KUALA LUMPUR: The halal industry is gaining traction globally, with more people across the globe growing an appetite for halal-certified food and beverages. 

Consumers, therefore, no longer view halal recognition as a religious concept but as a quality standard of the products they consume. 

Lotus's Malaysia president Kenneth Chuah is upbeat about this trend for two reasons.

Firstly, the growing demand for halal products allows his company to champion the concept.

Secondly, Chuah aims to uplift the country's small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

"Currently, Lotus's has around 800 SME products in stores and supplies good quality and affordable products to about 1,000 mom-and-pop businesses, predominantly on the west coast. And we intend to rope in more of such partners. 

"We work together with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, and Agriculture and Food Industries Ministries and the Halal Development Corporation (HDC) to scout for potential SMEs that we can partner with.

"SMEs lack the distribution strength that larger companies possess. So, Lotus's assists them through our business-to-business programmes by marketing the products in our retail stores. 

"We also organise workshops for suppliers to impart knowledge on marketing strategies and product packaging, among others, to upgrade and expand their SMEs. 

"From our observation, most SMEs are single-product manufacturers, and this could stunt them from taking their enterprises to greater heights. 

"So, Lotus's works with them and assists them to diversify the products and also guide them on competitive pricing strategies to give them a better edge in the market.

"Lotus's also provides free dashboards and portals for SMEs to evaluate their performance. At present, we are the only retailer in the country to offer such services," he told the New Straits Times. 

Another aspect that Lotus's focuses on is guiding SMEs to enhance their online presence, besides strengthening their brick-and-mortar operations. 

"Finding the right technology solution to scale is a major challenge for any business enterprise. 

"While some SMEs may take a trial-and-error approach, investing in the wrong software will affect a company's ability to compete. This is where we step in to help our SME partners make the right decisions,"  he said. 

The long-term goal of uplifting SMEs, Chuah said, is to benefit the consumers. 

To that end, Lotus's launched the Imbas Balik Harga 2019 campaign for customers to purchase items from Lotus's stores nationwide at pre-pandemic prices. 

The first phase of the campaign was held in conjunction with Hari Raya Aidilfitri between April 15 and May 25 this year. 

The campaign, Chuah said, garnered an encouraging response from consumers and many SMEs are also intending to join the second phase of the campaign.

With the halal industry making waves globally, it has become vital for Malaysia to connect the country's halal ecosystem with the halal ecosystems of other countries. 

Halal Development Corporation (HDC) chief executive officer Hairol Ariffein Sahari said the agency is now focusing to promote the halal agenda at the government-to-government level. 

"At present, it is no longer about who produces more, who exports more or who has a more stringent certification process in the halal industry. It is about enhancing connectivity across the global supply chain. 

"Countries like Cambodia, Japan, Mongolia and even those in Central Asia are eager to tap our expertise to develop their halal ecosystem. 

"As such, we can contribute our expertise to help these countries establish halal industrial parks and later twin their parks with ours as well. 

"This way, we will be able to connect critical points across the global halal supply chain to strengthen our halal industry. 

"Globally, the halal industry's market size is estimated to be US$30.6 trillion (RM132 trillion), but by contrast, the supply to the global halal market is only 20 per cent currently. 

"So, it is necessary to invite more players into the market, and more importantly, build a robust network to connect the supply chain," he said. 

Hairol said, one of the major factors contributing to the low participation in the global halal market is that most halal-certified businesses were outside the ecosystem. 

"The halal industry, like any other industry, is demand-driven. As such, some of the common challenges that impede our SMEs from entering the global market are their small-scale production capability and capacity as well as limited market access. 

"Therefore, at HDC, we facilitate the onboarding process to boost our halal exports and usher more investments for our halal industrial parks, which in turn, would generate more employment opportunities. 

"In fact, we take an inclusive approach by including industry players who are still awaiting for their halal certification into the supply chain. 

"Previously, we have given too much focus on ensuring halal compliance, and fell short of facilitating the growth of our halal-certified SMEs. This is where our current priority lies," he said.