If you would have suggested to an observant Jew that in the earliest part of the 21st century our ancient diet would become one of the hottest new food trends and that the kosher food market would be amongst the fastest growing food sectors in America and Europe, you would surely have been rewarded with a bemused look worthy of an encounter with an inhabitant of the wistful land of Chelm, inhabited by a population of sweet, confused citizens who can make neither heads nor tails of anything.
“Oy…” he might have sighed wistfully.
And yet, here we are at the conclusion of the century’s first decade and products as diverse as Tootsie Rolls, Gatorade and Glenmorangie Original, Scotland’s favorite single malt whiskey, have recently received the Orthodox Union’s certification!
Perhaps more interesting than the OU’s certifying these products as being kosher is the reasons that the producers of these products actively sought the approval of the Orthodox Union. After all, while products are always seeking to broaden their appeal, the Orthodox market is hardly a “make or break” market for any of these international blockbusters.
In her remarks accompanying the OU’s certification, Ellen Gordon, President of Tootsie Roll Industries, gave a hint as to what is fueling the explosive growth of the kosher food sector. “We take great pride in producing wholesome confectionery products with fresh ingredients of the highest quality. This will bring our iconic brands to an entirely new consumer base that can now enjoy our products,” meaning the kosher consumer.
Likewise, Andrea Fairchild, vice president of brand marketing for Gatorade, gave some insight into this growing market when she said, “Gatorade understands that different athletes have different needs, and providing sports performance beverages that adhere to kosher standards is important for us. We’re proud to make these offerings available to help meet the needs of athletes who maintain kosher diets, so they can perform at their best,” i.e., the kosher consumer.
Perhaps Brian Cox, USA Brand Director for Glenmorangie, captured it best when he proclaimed, “We take great pride in producing Scotland’s favorite single malt whisky, using the finest Scottish barley and hand-selected American white oak casks of only the highest quality. The OU Kosher certification will bring our iconic brand to an entirely new consumer base that can now enjoy our products…The OU rigorously monitors of all aspects of production. It supervises the process by which the whisky is created, examines the raw ingredients used to make Glenmorangie and regularly inspects the distilling and bottling facilities to make sure that its standards are met.”
Wise business decisions by all three companies – expanding its marketing base. But if anyone thinks for one second that the expansion of the marketing base to Orthodox Jews is what fueled the decision of these two companies to seek the OU certification and to invite OU’s rigorous monitoring of every aspect of production – from ingredients, to preparation, to processing facilities – well, there is a nice duplex in Chelm available for them.
There is something more vital afoot here, and it is something that the Orthodox Union is keenly aware of. Kosher foods, although based on one of the world’s oldest dietary laws, are among the fastest growing current trends in food processing. While here in the United States, home to 40 percent of the world’s Jewish population or about 6.15 million consumers, kosher food has always occupied an important marketing sector, but it is not Jews fueling this explosive growth in kosher foods.
More and more, we are seeing that kosher foods are increasingly attractive to the non-Jewish population; the population that now makes up the leading and fastest-growing consumer base for kosher products. The growing popularity resulted in a U.S. kosher market valued at $12.5 billion in 2008, an increase of 64 percent since 2003.
When Glenmorangie Original, Tootsie Roll and Gatorade speak of expanding their market, that is the population they are targeting. They are happy and eager to have observant Jews purchase and enjoy their products but they are much more anxious to be part of the explosive growth of the kosher market to the non-Jewish consumer.
But why? Why are so many non-Jews gravitating and embracing kosher products? The laws of kashrut, as articulated in our sacred texts, distinguish what is clean and unclean for the Jew to eat. The laws of kashrut form the basis by which we invest the everyday aspects of our physical nature with the divine.
What has all this to do with the non-Jew?
Wholesome. Fresh. Highest quality. Kosher quality. Rigorously monitors. Regularly inspects. Standards.
According to Karen Barrow of The New York Times, kosher food is “…an ancient diet [that] has become one of the hottest new food trends.” She notes that more and more supermarket shoppers are “going kosher.” Why? Because these shoppers are “…convinced that the foods are safer and better for health.”
Market research indicates that fully 62 percent of people who buy kosher foods do so for reasons of “quality” while 51 percent say they buy kosher for its “general healthfulness.”
A third buy kosher because they believe that kosher food safety standards are better than with traditional supermarket foods. Only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules.
