February 16, 2020 / 12:10 PM / 2 months ago

With biryani and rice balls, Malaysia aims for halal Olympic gold

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A small factory in Malaysia’s capital is preparing thousands of ready-to-eat halal meals, from fried rice to chicken biryani, to be shipped off to Japan for 2020’s biggest sporting event.

Workers arrange food packages at Mychef halal food factory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Food firms from Muslim-majority Malaysia, are expected to be big winners from a rush of Muslim travelers to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympic Games, from late July to September.

“It’s a huge platform and opportunity for us,” said Ahmad Husaini Hassan, boss of the MyChef company making the meals in Kuala Lumpur.

“Our intention is not to go in and out. We’ve to go in and stay for the long term.”

Malaysia wants to use the Games as a springboard to boost halal exports, which include food and cosmetics, by about a fifth to $12 billion this year. It exported halal goods worth $604 million to Japan in 2018, 90% of it food and food ingredients.

Malaysia is the only country to have reached a halal cooperation deal with Tokyo for the Games.

MyChef aims to triple its revenue to 4.5 million ringgit ($1 million) this year. It is in talks with Japanese retailer Aeon to jointly develop a line of ready-to-eat halal meals and snacks, Ahmad Husaini said.

Malaysia’s halal trade has lagged behind non-Muslim nations such as the United States, China and Brazil. The value of the global halal market is projected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2023, nearly double 2017 levels, according to Dublin-based data firm Research and Markets.

MALAYSIA STREET

Malaysia’s government has set an ambitious target of selling as much as $300 million worth of halal food and products to Muslims and non-Muslims around the Games.

It has secured space on the sidelines to host a “Malaysia Street 2020” promotion, which will offer opportunities to sell food and for firms to meet Japanese buyers and distributors.

“We have a lot to learn from Malaysian authorities and in return, Malaysian companies have more chances to expand their business,” said Hideto Nakajima, economic counselor at the Japanese embassy in Malaysia.

The number of tourists to Japan from Southeast Asia, the region with the world’s biggest Muslim population, has jumped in recent years thanks to relaxed visa rules.

As Japan looks to draw a record 40 million tourists this year, Malaysia estimates 8 million of them will be Muslim.

For HQC Commerce, among four firms chosen to lead Malaysia’s halal push in Japan, the Olympics is a “stepping stone” for bigger things.

“We know that during the Olympics the demand will be highest, so this is the time for us to promote Malaysian products,” said CEO Khairul Shahril Hamzah.

Additional reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu in Tokyo; Editing by Robert Birsel

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