French fast food goes halal

A Quick fast food restaurant in Europe. The chain is experimenting with offering all-halal stores.

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Kai Ryssdal: The political news out of France is strikes, strikes and more strikes, as we talked about earlier. The government really wants 'em over with. Today it pushed up a vote on the retirement age to this week from next. The hope is that the thing being a done deal convince protesters to go home.

There's another story over there that's causing quite a stir as well. The number two hamburger chain in France -- it's called Quick -- says some of its outlets have become halal. That is, they're only putting things on the menu that practising Muslims are allowed to eat. The company says it'll increase sales in parts of the country that have big Muslim populations.

In parts of the country that don't have big Muslim populations, though? Not popular at all.

John Laurenson reports from Paris.


John Laurenson: Customers line up for lunch at a Quick restaurant near Paris. Now at 22 of the chain's 362 French outlets, the beef and chicken they buy is certified halal, with meat from animals slaughtered according to Islamic ritual. Customer Salim Batri says it's great.

Salim Batri: Before, when I came here with friends, I had to wait for them before I could eat or I'd eat something else; the fish for example. Now, even if I don't choose the meat, I feel better than before. It's nice to know that people are thinking of us. I'm touched by the gesture. Enormously touched.

Non-Muslims, though, like Francois Moreau and Didier Schmitt are divided.

Francois Moreau: It doesn't change anything for me. It's the same taste!

Didier Schmitt: I don't think it's a good idea. I don't like the fact you try to make something for one community or another. France is a republic, you know, and I think things must be the same for everybody!

But, Quick says, the commercial argument is compelling. At some of its outlets, it matters to customers that the precepts of Islam are followed.

Veronique Mejatti-Alami is manager of the Quick restaurant in the Parisian suburb of Garges-les-Gonesses. She explains how the company decides when it's time to switch: for instance, when hamburger sales are below par.

Veronique Mejatti-Alami: When there's a high proportion of sales of fish-based products above the national average and sales of bacon-based products below the national average.

Another indicator is when sales at a particular branch drop significantly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Quick outlets that meet these criteria and where they've experimented with going halal, the company says sales have almost doubled.

But following the market in this way worries some French leaders. In Britain, people got upset when McDonald's tried a similar experiment. Some animal rights advocates objected because animals used for halal meat aren't stunned before they are killed.

This isn't such a concern for the French. As parliamentarian Jacques Myard, a member of President Sarkozy's UMP party, points out, either way it ends up on your plate. He objects for another reason.

Jacques Myard: I think it's very dangerous to use in a commercial objective a religious approach. I think you are entering into a process which leads to the building up of ghettoes. What do we want for society in France? Do we want communities living apart from each other or are we French citizens?

Quick has promised to make non-halal options available in its halal restaurants. But these meals will be second-best, say critics, not prepared on the premises.

Meanwhile, other restaurant chains have gone all-halal on the quiet. A self-sevice restaurant chain called Flunch, for example, and, on a larger scale, Kentucky Fried Chicken, where all the chain's 100 outlets are now halal.

In Paris, I'm John Laurenson for Marketplace.

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