Whole Foods Celebrates, Monetizes Ramadan

Thanks to a new social media-centered marketing campaign, Whole Foods will become the first national retail chain to celebrate Ramadan.

Whole Foods has become the first prominent supermarket chain to run a Ramadan marketing campaign—and they're hoping Muslim customers will return the favor as they break fast. Even though Muslims traditionally forego meals during the day, lavish evening Ramadan meals could mean big bucks for the natural foods giant ... as well as brand loyalty from a demographic not traditionally courted by megastore advertising.

Whole Foods is teaming up with Halal frozen entree brand Saffron Road (who sell a variety of Indian-, Thai-, and Moroccan-flavored dinners) to host several promoted blog items on Whole Foods' website along with sponsored giveaways of Saffron Road food and supermarket gift certificates. Additional content for the campaign is being added by Yvonne Maffei of the My Halal Kitchen blog. While it is a relatively small promotion, it also marks a new benchmark for the Muslim-American community: the first coordinated Ramadan promotion by a national supermarket chain.

No in-store promotions for the campaign are planned, instead, in an apparent attempt to test the waters, the promotion will start online. The "campaign focuses on reaching Muslim consumers online where they are already having conversations about halal foods, grocery shopping, and preparing for Ramadan," Saffron Road spokesperson Lisa Mabe tells Fast Company. Saffron Road maintains a heavy social media presence and an ongoing charitable relationship with Whole Foods' Whole Planet foundation, and hopes the promotion will further strengthen their brand awareness.

There are approximately 1.8 million Muslims living in the United States. Of these, Arab Muslims are a distinct minority; the bulk of the population consists of African-American converts to Islam and South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan) Muslims. And 45% of Muslim immigrants report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher—placing them squarely in Whole Foods' demographic.

Whole Foods' marketing campaign might earn them customer loyalty, but it is taking place in a market that sometimes exhibits anti-Muslim sentiment. Extensive Ramadan advertising campaigns have existed in Europe for years, but the Ground Zero Mosque controversy remains a sore point in many parts of the United States and large chains have been caught in the crossfire between Muslim- and non-Muslim consumers in the past. A 2009 Best Buy Thanksgiving circular acknowledging the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (which occurred in the vicinity of Thanksgiving) drew the ire of right-wing bloggers, newspapers, and television networks

With Whole Foods' self-consciously granola self-presentation and liberal-, cosmopolitan-skewing customer base, they are the ideal chain to attempt a marketing project aimed squarely at Muslim-American consumers.

So, knowing that Muslims usually fast on Ramadan and wanting to know more about why a supermarket chain would advertise during a fast, we reached out to the expert—Aman Ali of the must-read mosque-hopping project 30 Mosques in 30 Days:

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month of purification, where Muslims fast (abstaining from food, drink, etc.) from sunrise to sunset. As far as the foods that are generally served at the meal, the cuisines are usually reflected by the cultures taking part in the meal. On our trips we've eaten everything from Indian food, to Arab food, to Pakistani food to good ol' fashioned $5 foot-long Subway sandwiches. The only real common item  is breaking the fast with a date, something that was a tradition of Prophet Muhammad.

Believe it or not, a lot of the major supermarket chains are starting to carry halal foods. Kroger carries Midamar meats, a major halal food supplier based in Iowa. And I believe Wal-Mart and Whole Foods carry halal frozen dishes from a company called Saffron Road. It comes in super handy for Muslim communities that dont have a local halal butcher but do have these grocery stores.

A lot of my friends in college went to schools in the middle of nowhere and it was basically halal chicken nuggets became their breakfast, lunch and dinner. In places with large Muslim populations, like Dearborn, Michigan, there are Wal-Marts and Krogers that actually carry halal butchered food there.

Ramadan 2011 begins on August 1.

[Image: Flickr user Laszlophoto]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter.

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  • e.maerchen

    I am aghast at how Whole Foods would even consider carrying Halal products. Whole Foods claims to be socially conscious and humane in their treatment of animals, but they carry products that are needlessly cruel to animals? For everyone that does not know, halal is an incredibly cruel method of slaughtering animals in which the animal is not stunned before it is put to death. Instead, the animal feels the maximum amount of pain in dying because it is still conscious while it’s throat is cut. The animals are gasping for breath before they die! They feel the blood running down their throats. Essentially they bleed to death. What kind of company promotes such cruelty? The one the claims to be socially conscious- Whole Foods!

  • e.maerchen

    People should not support Halal foods and it is not because of the religious issue. Halal is a particularly cruel form of slaughter to animals because it does not stun the animals before slaughter. Instead, it ensures that the animal feel the maximum amount of pain before it dies by letting it bleed to death while it is still conscious. The animal can still feel pain while it is being killed rather than the traditional way of killing the animal while the animal is temporarily stunned. I am aghast that a company that claims to be socially conscious like Whole Foods would even consider carrying this inhumane type of meat.

  • naila haroon

    I commend Whole Foods for
    standing tall in the face of hatred and embracing the true American
    patriotic ideals of diversity, inclusion, and justice.We definitly appreciate what whole Foods is  doing for the Muslim Community. We will Inshallah double our buying from whole foods  and will encourage  all our community to do the same.

