LIVRY GARGAN, France - The Islamic fasting month of Ramadan is underway, and in France it underscores the growing influence of Muslim shoppers. In the Paris suburb of Livry Gargan supermarkets and manufacturers are scrambling to meet the demand for halal products that meet Muslim dietary laws.
At Cora supermarket in Livry-Gargan, a multi-ethnic, working-class suburb north of Paris, one aisle gets extra attention. It offers halal products, those sanctioned under Muslim dietary laws. From milk, spices and candies, to frozen lasagna and hamburger meat, there is plenty of choice.
Fatima Assani, 39, a mother of two and native of Morocco says she usually makes a special soup for Ramadan. Her family also serves briks, a North African pastry, and oriental cakes. She says she usually finds what she needs at Cora.
Like Assani, many of France's estimated five million Muslims are increasingly choosing halal foods. Officials estimate the country's halal market is growing about 10 to 15 percent a year. Abbas Bendali, head of the Paris-based Solis market research firm, says Ramadan is the peak month for halal sales, generating about $430 million in business.
Bendali says big suppliers and supermarkets are scrambling to meet this Ramadan demand, offering lots of halal products and promotions during Ramadan.
For example, a Ramadan leading halal meat brand, Isla Delice, launched a national TV campaign for the first time. Supermarkets like Cora also have Ramadan halal promotions.
For Ramadan, 30-year-old business executive Mounira Ben Maamar is interested in buying a traditional French delicacy, foie gras. However, there is now a halal version.
Mounira Ben Maamar says a decade ago France's Muslim community had few choices when it came to halal products. Today, she says, manufacturers are waking up to a market worth millions of dollars and they're beginning to develop their brands.
As he shows Cora's display of halal products, supermarket Director Mathias Michenaud says it reflects the diversity of Muslim shoppers.
Michenaud says some of his Muslim clientele are big families that cook traditional foods. But there are also modern couples and single people who want easy-to-prepare foods. Many were born in France and have adopted French cuisine.
Michenaud says even Muslims who are not very religious may choose halal over non-halal products if they have the choice.
Halal foods periodically stir up controversy and suspicion among non-Muslims in France. Earlier this year, far-right politician Marine le Pen criticized Muslim slaughtering practices. She claims French shoppers are unknowingly buying halal meat.
Bendali says that controversy put a break on the halal business, but not for long. Today's debate is about supply.
Muslim shoppers like Ben Maamar say there is still not enough variety and prices for halal products are too high. But with the halal market booming in France, exceeding that for organic products in some regions, analysts say she and other Muslim consumers will likely get what they want sooner, rather than later.