Pareve: Neutral In Content, But Not On The Bottom Line

Pareve means that the food is “neutral,” neither dairy nor meat, which makes it that much more desirable. Kosher law allows for pareve foods to be consumed with all foods, whether meat, dairy or fish. Pareve salad dressing, frozen sorbet, chocolate mints, jams, grains, juices, soft drinks, or confectionary delicacies can be enjoyed with both a sumptuous steak dinner as well as with a refreshing dairy lunch. Essentially, pareve is the universal kosher category.

In an astute Bakingbuyer comment, Betsy Hater points to an ever-successful pareve bagel as an example of how bakeries can reach a wider clientele. “Bagels by nature are pareve, as they typically include no meat, or dairy, only pareve ingredients such as flour, water, yeast, sugar, malt and molasses. However, Reyna Paulker, co-owner of Bagel Fair in Indianapolis, notes that many bakeries use oils based on animal fats or whey instead of wheat gluten.”

These companies and others in the ice cream, confectionery, baking, snack and beverage industries miss out not only on the ever-expanding kosher market, which includes the millions who eat kosher food consistently and for whom pareve is an integral aspect of kosher observance, but also on the tens of millions vegetarian and lactose intolerant Americans, who seek and search for the OU pareve designation as an assurance that the product is absolutely non-dairy.

The USDA allows food manufacturers to put a “non-dairy” designation on an item that may contain up to two percent in dairy ingredients. For vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant, even this small percentage is unacceptable. Only a truly kosher pareve classification can guarantee that absolutely no dairy ingredients, no dairy residue and no contact with dairy equipment were used in preparation of the food designated as OU pareve.

There is reason to believe that many lactose intolerant consumers prefer seeking out products with the pareve designation on the label rather than studying the ingredient panel’s ingredients, many of which are incomprehensible to the average consumer. The pareve message is simple and unambiguous – the product contains no dairy ingredients nor has it been processed on dairy equipment or on equipment with dairy residue. Without meeting these clearly defined criteria – the label cannot read “pareve.”

Often when trying to promote pareve to companies in the process of attaining OU certification or even long-time OU certified companies, I explain how pareve would benefit the kosher consumer and simultaneously create a larger market share for the company. Remember, pareve is the universal kosher category; it can be consumed with both meat and dairy meals. The dual description of both kosher and pareve can significantly add to the bottom line of any company, particularly if effectively marketed to both the kosher marketplace and the lactose intolerant population.

When several years ago, the famed Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Cakes Mixes decided to switch their ever-so popular products from their long-standing OU pareve status, to OU Dairy, the consumer response was loud and clear. Countless disappointed pareve consumers unanimously expressed their chagrin at being denied the Duncan Hines delicacies at their meat dinners. The company heard.
Its CEO declared, “We are very excited to again offer Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Cake Mixes as non-dairy pareve products. We are now able to ensure that our production facilities can produce dairy free product with certainty.” Jeff Ansel, the CEO, perceptively added, “It was a difficult decision to change away from pareve. We heard both from consumers and trade customers and that is why we worked hard to make the move back to pareve.”

The Orthodox Union’s CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack aptly and appreciatively responded: “Successful companies make smart decisions, even if it means reversing a previous decision. Duncan Hines’ switch of its Moist Deluxe Cake Mixes to dairy obviously disappointed part of its consumer base. The marketplace speaks. I commend the company for reversing its decision and restoring the mixes to OU pareve status….”

Rabbi Genack used the opportunity of the Duncan Hines reversal to also reemphasize the distinct advantages to pareve products. “Besides the flexibility they give the consumer, being appropriate for both meat and dairy meals, they are also available to lactose intolerant individuals who cannot use dairy products. OU Kosher, in fact, emphasizes to its companies and prospective companies the advantages of pareve. The results, in many cases, can be found in the bottom line.” I vividly recall the letter received from a company producing fine table crackers thanking the Orthodox Union for its strong recommendation to maintain its crackers’ pareve designation. “We are just overwhelmed” they wrote. “Our sales have increased by 35 percent.”

Reactions to the pareve suggestion, however, are not universally enthusiastic. Often, I am politely told that, “OU-D (Dairy) is just good enough for us” and at times more bluntly rebuffed, “We really don’t want to bother.”

But more often than not, there is no big bother. Perhaps a bit of persistence is what it takes. It was several years ago that I recall completing the OU certification process of a company seeking certification for its popular pareve cookies. I reviewed the Schedule A one last time to be sure that all ingredients listed were pareve. Lo and behold, in my final go-around, dairy raspberry bits, produced by an OU certified company, stared at me from the otherwise perfectly pareve Schedule A. “But what could possibly be dairy about raspberry bits?” I wondered.

After consulting with both the OU and company personnel involved with the application just about ready to be certified, I was convinced that the company ready to flood the market with its uniquely delicious pareve cookies should not be allowed to abandon its pareve designation and increased market share because of raspberry bits produced in kettles that infrequently also process dairy caramel and are therefore labeled OU-D. With a cooperative spirit from the raspberry bits company’s RC and RFR and the company’s full understanding that the cookie company needs 100 percent pareve raspberry bits and not pareve raspberry bits processed on dairy equipment, the company agreed to have the kettle in which raspberry bits are processed kosherized by the OU’s RFR.

So the story’s happy ending is that the cookie company has its pareve bits and the raspberry bits company retained a client and possibly attracted many more as word spread about its pareve capabilities – all at an insignificant cost of a few hundred dollars for the kosherization fee — and very little bother. Indeed, more companies need to better understand the great opportunities waiting to be discovered in the pareve market place. Get your marketing people involved – they can report back on decisions that could ultimately affect millions of dollars in sales.

Keep the pareve coming!

OU Kosher Staff