What was the first Elmhurst product that was certified?
For Steuben Foods, Whitney’s Yogurt was the first kosher certified product. Developed by our in-house R&D team, this was the output of a strategic partnership with Kellogg’s and was responsible for launching Steuben to top-class manufacturing status – including acquiring a new home in Elma, NY in 1985 and installing its first aseptic lines in 1991.
For the Elmhurst brand, which Steuben Foods manufactures, the first kosher certified products were the four original nut milks, launched in 2017: Milked Almonds™, Milked Cashews™, Milked Walnuts™, and Milked Hazelnuts™. The unsweetened version of each followed, along with Milked Oats™ in several varieties. The word “milked” reflects Elmhurst’s unique HydroRelease™ process, which – as the name suggests – uses just water to separate and recombine the macronutrient components of a grain, nut, or seed, resulting in a milk-like emulsion which retains the nutritional integrity of the source ingredient.
How many products are now under OU kosher certification?
65% of the hundreds of products manufactured by Steuben Foods are kosher certified. The remaining 35% are mostly broths and stocks.
About how many of those products are kosher for Passover?
We currently do not make any products that are approved Kosher for Passover, as this would require additional supervision during the manufacturing process. However, many items produced at Steuben Foods can be consumed by the someone keeping kosher during the Passover season because they do not contain any ingredients that are prohibitive.
Why is kosher certification a necessity for marketing purposes?
Do distributors and retailers expect your products to be kosher certified?
Kosher certification is indispensable for any serious manufacturer or marketer (with the exception of those making intrinsically non-kosher foods). For many customers this finalizes the decision to purchase. For others, the “OU” label caries a halo invoking a diligent manufacturing process and reliable ingredient sourcing. Kosher certification is not just good marketing, however, but an ethical responsibility: to make products different subsets of our population can trust and enjoy.
While not all distributors and retailers mandate kosher certification, it certainly benefits relationships and helps open doors to new opportunities. The number of Steuben customers pursuing kosher dairy or Pareve certification is evidence of both the strong sway of kosher designation and Steuben’s reputation for maintaining the integrity of these certifications in partnership with the OU.
Does being kosher give you an advantage in markets other than the North Eastern US?
Yes! Very important to this answer is the relationship between kosher certification and aseptic, long shelf-life products. Apart from some ESL (extended shelf-life) output, all products manufactured at Steuben Foods are aseptically packaged, meaning they can be sold and consumed anywhere without refrigeration. With this packaging advantage and very generous shelf-life, the whole country – and, in the future, world – is our market. Currently, Steuben produces for sale in Canada and the UK.
Because Steuben-manufactured products typically have a shelf-life from six months to one year, they can easily endure the supply chain from our warehouses to the home. This brings into play kosher-abiding pockets, from single families to large communities, around the country. Steuben’s sister company, Elmhurst™ 1925, provides an excellent example. One of its first retail partners was Publix, based in the warm Southeast. Publix was instrumental to Elmhurst’s establishment as a little plant-based player, in no small part because the latter was able to access the Jewish population of Southern Florida without time or cold-storage restrictions. A similar story has played-out in Southern California, which is not to neglect the high relevance of kosher certification – in tandem with the advantages of aseptic packaging – in pockets across the country where Elmhurst is sold. The lessons of this case study apply to most Steuben Foods contact manufacturing customers, many of which sell beyond the northeast.
Do you use kosher certification status as a marketing tool when expanding to other regions?
Yes, absolutely. Kosher tells a very deep story. Remarkably, its relevance to the Jewish people has infused our entire society with understanding – to the point where the term is virtually ubiquitous. There is no longer an “NA” applied to kosher among the non-Jewish population. It is part of the greater culture. Whatever the concentration of intentionally kosher-abiding people in a region, certification checks a universal box for viable 21st century foods.
Are you exporting to the Israel market?
Currently, no, but we expect to be soon – possibly through our sister company, Elmhurst, for whom Steuben is the sole manufacturer. Our owner, Henry Schwartz, visits Israel multiple times each year; and our company’s history entwines with both Jewish tradition and the nation of Israel. It is a compelling story waiting to be told, not to mention the inherent value of a diverse portfolio of premium plant-based products, superior in taste and nutrition. We expect other Steuben Foods customers to follow our pattern of kosher excellence to this Israeli market in the future.
Are prospective clients of your co-packing services generally looking for kosher certification?
Yes, a substantial majority of Steuben Foods’ customers – from large multinationals to start-ups – pursue kosher certification. Clearly, this is the way of the times. In the future, it is not having a kosher label that may in time stand out, and not often favorably.
Are you targeting other markets like gluten free and vegan via your OU kosher certification?
Yes, Steuben Foods – in part thanks to its close partnership with Elmhurst – has become a hub for healthy, socially conscious options, which often carry all these stamps and more (e.g., organic, non-GMO). We find there is a cluster of certifications and labels that “go together.” Kosher, vegan, and gluten-free collectively speak to growing consciousness – not only regarding personal health, but the Earth and social responsibility. As such, the very old kosher tradition is part of a distinctly modern ethos, and the “OU” label fits right in! It might even be perceived as something gateway to these more modern trends.
Do you onboard and train employees who are part of the kosher program?
Yes, all employees are on boarded and trained in the concept and requirements of the kosher program both generally and relative to their areas. This may include ingredient segregation, processing parameters, blending procedure, and more.
Do you have products in your facility that are not kosher?
Yes, however – while some customers may not choose a kosher designation for their finished product – all ingredients used at our facility, without exception, are kosher with certification reviewed and on file. This sourcing requirement protects the integrity of Steuben as a certified OU-kosher processing plant and all kosher products running through its systems.
Are there any significant obstacles presented by kosher certification and the OU inspections?
No. Factors such as product hold and temperature limits require special care. However, Steuben has been a kosher plant for a very long time, and its excellent relationship with the OU suggests that we are very good – though never complacent – at what we do.