customers the confidence to supply to government agencies and government-linked companies that like to emphasise their halal credentials, especially in Malaysia, South Asia and the Middle East, Ong added.
Elsewhere, Albéa, a global French company that manufactures plastic packaging for cosmetics and personal care for customers including Estee Lauder and L’Oreal, recently had its three Indonesian plants certified halal in a bid to tap into the growing Muslim market.
To do so, it overhauled its manufacturing processes, from the raw materials it uses to the oil to lubricate its machinery and the way the plant is cleaned, to comply with Majlis Ulema Indonesia requirements for certification.
In this way, the tubes, bottles and dispensers that are made at these facilities are halal by default, though it is then up to downstream companies to decide if they want to add elements like labelling that may not be considered Islamically acceptable.
“If the customer wants to draw a sexy woman on the packaging, of course the product would not be halal any more, but anything that comes out of the plant can be halal, depending on what the customer wants,” Anne-Laure Linage, Albéa’s marketing director, told Salaam Gateway.
“Our local team offers recommendations about how they should design, decorate and also advertise their products [so they can remain halal]. We are one of the first in the cosmetics industry, if not the first, to offer halal packaging.”
Since its first plant gained halal certification in 2016, the company has attracted several Indonesian customers looking for the service, including the halal-certified cosmetics companies La Tulipe and Wardah. Albéa is now marketing more widely, especially to customers in the Middle East.
‘LONG WAY TO GO’
Though there are still very few certified-halal packaging companies—others include Europe-based MM Karton and Varsity Packaging, which are both certified by IIDZ Austria,—and it could hardly be termed a fast-growing industry, there are signs that some are waking up to the potential of the growing global halal market. Yet there is a long way to go, said Dr. Syazwan.
“If you look at supermarket products, I can say that maybe a very strong 90 percent do not have halal-certified packaging.
“To manufacturers, that is the most minor of things to think about,” he added.
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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