Growing up, Lindsay Contractor’s sweet tooth was finely tuned to the nuances of fluffy marshmallows and chewy gummies. But when she began practicing Islam in 2011, those sugary treats took a sour turn.
“I grew up in a world full of lots of gummies and marshmallows, and I never thought twice about eating them, I didn’t even realize that there was pork in them,” explains Contractor. “But as soon as I reverted to Islam, I obviously stopped eating pork-based products and I realized that they didn’t have any gummy options here.”
Gummy candy and other processed confections generally rely on gelatin for their unique consistency, a product often made using pork byproducts, which means they can’t be halal, the term most often used to describe products meeting Islamic dietary requirements, which includes eating meat slaughtered by hand and abstaining from pork.
- Read more: The halal market
Taking to social media, Contractor soon learned halal gummies and halal candy in general isn’t widely available in Canada, if it’s available at all, and the few halal products the mother and entrepreneur did find on store shelves were not appealing.
“There were marshmallows available, but they were hard and small, almost crunchy,” says Contractor, who quickly decided to make her own.
But here too she was hampered by a lack of halal ingredients.
“I was literally running all over the city trying to find halal beef gelatin,” she says, noting the few large stores that carry it sold out immediately. What Contractor eventually found was imported halal beef gelatin in smaller Muslim-run, corner stores.
“It was definitely a hot product and it would be great to see a Canadian-made product on the shelves, but it just isn’t there,” she says, adding that scarcity of halal gelatin could be the major roadblock for those interested in pursuing halal candy production.
Eventually, Contractor did find enough beef gelatin to perfect her marshmallow recipe and she decided to sell the overage out of her home near Toronto in 2013. In a snap decision, she also ordered some halal gummy candy manufactured in Turkey and put that up for sale as well.
The response was overwhelming.
“People just kept coming and coming to my house,” Contractor says. “I realized that gummies were the star of the show, people wanted them. I was just advertising on Facebook and through word of mouth at that time and we were still overwhelmed.”
It was the largest hole in the halal market Contractor had discovered yet and she was not going to let it go unfilled. Within months, she and her husband Imtiaz secured a warehouse and became the first large-scale importers and distributors of halal gummies in Canada. Blossom & Bean: Halal Confectionaries was born.
For halal consumers like Shireen Ahmed, the arrival of halal gummies meant the end of a years’ long craving.
“I dropped my children off at school, all four of them, I went to the store when it opened, I bought two bags and I ate a whole one in the car by myself,” says the Toronto-based sports writer, who grew up in Halifax when halal dietary requirements were less known and less accommodated. She had her first halal gummy candy when attending university and still remembers being unable to eat cake at a friend’s birthday as a kid because it was iced with marshmallows.
“It excluded you automatically, when as a child you really want to blend in, you want to eat the same things, and diversity in Halifax in the ’80s, I’m sorry to say, wasn’t as celebrated,” Ahmed says. “It’s seems like something small, it’s just candy, but I’ve been reflecting on how much joy we get from food, how much comfort we get from it, it’s fun to have these treats and participate in sort of the silliness of having these squishy gummy candies.”
But demand for halal candy in Canada is far from being anecdotal. A survey by Nourish Food Marketing found that fewer than 28 per cent of halal consumers believe candy and sweets are halal by default, meaning more than 72 per cent of halal consumers are looking for candy labelled halal.
With more than a million Canadian Muslims, Salima Jivraj, Nourish’s managing director of halal says there are hundreds of thousands of potential customers waiting for products like halal gummies to become available.
“Some of it is novelty, but for people who haven’t been able to eat things like marshmallows, it is a big deal,” says the agency’s Jivraj. “This is one of those categories that has a lot of potential.”
Duane Ellard at Canada Beef is less sure of the potential halal beef gelatin has, at least in terms of market size, but says the organization will help connect anyone who is looking for the product with the right supplier.
“Chances are if we don’t already know, we can find out where you need to go for whatever you are looking for,” says Ellard, but he adds that getting economic returns from niche markets can be challenging for processors.
Still, Contractor hopes to see the day when she can source both gelatin and gummy candies from Canadian food processors. “Absolutely,” Contractor says, “it would be great to see Canadian products be available.”