Over the years, the halal market has seen considerable growth accelerated by the growing demand for halal products and services from more than 1.6 billion of Muslims around the globe. Aside from driven by the growing Muslim population, the development of the halal industry is also fuelled by the increasing awareness in consuming halal product, economic growth and increase in disposable income among Muslim population (Farouk, 2013; Abdul, Ismail, Hashim, & Johari, 2009a). Currently, the value of the global halal market is estimated at USD2.3 trillion (RM8.9 trillion) annually with halal food market alone estimated to be worth USD693 billion (RM2.68 billion). Meanwhile, the demand for halal food in Malaysia is estimated at RM1.7 billion, making it one of the highest potential sectors to be explored (The Star Online, 2016).
Muslim consumers, particularly who live in a multiracial country like Malaysia are blessed with gastronomic paradise and abundance of imported and locally made packaged food products to choose from. However, religion still plays the most important part in food decision making (Bonne, Vermeir, Bergeaud-Blackler, & Verbeke, 2007; Dindyal, 2003), the halal logo is one of the cues for Muslim in making a product choice. In this country, the halal authority which is the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) will award halal certification to companies and products that are following the halal standard and are already inspected in terms of the preparation, slaughtering, cleaning, processing, handling, storing, transportation and management practices (Mohamad & Backhouse, 2014). The product will then bear a halal logo of the authority to signify that the product had been recognized as halal.
However, for Muslim consumer nowadays, being certified as halal is not enough. In tandem with the growth of the halal sector and the increase of the quality of living in Muslim population, come together the changes in their preferences and standard in halal food selection. Other than that, the broad selection of halal-certified products also makes them becoming more selective and will only choose a product that matches their preferences and standard. The changes in consumer lifestyles, attitude, taste and sociocultural variables like education and income level resulted in a shift in their preferences towards food (Abdul Latiff, Rezai, Mohamed, & Ayob, 2015; Mohayidin & Kamarulzaman, 2014). Muslim consumer is also becoming more techno-savvy and has access to unlimited information (Said, Hassan, & Musa, 2011), hence becoming smarter, knowledgeable and cautious in their purchase choice and decision. These changes altogether increase the demand in higher quality, healthy, safe, natural, convenience, and even environmentally friendly product that at the same time conforming to shariah law (Abdul Latiff, Rezai, Mohamed, & Ayob, 2015; Baharuddin, Kassim, Nordin, & Buyong, 2015).
Therefore, in order to be dominant and able to compete with multinational brands and imported products in the halal marketplace, domestic halal food producers can no longer depend on the tagline of ‘shariah-compliant product’. Innovative companies that produced products that are halal and yet superior in many ways possess higher chances of leading the marketplace. As the majority of food producers in Malaysia comprise small and medium enterprises (SME), there is an increasing effort from the government and its agencies to improve SMEs halal products and this made it imperative to understand the component in need of progress based on consumer demand and need. Hence, the aim of this study is to answer the question by getting consumer view on SMEs halal food products. Confectionery products produced by halal-certified SMEs were chosen to be the focus of this study considering the high competition faced by this category from the multinational and imported brands (Euromonitor, 2013). Confectionery products were also chosen as it is more subjected to contain high-risk halal ingredients such as the presence of gelatine as gelling and thickening agent (Demirhan, Ulca & Senyuva, 2012) and other food additives such as emulsifier and colouring. Some issues have also been reported in regard to contamination by porcine DNA in halal confectionery products category (Ghazali, 2014) and also the never-ending rumours spreading in social media network concerning the use of non-halal ingredients in halal confectionery products. Hence, getting consumer responses in this particular sector will be a great contribution to the industry and literature.
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