Rabbi Kalman Scheiner Talks Kosher Chocolate

When you think chocolate, you think Hershey’s. We sat down with Rabbi Kalman Scheiner, the Rabbinical Coordinator (RC) who manages OU kosher certification for Hershey’s. We probed the comprehensive meaning of the word confectionary, discussed new dairy-free Hershey’s chocolate products, arrived at a clear conclusion of what to learn from the philanthropic life of Milton Hershey, recollected upon a memorable kosher meal experience at The Hershey Hotel and discovered which attraction a Rabbinical Coordinator who handles the Hershey’s account visits at Hersheypark.

Steven Genack: Regarding Hershey’s, how many products to they certify and how many plants do they have?

Rabbi Kalman Scheiner: We certify close to three thousand products and roughly seventy-five plants.

SG: Do they have a global presence?

RKS: It’s worldwide. We actually certify a plant in Malaysia that supplies many products to Israel. However, most worldwide products come from the US. We receive inquiries about Hershey’s products from all over of the world.

SG: The word confectionary refers to candies and other sweets. What is the etymology of this word?

RKS: It’s Latin in origin. It generally connotes sugary candy, sometimes used in reference to chocolate also. Hershey’s has a separate division of such confectionary items, such as Twizzlers OU Pareve. They also produce gum and jelly products, that are not OU certified.

SG: It has recently been headlined by Hershey’s that they are building a new large facility next to an existing Reese’s plant. In your years of dealing with Hershey’s, are they always growing? Can you expound on that?

RKS: They’re constantly growing. They are my most active account. I get emails from them daily regarding new ingredients and products they want to develop in their Research and Development (R&D) division. They also look to purchase other successful brands to expand their portfolios. Their spirit of expansion began early on. For instance, Reese’s wasn’t originally a Hershey company. It was called H.B. Reese Candy Company and Hershey’s acquired it in 1963. An additional example of their expansion was the purchase in 1977 of a major candy company, Y&S Candies, which produces Twizzlers.

SG: When you think Hershey’s you think chocolate, but they also own the Skinny Pop brand for popcorn which is a top seller. Does Hershey’s try to diversify its portfolio?

RKS: They’re constantly buying up different snack companies that fit their vision. They recently bought out Lily’s, a snack company that they see as being a good fit for their business.

SG: Plant-based food is now commonplace in the food industry. Hershey’s is involved as well, recently announcing some dairy-free alternatives in relation to some Hershey’s and Reese’s brands. Can you discuss this aspect of their business?

RKS: They take the plant-based market very seriously, as they are aware that there are a new set of consumers in the marketplace. As you mentioned, there was a recent announcement of new products that serve as dairy-free alternatives, two of them being Reese’s Plant Based Oat Chocolate Confection & Peanut Butter Candy Bar and Hershey’s Plant Based Oat Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt Candy Bar.

SG: Cacao beans that serve as the base for chocolate are often harvested in remote parts of the world where child labor laws can sometimes be lax. However, the chocolate industry has come very far in terms of adopting high standards to ensure that all aspects of the supply-chain are monitored carefully, with specific emphasis on fair labor practices. Can you discuss this aspect as it relates to Hershey’s?

RKS: Most of their cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast. In terms of the labor laws in those regions, Hershey’s takes it very seriously. They contribute funds in furtherance of ensuring that workers are treated properly.

SG: Hershey’s was founded by the celebrated Milton Hershey. He was a man who saw success, bankruptcy and success again. He was known for his philanthropy and one of his main accomplishments was the founding of a school for orphans. Do you think there are any lessons that Jews can learn from his life?

RKS: He was certainly an outstanding philanthropist. I would say the greatest lesson to learn from him was that he invested back into the community. This is certainly a Jewish ideal, to give back and help the growth of one’s community where they reside.

SG: Have you had any memorable interactions with any personnel at Hershey’s?

RKS: When I took over the Hershey’s account in 1999, I had an interesting experience. I went out to Hershey’s to meet my contact at the famous Hershey Hotel which Mr. Hershey designed based on all the different hotels he travelled in the world. When we sat in the dining room, my contact asked me whether I wanted fish or meat to eat. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Suddenly, he brought out a sealed up hot meal on dishes. It was quite astonishing to me that they were so prepared for all kinds of dining. At that time, I didn’t know it was possible to get hot kosher food.

SG: Chocolate presents an interesting kashrut dilemma in terms of the cleaning of equipment. This is because if water is used to boil out the apparatuses, it can potentially ruin future chocolate runs as chocolate is damaged if it comes in contact with water. Have you ever had to remediate a situation in this area?

RKS: With Hershey’s this was never really an issue as they generally never kashered their lines from Dairy to Pareve and they don’t use water to clean their equipment.

SG: Was there ever an immediate emergency with Hershey’s that had to be resolved in quick fashion?

RKS: One thing that comes to mind, Hershey’s often has promotions. In one of the promotions, there was a mix of candies in one bag, some being kosher and some being non-kosher. To alleviate the problem, they had separate ingredient panels on the back of the bag, with some labeled OU and some not. This led to confusion among the consumers, and it was phased out.

SG: As someone who works in the Ingredient Department, I can testify that I often get a “rush” job from Hershey’s, whereby they need an ingredient approved immediately? Does this mean that if it’s not approved immediately a Hershey’s product could be delayed from being released?

RKS: Yes. Their R&D department is constantly putting out new products and they could be waiting for that ingredient to be approved so that the development of the product can continue.

SG: Have you ever travelled to Hershey’s with your family? Did your job as managing their account ever impact your experience?

RKS: Yes, we have travelled there. Not surprisingly, I go straight to the area where kashrut concerns can emerge: Hershey Chocolate World. I first visit “Create Your Own Candy Bar” section to verify that there are no kashrut issues. Then I usually check the Hershey’s mega store that sells literally thousands of its Hershey products to ensure all the products are label complaint from a kashrut point of view. Don’t forget to take the train ride through the Model Hershey Chocolate facility at Chocolate World!

SG: I have to admit that I always sneak in Reese’s Peanut Bars into my diet. Do you have a favorite Hershey’s product?

RKS: I really enjoy the Twizzlers Jolly Ranch Bites.



Steven Genack
Steven Genack has worked at OU Kosher for more than ten years with a specialty in ingredients. He is an attorney and former editor of a newspaper. He has a wide array of interests including playing tennis, golf and basketball and reading biographies and memoirs.