Thailand's firm hold on the burgeoning halal market was on display at the recent Phuket Andaman Halal for Tourism 2013 (PAHT 2013), featuring representatives of 19 halal organisations from around the world and over 100 exhibitors.
The kingdom, where Buddhism is the dominant religion, is the world's fifth-largest halal producer, with an estimated 5.6% share of a global market that according to the latest estimates from the Halal Standard Institute of Thailand, could exceed $1trillion annually.
The country is also the leading ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) producer, and its principal export markets include Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Exports are expected to grow annually by 10% through 2014, according to the institute.
Domestic sales are also on the rise, as over 3,000 Thai companies are approved to use official halal accreditation labels.
Mahanee Abdulloh was among the Malaysian contingent at the two-day, fifth annual PAHT, held May 31st-June 1st, attending for the first time to gain exposure for its halal food.
Mahanee was selling seven different flavours of dadih, a Malay pudding manufactured under strict halal guidelines at a factory in Sungai Petani, Kedah.
"It's selling pretty well here. Sales are always very strong back in Malaysia," she said.
Daree Sa-ah of Bangtao Beach on Phuket's west coast stocked up on supplies of dadih.
"I come here every year because the selection is so wide, the prices are reasonable and you can rest assured that all of the products are completely halal," he said.
Abideen Bianoh came from Bangkok to sell AISA Muslim pizza. He said the company currently operates only in Bangkok, but wants to introduce its pizza to the South. The cooking method is different from traditional baked pizzas: instead, a pressure cooker is used to steam heat the pies.
First-time exhibitor GF Foods sold halal chicken sausage, at Bt. 100 ($3) for a package of three.
"We currently have three outlets in the south of Thailand: one here in Phuket, one in Surat Thani and one in Hat Yai," said Danaporn Roorak, who runs the firm's operations in Songkhla. "Next year we plan to have an even bigger exhibit." Danaporn plans to set up Deep South shops in the Muslim-majority provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.
Cashewy Juice, produced in Phuket's Thalang, proved popular with the crowd.
"We have taken part in every expo since they started five years ago," said company representative Kanchanok Sakorn. "Muslim people have always shown a great deal of interest in this drink."
The drink is made from the sweet fruit of the plant that produces cashew nuts. The fruit used to be thrown away until the Sri Supphaluck Orchid Company realised it could be used to produce the drink.
There were also booths displaying a variety of other goods and services catering directly to the needs of devout Muslims. Staff from the Islamic Bank of Thailand (iBank) distributed pamphlets explaining how students could apply for loans or start a special savings account to help them save enough money to take the Hajj pilgrimage later in life.
A number of halal tourism-related businesses were also on hand to promote Muslim-friendly travelling throughout Thailand.
Nadeeya "Noo" Mahagat offered steep discounts on rooms at the Bangtao Beach Chalet on Phuket's west coast in Thalang District. During the expo, bookings of standard rooms at the boutique resort were deeply discounted.
"We have everything Muslim guests could ask for, including complete halal accommodations, a halal restaurant called Dirham and even a halal spa," she said.
There was also a wide range of organic, home-made halal products on sale at discount prices, as well as clothing and household accessories.
"We have set up this hut in a way to match the organic, natural style of the many products our co-operative produces from out homes on Koh Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay," said co-op representative Suwan Mangkala.
Profits from the sales are used to fund a local school, he said.