My stomach rumbles as I resist the temptation to indulge in the office cookie jar. Coffee would be great right now, or even just a sip of water… maybe even a chunk of chocolate to get me through my ‘To Do list.’ But no! This month it’s all different, because this month it’s Ramadan!

Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. During this time, Muslims around the world engage in fasting by abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, to empathise with those less fortunate. However, this is just one aspect of the month. Community, self-improvement, patience and charity lie at the heart of this occasion, as people are encouraged to get rid of any bad habits, and commit to bettering themselves, help society, and revive connections with their faith.

Typically, my Ramadan would be spent back in my family home in the Middle East, where days were shorter and almost all the people around me would be going through the same experience. Restaurants would flaunt ‘Ramadan specials’, work hours would shift, mosques would overflow, and evenings would come to life as excited guests and neighbours gathered around a different house each night to celebrate together at the time of Iftar (the name of the meal to open a fast). There, you could just feel Ramadan in the air.

However, this year was the first time I was to handle both my job and my fast, ‘London style’.

To my good fortune, working in an office full of considerate and lovely colleagues, I was lucky enough to adjust my hours slightly to avoid the dizzying rush-hour of the underground. Company lunches and slices of birthday cake were also thoughtfully packed away for me to enjoy later, and words of encouragement were given in moments where I felt drained or weak — little but significant acts of kindness that allowed me to experience a ‘new’ Ramadan in my home away from home.

While the month is experienced differently around the world, many interesting behaviours are commonly observed. For example, social media usage spikes dramatically during Ramadan, as hungry audiences use it to pass the time, access information regarding religion, or to simply browse for evening-meal inspiration. Additionally, experimentation with new recipes is also extremely popular and a report by Google in 2018 found there is a 40% increase in searches related to cooking, while YouTube sees a 70% increase for cooking shows. There has also been a collective shift towards healthier eating in Ramadan, as people resist the urge to spoil themselves with fried and calorie-filled treats at the end of the day and become more conscious of how they nourish themselves for their first meal of the day.

Additionally, many food & drink brands have become ‘Ramadan staples’. For example, in the Gulf world, sweet drink brands such as Tang, Tropicana and especially Vimto see sales go through the roof, due to the instant sugar rush it provides at the time of Iftar. In terms of food, Weetabix is another popular, trusted brand eaten at dawn, reassuring Muslim populations that they will be fuller for longer. With all of these shifts and the unique needs of this month, this represents a key opportunity for food and drink brands to cater to an audience of 1.8 billion people worldwide with positive innovations.

At Brand Genetics, we believe in the power of human understanding, and I believe that Ramadan is essentially an exercise in ‘extreme empathy’. As Ramadan comes to a close, we asked different people from around the world who were fasting this month to give an account of their experiences and the food and drink brands they trust to help them get through, to give insight and put a ‘human’ lens on this significant world event:

Abdul, CEO & Personal Brand Consultant, UK

What does Ramadan mean to you?

· “Ramadan is like a detox that allows you to be more mindful of the more important things in life that we often neglect. Our religion, our health, our family — but also our communities”

What’s the biggest challenge for you during this month?

· “The biggest challenge whilst fasting can sometimes be the long working days and travelling. Even though our religion allows us to break fast whilst travelling, I still like to keep mine going”

What food and drink do you typically have for your morning & evening meal?

· “Lately, I’ve started more of a gym diet, so I like to eat broccoli, quinoa, tuna, red peppers and some fruit. Culture often gets mixed into religion, however, so we sometimes end up having oily foods and curries that aren’t actually great”

Any particular brands you use in Ramadan and why?

· “At the minute it has to be my protein shake. Thank you BulkPowders!”

Omama, Dentist, Abu Dhabi

What does Ramadan mean to you?

“Ramadan is a month of improvement, spiritual reflection and increased devotion. It is very close to my heart as this is the month the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Ramadan is a month of giving and happiness, Ramadan Kareem!”

What’s the biggest challenge for you during this month?

“The biggest challenges for me are refraining myself from food and getting angry! But in the end, it helps me realise about the lives of the needy and what they go through”

What food and drink do you typically have for your morning & evening meal?

“During Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal), I prefer to have eggs and Twinings tea, as it keeps me feeling energetic all day and doesn’t make me feel heavy. For Iftar, we usually eat home-cooked meals which include pakoras, fruit salad, chicken etc. For drinking, we prefer ‘Rooh Afza’ when opening our fast, as it’s a famous Pakistani drink with great flavour”

Diyanah, Postgraduate Student, Australia

What does Ramadan mean to you?

“I realise that often, I get too busy with the day-to-day routines of life to focus on refreshing the goals that I would like to accomplish. Ramadan allows me to pause and restart myself, re-evaluating my goals. This year it was about going back to basics and teaching myself to appreciate the smaller things in life which I often overlook, such as smiling at a stranger or saying hello to someone at the bus stop and asking about their day”

What’s the biggest challenge for you during this month?

“It might be surprising but not being able to eat or drink is not my biggest challenge; my biggest challenge is overcoming myself and my mind. I realised I had developed a habit that immediately assumed that I was weaker or less capable to do much because I wasn’t having my usual meals. When I re-evaluated this mindset, I realised I was actually stronger and could do more than I had thought. Even, doing more things than I usually do when I’m not fasting and feeling very energised, such as physical exercise”

What food and drink do you typically have for your morning and evening meal?

“I have noticed that as the month has gone by, I have been eating less than usual but at the same time, still feeling very energised (even more than usual), because I’ve been focusing on healthier options rather than fried or sugar-filled food”

Any particular brands you use in Ramadan and why?

“I make most my meals from scratch but when I want a quicker meal, I have Kellogg’s honey nut cereal and Quaker oats for my morning meals”

Here at Brand Genetics we believe in the power of human understanding and empathy. We believe, regardless of faith, managers should see Ramadan as a chance to step into another’s shoes and find ways to use their brands to deliver positive innovations that improve lives. Finally, Eid Mubarak from all here at Brand Genetics!

Neha Ahmed is a consultant at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in Business & Management, she has worked at IBM in global resource management and is fascinated by culture, human psychology and social enterprise

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com

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