Who would have guessed that the man responsible for the latest craze among Muslim youngsters would be an Orthodox Jewish grandfather from Manchester?
Food scientist Neville Finlay is the brains behind Britain’s most widely-distributed Ramadan calendar, a Muslim twist on the advent calendar. Some 80,000, made by his firm, Forest Tree Foods, are on sale at Asda stores across the UK ahead of the holy month starting in mid-September.
A halal chocolate nestles under each day’s numbered flap, but before you eat it, you are meant to answer a question on the Koran or sharia law – such as “What is the morning prayer called?” and “Who was the last prophet?” Many of these were set by Finlay himself, after a Muslim designer working on the calendar gave him a crash course in Islam. “I’ve come up with something to help people celebrate Ramadan – this must be good for relations between communities,” he says.
Finlay already has a reputation on the halal market. After a lifetime inventing kosher food lines – including a rabbinically approved “caviar” and countless sweets – seven years ago he was persuaded by a Muslim stranger in an airport waiting room to deploy his skills for the burgeoning halal market. Finlay resolved to invent a halal take on Haribo jelly sweets. To do this, he needed to come up with a suitable alternative to animal gelatine, an ingredient banned by Islamic law. He cracked it last November, and began marketing the sweets internationally. They sell 150,000 packets a month in the UK alone, and have earned him the nickname “the Willy Wonka of Manchester”.
This coming year Finlay will replicate the Ramadan calendar by launching an advent calendar, and a similar chocolate-filled countdown for the run-up to Jewish festivals.