We interview prominent entrepreneurs from across the global Islamic/halal economy ecosystem to gauge their journey and learn how this space influenced them personally, professionally and spiritually
Talk us through your work related to the Islamic/halal economy space.
Durrani: I am a serial food entrepreneur, and the CEO and founder of American Halal Co, Inc, which wholly owns Saffron Road - a natural and organic food brand that produces ethically sourced halal food, inspired by flavors from around the world.
We are also the largest certified halal brand nationally in the US, as well as the leading Better For You (BFY) animal protein meals brand nationally. Our mantra is Journey to Better: better for the environment, better for farmers, better for livestock and better tasting.
All Saffron Road products are halal-certified by IFANCA (Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America) and are available in more than 25,000 retail locations across the US.
We paved our way during an Islamophobic era in the country, to set the standard for halal food and prove to major retailers that not only was it a lucrative proposition but that serving the needs of multitudes of Muslims was also beneficial.
Please share your story of how you entered into this space and why.
Durrani: I have been a venture capitalist (VC) and food entrepreneur for over 30 years now, this being my fourth food company. Almost 14 years ago, I saw a disenfranchised American Muslim community in great need; there were no national halal brands in the US as of 2009.
Yet, the facts were compelling - there were between 8-9 million Muslims spread across the US and Canada; educated (60% above that of average Americans), with 30% higher income, and 70% below the age of 40. Also, no halal products in the US were natural or clean label (tayeeb). I wanted to leverage my experience and elevate the concept of halal food in the country.
How has the Islamic economy impacted you spiritually?
Durrani: A distinct blessing of my journey at Saffron Road has been my access to and active engagement with, both Islamic scholars and leaders of the Abrahamic faiths, deepening my God-consciousness. I served as a board member of Zaytuna College (benefitting from inspiration gleaned from Shaykh Hamza, Imam Zaid), and also had the honor of meeting the Pope at the Vatican as well as Rabbi Hillel Levine. These have emboldened my pluralistic spiritual practice.
How has the Islamic economy impacted you personally and in your family life?
Durrani: I glean inspiration and sheer joy out of knowing what I do each day impacts many people - and not just Muslims - in a positive way. From their ability to have the choice of clean BFY halal food, to having a brand that stands up for their ethics and Islamic values.
I gain inspiration from the raft of letters and posts we receive from consumers, complementing Saffron Road and and its role in their lives and livelihoods. Moreover, my dedication to our sustainable values has also deepened.
In addition to economic benefits, my extended family and friends now look up to me for religious or spiritual guidance - an honor I did not see coming a few years earlier.
How has the Islamic economy impacted you professionally?
Durrani: I would not hold the voice and influence that I do across media, if it weren't for leading a halal brand. This gives me the privilege of being a change agent at a national level, to be able to educate Americans of the beauty of our faith; to apprise them of ethical consumerism, and of halal, which isn't always inevitably related to food. Additionally, to enlighten how we conduct ourselves and treat employees, vendors, partners, family, through justice, compassion and grace.
In tandem, I have enjoyed partnering and sharing business practices with Crescent Foods, speaking at ISNA conferences, and mentoring Muslim entrepreneurs. I was also deeply honored by making it to the Islamica 500 list.
How have you instilled Islamic values across your workplace?
Durrani: Our team culture is inspiring, due to the ethical codes and mutual respect steeped in Islamic traditions that I attempt to instill among the team and management.
All of our team members are very passionate about our BFY brand attributes, our clean label ingredients, and especially our socially responsible values - we were the first food brand to get Certified Humane for our poultry products, the first non-GMO Verified entrée in the world, and the first antibiotic free entrée in whole foods.
In fact, we recently became the first halal food brand to achieve B Corp status, having met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Demographically, we are a diverse squad, with the team comprising mostly non-Muslim employees, all of whom have enormous respect for our faith. Many [non-Muslims] enjoy Ramadan and engage with us during the holy month, providing inspiring information about the commonality of our faiths.
What are your top tips to entrepreneurs looking to enter the Islamic economy space?
Durrani: My primary tip would be to avoid a straitened, narrow focus on just the Muslim consumer. Saffron Road gained acceptance as a mainstream brand, with over 85% of its consumer base comprising non-Muslims, but harbouring a strong affinity to our halal values.
It is imperative for entrepreneurs to eye the broader picture and appeal to a wider audience. We are living in a complex era, where people from around the world are leaning towards companies with values, authenticity, and clean labels.
Both in the US and across the MENA region (unlike Europe, Japan and China), the fastest growing and strongest buying power rests among Millennials and Gen Z, who deeply value halal centric traits.
There is a huge upside in the Islamic economy. It is essential we don’t dogmatically pontificate our Islamic values, rather present them as inclusive.