Ramadan becomes an issue for Whole Foods

Image: Halal foods on sale at Whole Foods
Whole Foods began carrying Saffron Road halal offerings early in the year, recently rolling them out nationally.Craig Ruttle / Associated Press

Whole Foods’ decision to promote a new line of foods geared toward Muslims has generated a heaping portion of controversy.

The hubbub started late last month when the upscale food chain posted a blog entry on preparing for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The blog post coincided with Whole Foods' national launch of line of halal foods from a company called Saffron Road. Halal foods comply with Islamic dietary laws.

The post prompted plenty of positive feedback from Muslims looking for these types of foods, as well as some backlash.

“There were some folks who were upset that we were promoting halal foods, just like there are some folks who are upset that we sell meat,” Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton said.

Letton said it was partly that backlash that prompted one regional manager to question whether some signs that had been created for stores in her area in relation to Ramadan should be changed. She declined to say what region of the country the e-mail originated from.

The email was obtained by the Houston Press. According to that publication, it reads, in part:

"It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan. … We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan."

Letton said the e-mail was limited to one region and that the company as a whole has not changed its plans. She said the company has promoted halal foods and Ramadan in the past as well, just like it promotes other holidays such as Passover or the Fourth of July.

“We’re about celebrating food,” Letton said. “We like to provide food that people need for their holidays and special occasions.”

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he’s not too concerned by the email — but he is happy to see Whole Foods offering the halal foods.

“I think that was just a one-off thing by one person,” Hooper said. “What’s important is that the corporation itself stood up to these hate bloggers and did the right thing. It’s doing what any corporation does. It promotes events and products that will hopefully gain more customers.”