Kosher has its roots in Judaism, but its future has a much broader audience, as the term has come to be synonymous with quality. And in today’s America, with food safety recalls occurring on what seems to be a regular basis, many Americans are turning to well-recognized kosher certifiers such as the Orthodox Union for the reassurance they need to once again have faith in their food supply.
For Jew or non-Jew, OU kosher certification is all about quality through purity. Such foods are produced under the strictest of standards, providing a safeguard against the presence of food-related illnesses. In fact, the kosher rules on hygienic preservation make certification a quality control seal.
Sharp and Certified
With the demand for kosher in America at an all-time high, and showing no signs of abating, Cabot Creamery Cooperative of Vermont now offers Cabot OU Kosher Sharp Cheddar directly to consumers through their catalog and online store. “Our Sharp Vermont Cheddar was a blue-ribbon winner again at the most recent World Championships. Given the demand for upscale kosher hard cheese, it makes sense to offer ‘The World’s Best Cheddar’ with Orthodox Union certification,” says Clay Whitney, direct marketing manager at Cabot.
Cabot Creamery Cooperative has been in continuous operation in Vermont since 1919 and makes a full line of traditional, specialty, reduced-fat and flavored Cheddars, as well as butter and cultured dairy products. Best known as makers of “The Worlds Best Cheddar,” Cabot is owned by the dairy farm families of Agri-Mark, the Northeast’s premier dairy cooperative.
Cabot’s OU Kosher Sharp Cheddar is aged for about eight months. The initial production debuted in 2005 and was well received, especially by the kosher community. The company doubled its production in 2007 to meet demand. “Consumers frequently contact me to learn more about the Cabot OU Sharp Cheddar,” adds Whitney. “People want to know where they can buy it and when another batch will be made.” The next batch, which is also certified Kosher for Passover, will be available in late January 2008.
Cabot Kosher Sharp Cheddar is available in random weight deli bars weighing approximately 10 ounces each. These bars are clearly marked with OU’s hologram sticker. Due to its limited production and unique customer base, Cabot sells the OU Kosher Sharp Cheddar online to both retail and wholesale customers only via its mail order website (www.shopcabot.com).
As is the case with all kosher hard cheese, Cabot’s OU Kosher Sharp Cheddar is made on an exclusive production basis, explains Rabbi Andrew Gordimer, rabbinic coordinator at the OU. The OU rabbinic field representative (RFR) goes to Cabot’s cheese plant for each production run of the cheese seeking OU certification. He supervises the entire production of the cheese, from milk receiving to when the curd is packed and sealed into blocks for the aging room. “The RFR activates the coagulation process by adding the rennet to each vat. This is stipulated by kosher regulations,” says Rabbi Gordimer.
The RFR marks every block of cheese prior to aging. No one touches that cheese until it is ready for cutting and packaging. The RFR comes back to supervise that final step in the manufacturing process.
“Since Cabot Creamery is considered a mixed cheese plant, meaning not all products are certified kosher by OU, each block of OU-certified cheese must bear a special OU hologram security seal. In compliance with OU label policy, which precludes certification of kosher and non-kosher products with the same exact label and brand name, Cabot developed special labels for this product, which accommodate the hologram seals and note that the product is not certified unless the holograms are present,” explained Rabbi Gordimer.
Whitney elaborated on the utility of Cabot’s hologram system. “This provides added authenticity for the consumer. An identical system is being developed for the kosher meat industry as well.”
“This is the only national brand Cheddar we certify,” Rabbi Gordimer says. “Cabot’s Cheddar is renowned and is the recipient of cheese awards throughout the world and it is quite novel for there to exist an OU variety of an item that would otherwise be totally inaccessible to the kosher market.”
Rich Stammer, president of Cabot Creamery, adds, “Our kosher products are in keeping with our commitment to provide our consumers with award-winning dairy products that fit their desires and lifestyles.”
The Booming Kosher Lifestyle
Stammer is definitely right on target with offering products for different consumer lifestyles. Today’s consumers want their individual preferences and needs met, and are willing to seek out products, even if that means special shopping trips, and higher prices.
The results of a study profiling kosher food shoppers by Cannondale Associates, Evanston, IL, shows that kosher consumers are not driven by deep discounts. Key findings include that there are many faces of the kosher consumer, not just one. They want broader selection of categories, not multiple brands. Kosher consumers also spend about $1,000 more annually than the average buyer. In other words, many types of consumers are seeking out kosher foods, and they are willing to pay for this quality seal. Manufacturers should heed this data and offer kosher consumers more variety.
“It is estimated that fewer than one-third of consumers who buy kosher are Jewish,” says Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, vice president of communications and marketing with the OU. “Other kosher consumers include Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians, people with various types of allergies and consumers who simply value the quality of kosher products.”
According to an annual kosher food company survey conducted by Lubicom LLC, a marketing consulting company based in Brooklyn, NY, kosher food companies are growing at a rate of 10 percent to 15 percent.
Supporting this research was the number of exhibitors featuring kosher foods and beverages at the 2007 Anuga food show in Cologne, Germany. This figure increased substantially since Anuga 2005, rising from 605 to 902. Held every other year in October, Anuga is the world’s largest food show. It’s where food and beverages marketers go to be recognized. It’s where trends are born. This year there were more than 6,607 exhibiting companies from 95 countries. For many, kosher is a very important element in their marketing program.
In the States, food and beverage marketers are finding that not all kosher labeling is created equal. A new survey indicates that the OU symbol is preferred by U.S. consumers. Jewish respondents consistently named OU their top choice for ensuring the food they purchase meets the most stringent kosher certification, while non-Jews perceived the OU to signify the highest level of product safety and cleanliness.
“This study confirms the tremendous value of kosher certification in general, and of OU certification in particular,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher. “These findings clearly show that the OU is the symbol most widely recognized and trusted by consumers, and demonstrates the power of OU certification as a highly marketable tool.”
OU Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Marketing and Communications Vice President Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, concludes, “No longer just gefilte fish and matzoh, kosher has long been mainstream in terms of the range of certified products available. Now we know that the OU certification is mainstream as well in terms of the diverse mix of consumers who actively seek it out. This study clearly demonstrates that whether they’re Jewish or non-Jewish, averse to eating meat or dairy, or simply want a healthy lifestyle, consumers reach for the OU before other kosher symbols to meet their dietary needs.”
The OU symbol, it’s a quality stamp for safety.
Donna Berry is an editor in the food formulating industry. She was on the staff of Dairy Foods for eight years, starting as technical editor and moving up to senior editor. In 2001 she opened her own consulting and communications firm, with Dairy Foods her largest client. She continues to write for Dairy Foods on the topics of new products, marketing, ingredients, packaging and technology, as well as for other non-dairy publications and associations. Prior to Dairy Foods, Donna worked in product development at Kraft Foods for three years. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and is a native of Chicago, where she currently resides with her husband, two sons and dog. Donna enjoys traveling, both domestically and abroad, and makes grocery store visits a priority in every city she visits, which enables her to stay on top of new product trends.