UK retailers borrow a page from Christmas for Ramadan

Muslim consumers are not just requesting an increase in the quantity of Ramadan deals but the quality as well.
Sunday 20/05/2018
Better deals. An interior view of a store in the Nine Elms area of London. (AP)
Better deals. An interior view of a store in the Nine Elms area of London. (AP)

LONDON - As Ramadan kicks off across the world, UK retailers are failing to cash in on a largely untapped market, despite expectations of higher-than-ever spending on foods and gifts.

A recent report by Islamic marketing agency Ogilvy Noor titled “The Great British Ramadan” revealed that the UK’s Ramadan economy is worth more than $270 million with major supermarket chains such as Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco increasingly gearing products and offers towards Muslim customers.

“We think it is larger than £200m and also it’s growing because people are spending more each year,” said Shelina Janmohamed, vice-president of Ogilvy Noor and author of the 2016 book “Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World.”

In the United Kingdom, which boasts an estimated Muslim population of 4.1 million, which projections say could triple over the next 30 years, there is still more room for growth.

“It is a growing economy. One of the reasons that we released the report is simply because so many brands are not aware of the opportunity in terms of spending [by Muslim consumers]. There is still a lot of surprise amongst the clients that we talk to and in the marketplace. People don’t know that Ramadan is so huge in the UK,” Janmohamed said.

The “State of the Global Islamic Economy” report says the global Islamic economy is forecast to be worth approximately $4.1 trillion by 2021 and is growing at nearly double the rate of the general worldwide economy.

A number of large supermarkets have begun gearing products and deals towards Muslims. Morrisons sold a Ramadan countdown calendar, similar to an Advent calendar, aimed at children ahead of the start of the holy month. Tesco has a special Ramadan “top offers” range, including a dedicated page on its website offering savings on a number of mostly Asian food products.

But with Ogilvy Noor reporting that 62% of Muslim consumers are disappointed by current engagement from brands and retailers and that 78% of Muslim consumers would like to invite retailers and brands to engage more with Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, it remains a largely untapped market.

Miqdaad Versi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the country’s largest Muslim umbrella body representing more than 500 affiliated mosques, charities and schools, called on UK retailers to pitch more brands directly to Muslims and take advantage of a gap in the market.

“Muslims are consumers like anyone else and spend more during Ramadan. If there are Muslims who are out there who want to find something but can’t, if you are able to cater to those needs you’ll make the money,” he told Sky News. “That economic boost is great for this country and great for all the retailers who benefit from that.”

However, Muslim consumers are not just requesting an increase in the quantity of Ramadan deals but the quality as well.

“What Muslims are also seeking is more sophistication so they say to us that they walk into some of the supermarkets that do have Ramadan deals and they’ll be excited that its acknowledged but then the kind of products that are available don’t match up to their aspirations,” said Janmohamed.

She pointed to a lack of variety in offers on cuisine, saying that while many Ramadan shoppers are looking for a variety of cuisine for iftar (break-fast) and suhoor (pre-dawn meal), where there are Ramadan deals, these focus largely on ethnic foods. “When you go into the supermarket it feels like it’s got a very strongly sub-continental flavour. It’s very traditional,” she added.

Muslims also tend to eat out more during Ramadan, with many Muslim-oriented restaurants offering special iftar and even suhoor deals.

“In the data we found that particularly younger people are actually going out to eat in Ramadan and getting more takeaways. This is part of a real social festive experience of Ramadan,” said Janmohamed. “We started to see restaurants doing iftar menus and some may even be opening all the way up to suhoor time… so young people might go out for iftar and just stay out until suhoor.”

There is increased understanding of gift-giving, particularly around Eid. “This goes across multiple categories so fashion is very popular as you would imagine with people buying new clothes but also things like homeware and tech, toys, personal care cosmetics and fragrance — there is a real range of categories.”

A number of major UK retailers have already announced special Eid gift packages, including MAC cosmetics, the Body Shop and Godiva chocolates. Westfield London, Europe’s largest shopping centre, announced it would have its first Eid festival in June, including live catwalk shows, halal pop-up food stalls and special offers at a range of retailers.

“The Muslim pound is seen as a valuable and largely untapped opportunity in the UK economy,” festival promotion material said.