Success with deep-frozen halal food
In 2013 Mekkafood will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary. To mark the occasion there will be a new cooling and heating station powered by biogas. The company’s energy requirements are enormous because of the deep-frying and shock-freezing. Furthermore, to make sure the company is fit for the future, two additional halls will be built at the company’s base in Nettetal-Kaldenkirchen. The founder and present proprietor of Mekkafood is Wouter P. van Euwijk, a self-made man from Venlo. The 68-year-old has been in the food trade for 50 years – and is bursting with energy: “I don’t want to stop,” he says. He began on the weekly market in Venlo at the age of 18, where he sold bananas at the top of his voice with a top hat on his head. Later he ran a big supermarket, “Ludwig From Venlo” in the town. When he sold it, van Euwijk had money – and even more time. That’s when he started his biggest project: producing halal meat and bakery goods i.e. products that are manufactured according to the rules of the Koran, freezing them while fresh and delivering them to stores deep-frozen. That was completely new and unique. The Dutchman came up with the idea after more and more Muslim customers in his supermarket asked whether the food was halal.
But what does halal mean? In the same way the Jews have rules for kosher foods, the Koran demands that food be halal. Halal simply means “permissible” in Arabic. Pork, blood and alcohol are not permitted. In addition, Muslims may only meat from animals that were not already dead. Because blood is prohibited the animals have to fully bleed dry. The traditional slaughtering of animals for food by one stroke of a very sharp knife across the animal’s throat is not allowed in Germany; the animals are supposed to be anesthetized first. Mekkafood only procures its meat from abattoirs that slaughter the animals according to halal. At the production site in Kaldenkirchen you will find several certificates hanging on the walls issued by inspection bodies confirming this practice for the various countries. The chicken meat comes from the Netherlands and Belgium, the beef from Germany and the lamb from France. Mekkafood attaches great importance to processing the meat within 24 hours after the slaughtering and does not use any meat that is three or four days old. Furthermore, since Mekkafood only processes halal meat, it doesn’t come into contact with pork anywhere.
When van Eeuwijk launched Mekkafood 20 years ago, he began by knocking on the doors of lots of “Turkish shops” and the little “Arab corner stores”, which had taken over many of the previous traditional corner shops. Yet many of these small markets didn’t have freezers. So Mekkafood put a freezer in these stores – thereby gaining loyal customers. 9,000 freezers were distributed this way overall. At the beginning there were language problems. Turks don’t understand Arabic and vice versa. Hence, Mekkafood sent native speakers to the traders to convince them of the products.
Many German animal rights activists have problems with the traditional slaughtering of animals by slitting their throats. Van Eeuwijk doesn’t think the other method, in which the chickens are anesthetized and hung up before their heads are cut off with a machine, is any more “humane”. Cutting the throat of each chicken individually by hand while giving thanks to Allah is perhaps old-fashioned, but perhaps even better for the animal. Every week various halal inspectors come to make sure on behalf of their customers that the production meets the requirements. “The doors to Mekkafood are open. Everyone can see how we produce here.”
Mekkafood began in Venlo. There is still another company there today that focuses just on bakery products. Mekkafood then crossed the border to prepare meat and built an ultra-modern production site in the open countryside. It wasn’t so easy to prepare meat in Venlo because of nearby residential areas. But the two company operations are just a few kilometers away from each other, and Wouter van Eeuwijk travels back and forth every day. He was unable to find a suitable plot of land in Venlo in the beginning, since most of the free space had been allocated to project developers. But Van Eeuwijk wanted to create his own project with his own money, and not just rent a ready-made hall. And in Nettetal-Kaldenkirchen he found a 30,000 square meter plot of land in an industrial area right on the A 61 that was ideal for his purposes.
Today 150 employees work for Mekkafood, around 90 of them in Kaldenkirchen. 300 to 350 tons of meat are processed there during the week and supplied as 30 various deep-frozen products, from Adana Kebab to beef burgers to Turkish pizzas. Today it is no longer just the small stores that buy from Mekkafood; large supermarket chains like REWE, Edeka and Real are also customers. 1,000 stores are supplied daily, not just all across Germany via various regional depots, but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. But it’s not just Muslims that eat halal, around a third of his products are bought from non-Muslims, van Eeuwijk estimates. And he is very sure of his products. The product range offers everyday food products with meat at a price that you can afford to eat every day. You wouldn’t be able to get the same products from the butcher for the same money, he is sure. Eating habits are changing, and that has to be catered to. In Germany the Döner kebab has replaced the fried sausage as the most popular snack. Mekkafood also offers snacks for in the home. Van Eeuwijk is also proud of a new development of his own: the bakery “invented” bread rolls suitable for the microwave that don’t go hard or stodgy.
Mekkafood GmbH & Co. KG
Tel. 02157 896100
Fax 02157 896102
As at: January 2013