Peru Revisited: A Rabbi’s Second Trip Opens New Horizons for Himself and OU Companies

October 6, 2010

If a picture is worth a thousand words, actually visiting a place, interacting with the people and seeing what they do and how first-hand is transcendental. Recently, I had the privilege of making my second trip to Peru. The purpose? To better understand the country and the business environment so that the OU can best service both current and potential kosher clients. To that end, I met with several Peruvian firms and also spent critical time with Mr. Sandro Monteblanco (the OU Business Liaison in Peru – featured in the last BTUS), as well as members of the local Jewish community.

I came away with a far greater understanding and appreciation for just how great the potential for kosher is in Peru. Peru is a growing economy and firms there are increasingly export oriented – especially to the United States and Europe. As we do throughout the world, the OU is working to develop local infrastructure to ensure great service at reasonable fees. Much of the potential for kosher in Peru lies with small to medium commodity companies exporting raw materials like cocoa beans and quinoa. But, make no mistake. Peru also has established companies which stand to benefit from the market penetration OU certification brings.

Some of the more prominent OU certified companies are Alicorp – Peru’s largest processor of edible oils and Innova Andina – a major player in high end oleoresins and natural food colorants. By working with people like Mr. Monteblanco, an attorney and local business consultant and by establishing ties whenever possible with local Jewish communities, the OU continues to ensure both excellent quality and service throughout the world.

As most readers of BTUS are aware, the Orthodox Union is much more than the world’s premier kosher certifying agency. In fact, OU Kosher is but one division of a much larger communal organization whose raison d’être is support and assistance to Jewish communities throughout the world. During this trip, I spent important quality time getting to know the rabbi and key members of the Union Israelita del Peru, Lima’s Ashkenazi (European) Orthodox Jewish community. The community dates back to well before World War II and its founding members hale primarily from Eastern Europe. Today’s Peruvian community (mainly in Lima) has approximately 3,000 members. Union Israelita, while only one segment, supports daily services as well as regular community events. It is anticipated that the OU will work with this community on many levels in the future, including, when appropriate, on kosher certification.

It was a real pleasure spending time with the community rabbi, Itay Meushar, as well as Mr. Arieh Halperin, who has primary field responsibility for Union Israelita’s kosher supervision. Their input was most valuable – especially in setting up Innova Andina’s OU program. Innova Andina has been certified by the Kosher Peru (Union Israelita’s kosher certificate) for many years and their experience helped us design the OU program. Working together, we are able to build on the local community’s work and put into place important changes necessary to the company’s new OU Kosher status.

Most of my recent trip was spent in the bustling metropolis of Lima. There, in addition to meeting Mr. Monteblanco and the rabbis, I visited the facilities of two new OU applicants: Innova Andina and Interamsa. As mentioned above, Innova Andina is a world player in pepper and marigold derived oleoresins and natural food colors. Interamsa processes and packages various peas and beans – with a specialty in quinoa and amaranth – both increasingly demanded by health conscious consumers. Peru is one of the world centers for growing and processing these highly nutritious grains.

A real adventure awaited me when I visited the facilities of Cooperativa Agraria Cacaotera/ACOPAGRO Ltda (ACOPAGRO for short) in the jungle regions of Peru. This innovative company is a cooperative of small farmers producing high end organic and fair-trade certified coconut and cocoa beans. To see these facilities, I flew into Tarapoto, Peru. From there, we drove following the Huallaga River (a feeder to the Amazon) to the towns of Bella Vista and Juanjui. ACOPAGRO’s coconut processing is in Bella Vista; the main cocoa handling facility is in Juanjui.

As you can imagine, the jungle is a dramatic change from Lima, a sprawling city along Peru’s Pacific coast. Like much of the Pacific Coast of South America, Lima is, essentially, a desert. As May is late autumn in Peru, Lima was cloudy and damp (it almost never actually rains). Tarapoto, by contrast, is in the Peruvian jungle. The entire region is rural (there is essentially only one main road), verdant, sunny, hot and humid! The countryside is truly exquisite! While the drive is an adventure, it is well worth it (at least once).

From sprawling Lima to the Andes Mountains to the Amazon jungle, Peru is a land of great diversity and opportunity. The OU is proud to welcome the many companies who have recently come on board there and looks forward to working with many more. As our local resources and infrastructure improve, we are able to service more and more companies quickly and competitively. As the international market for kosher certified goods continues to expand, the OU will continue to work tirelessly to bring the opportunity of the world’s premier kosher certification to anyone who asks.

Rabbi Aharon J. Brun-Kestler has nearly twenty years of experience working in all aspects of kosher. Today, Rabbi Brun-Kestler manages nearly 200 OU client portfolios in a broad range of industries. Recently, he had the privilege of working with a variety of South American companies seeking OU Kosher endorsement. Rabbi Brun-Kestler received his rabbinical ordination from OU Kosher halachic consultant Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and holds an MA in English Literature from Northeastern University.