  • Bill1776

    The Prophet [Mohammed],
    the master of the merciful has ordered to cut off the heads of some of the
    prisoners of Badr in patience. He is our example and a good role model."

    al-Zarqawi, just before he
    cut off the head of Nicholas Berg

    “When the apostle [Mohammed] rejoined his family he
    handed his sword to his daughter Fatima, saying, ‘Wash the blood from this,
    daughter, for by God it has served me well today.’” (ibn Ishaq, 389)

    You do recall Muhammad's directives [Surah 9:5,73] to
    "break the cross" and "kill the infidel"?

    Qurans have different verse divisions, depending on the translation. Your Quran
    may have these verses with slightly different numbers.) 

    Chapter 5: 17 – 19; States
    Christians are infidels for believing Christ is the Son of God. 

    Chapter 5: 33; Cut off
    hands and feet, crucify, and banish those who stand against Islam.

    5: 51; Muslims forbidden to take Christians and Jews for friends.

    5: 72-75; Christians are infidels; for believing in Deity of Christ; Passage denies
    Holy Trinity.

    8: 12-15; Decapitate infidels; i.e., those who stand against Mohammad.

    9: 5, 6; Slay Idolaters 

    33: 26, 27; Passage justifies the beheading of hundreds of Jewish men,
    enslavement of their wives and children, and the spoiling of their property.

    33: 61-62; God wants the murder of those who stand against Islam.

    47: 1-4; Kill those who do not believe in Mohammad.






  • ViciousLiberal

    Welcome to America, Bill! You might not like it...but it isn't just *your* country.

    "Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read 'a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.' The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination." - Thomas Jefferson

  • ViciousLiberal

    "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims),—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Muslim) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." - The Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams

  • noreen khan

    Greatly appreciated,i have to make two somtime three stops to finish my grocery list,looking forward to one stop shop.

  • Emma Apple

    Definitely want to extend a huge thank you to Whole Foods for breaking into this much needed market and extending the same incentives and offers to Muslims that have long been extended to other faiths. I hope the backlash from conspiracy theorists, extreme right and people who think white people are native americans, does not discourage Whole Foods from continuing to reach out to the Muslim market. Again, Thank You! And to Muslims, let's say thank you with our wallets by shopping at Whole Foods as much as possible!

  • Sana Zamir

    It's great to see that Whole Foods is savvy enough to recognize the big spending power of Muslims in this country.  Furthermore,if halal is about all natural, sustainably farmed, 100% Veggie Fed, Gluten Free, and Certified Humane products from American farms, then even non-halal eaters like me are going to shop even more enthusiastically at Whole Foods!


    Great job WHOLEFOODS we always shop twice at WHOLFOODS its in our walking distance now we will double the amount we spent due to Halal and Organic food

  • Munir

    Thank you Whole Foods!! This gesture and initiative goes a long way. You guys just got a new loyal customer. Not only during ramadan but for the many months and years to come. 

  • Hussain Obama

    So I guess you'll be ELIMINATING ALL YOUR PORK products too, right?  Because we wouldn't want to OFFEND MUSLIMS, now, would we?

  • Sabiha Ansari

    WOW!! 100% Natural and halal certified antibiotic chicken products from all American family owned farms. Thank you Whole Foods for being true blue American patriots and supporting halal companies like Saffron Road that employ only american workers. God Bless America!!

  • Ibrahim

    I have been shopping at Whole Foods for a LONG time and I am super super happy that 100% Natural and halal certified antibiotic chicken products from all American family owned farms are available. Forreal. As a black American child of converts It's great to see that Whole Foods is savvy enough to recognize the big spending power of Muslims in this country. 

  • nazanin

    Im delighted that Whole Food is promoting the month of Ramadan, they have quality food and great spirit.

  • annakat

    Saffron is the best and even us non-halal eaters think it's scrumptious.  I'm stoked Whole Foods will carry some more decent grub for all the rest of us who seem incapable of cooking their own meals. 

  • syed javed qamer

    Thank you whole food.  We need a american store that sells Halal food.  

    Thank you

  • Isobel Kramen

    In Philadelphia last week I noticed that two of our recent ethnicities, Latino and Muslim, still live in clusters and sell goods and services native to their culture.  That is why I love Vancouver and Hawai'i.  Just a generation ago there were Jewish Delicatessens, Italian restaurants galore.  Do you know of any Italians who go to The Olive Garden?  Get your mother's recipes, kids, so that you can try to duplicate the foods you love.

  • Emma Richardson

    I think this campaign is less about dogma than it is about simple, straight-up marketing. Whole Foods is certainly one of the leaders in innovative commerce, and utilizing the social media bandwagon to the best possible outcome is merely continued evidence of its corporate dominance. Sure, Muslims and Ramadan happen to be the particular target here, but with such a wide-spread, growing Islamic population in the United States, picking them as a demographic is just good business, not a political move.

  • salma

    I only shop at Whole Foods and can confirm that they do have booklets around Jewish Holidays as well as foods for both Jewish and Christian holidays. It is about time someone recognized this Muslim holiday. Especially since a lot of their customers are of the demographics described in the article. If you don't like it then don't shop there, but this country should cater to everyone and people shouldn't confuse terrorist minorities with the peaceful majority.