Mind you, this 15 percent is a significant consumer target in the kosher market. As Menachem Lubinsky, President and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing and Consulting, makes clear, “The kosher market continues to expand nationwide (due to the natural growth of its core constituency, the introduction of many new and interesting products with good packaging, the realization by supermarkets and discount chains that kosher is a good profit center and a magnet to other parts of the store, and the continued demand by consumers for better and healthier products — omit?) The kosher market is the beneficiary of a young, loyal, and thriving consumer who appreciates better foods that are kosher certified. Many of these consumers have larger families, spend more than the average customer on foods, entertain more, and are extremely open to creative new ideas in their kosher diets.”
While it is true that many observant athletes are grateful to have Gatorade contribute to their performance and that many, many observant youngsters are delighted to be able to enjoy the sweetness of Tootsie Rolls and other candies made by the Tootsie Roll Industries, the religious market is not what is driving the growth of kosher foods.
When these consumers see that the Orthodox Union has certified a product “kosher” they know that it meets the highest standards – at each and every stage of its production.
These trends are not being missed by traditional kosher food producers. As Ms. Barrow further reported, not long ago, Manischewitz held a kosher cook-off in Manhattan. The cook-off featured five chefs from around the country who prepared dishes based on the most fundamental of traditional kosher-recipe ingredients – chicken broth.
Of the five chefs, four of them did not keep kosher but sought out certain kosher products in the supermarket. As one of the chefs, Julie DeMatteo, a non-Jewish, 68-year-old grandmother from Clementon, N.J., said, kosher foods are more closely monitored during their processing and “more consistent in taste.”
According to jpost.com “kosher” is the most popular food label in the United States, having surpassed “All Natural” and “No Additives or Preservatives”.
While the kosher food market begins with the observant Jewish population, it grows quickly from there. In the past quarter-century, the kosher marketplace has expanded to meet not only the sensibilities of non-Jews, but the dietary needs of many others.
Vegetarians know that when a product has been certified kosher dairy or pareve it contains no meat or meat products, nor was it exposed to either in its processing. Muslims, who share strict purity considerations when it comes to diet, rely on the kosher label when seeking out halal meat products. Individuals who suffer from certain food allergies know that the OU certification means that there has been no contamination in the handling or processing of the food product.
The OU certification is equivalent to the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval. Are kosher foods really “healthier” or safer? When it comes to meat and meat products, definitely.
There are many others who would suggest that, while an Oreo tastes like an Oreo (and is as healthy!) with or without a kosher certification, it does make a difference if the product is kosher, even if it’s not a meat product.
As Avery Yale Kamila, Staff Writer for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, reported not long ago, “Craig Gladstone found himself in a blueberry bind. As the president of the Gladstone’s Under the Sun blueberry processing plant in Bar Harbor, he had lined up a new wholesale customer for his frozen Caviar of Maine. But at the last minute the customer asked for the company’s kosher certification, which was something Gladstone didn’t have.”
Making sure his product was kosher meant that throughout the process of growing, harvesting, and producing everything was up to a higher and purer standard – if the process involves pork fat (as some traditional maple syrup processing does) or insect-derived food coloring (a particular issue with red dye) the product would not receive a kosher certification.
Kosher certification “…gets you to think seriously about what you eat. One of the things about kosher is it is a spiritual directive. When we eat, we try to be healthy in both mind and body.”
Sound advice – for kosher and non-kosher eater alike, but much easier achieved by one who keeps kosher.
Tootsie Rolls. Gatorade. Glenmorangie Original. Kosher food is available at many baseball stadiums and was sold at the Super Bowl. When these products are sold in these venues, you know that the market for kosher foods has grown far, far beyond the observant population. Certainly, those who keep kosher will frequent these stands, but now there is a larger market for the product.
The Orthodox Union is more than capable of monitoring this incredible market. The OU currently certifies over 500,000 products worldwide, manufactured in 7,000 plants in 83 countries. The OU has 55 Rabbinic Coordinators who serve as account executives in the OU New York headquarters with an additional 400 Rabbinical Field Representatives around the world authorizing kashrut certifications.
Wholesome. Fresh. Highest quality. Rigorously monitored. Regularly inspected.
Millions of people – Jew and non-Jew alike – count on it every day. Their numbers are growing and the food products available to them continue to grow as well.