Americans love their tuna. Whether in a salad, sandwich, or casserole, we consume about a billion pounds of canned tuna peryear! Ever wonder where all that fish is coming from?
A sun-drenched country sitting near the equator, aptly named Ecuador.
There’s a welcomed phenomenon occurring in Ecuador’s food manufacturing industry. A fast-growing number of companies are discovering the overseas selling power of OU Kosher certification. Consequently, they’re exporting a lot more than tuna these days.
The US is the primary market for Ecuadorian exports, which include $2.9 billion worth of fruits and nuts, $2.8 billion of fish, $750 million of cocoa and $31.6 million of vegetable oils. Going OU Kosher has contributed and continues to expedite the rise in the country’s food export ability. In fact, over the past four years the number of OU Kosher companies has doubled.
Along ith the longtime stronghold Ecuadorian products pouring into the US, such as vegetable oils and tuna, the more recent additions include Nestle cocoa products and Republica del Cacao chocolates, 136 plantain products, Agro Epoyo dried fruit, Ferrero del Ecuado’s candies (Tic Tacs), Inalexpo’s Hearts of Palm, Tesalia Springs Natural Spring water, and the list continues.
“They feel proud to be OU Kosher,” says Rabbi Uriel Tawil, known as Rabino, Rabbinic Field Representative for Ecuador, Columbia and Mexico. Born in Buenos Aries, he speaks their language.
Apparently, you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate the Latin culture.
“The warm climate extends to the nature of the people,” says Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, Rabbinic Coordinator in charge of tuna accounts. “They welcome you into the factory as if they are welcoming you into their homes.”
Rabbi Shoshan Ghoori, director of Latin American client relations, readily concurs.
“When I arrive in Quito (Ecuador’s capitol), I feel energized,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or rainy; there’s a positive energy in the air. A happy productive feeling.”
And productive they are!
In November of 2017, the Ecuadorian government invited OU Kosher representatives to speak at a Pro-Ecuador exports for agriculture event, an effort to help advance the country’s economy. The government even offered to subsidize a percentage of the cost towards obtaining OU Kosher certification.
There are currently 44 OU Kosher companies throughout Ecuador. Primarily located in the cities of Quito, Guayaquil, and Manta.
“People connect OU Kosher with high quality. It gives them a certain confidence,” says Rabbi Ghoori, who spoke to companies in three major Ecuadorian cities. “They want the Ecuador to prosper. The infrastructure is strong, and they are proud of their products.”
They are also grateful for their thriving professional and personal relationship with OU Kosher personnel.
During the past few years, the country has been hit hard by magnitude-level earthquakes. OU Kosher made sure to stay in close touch with their clients, some of them seriously affected by the onslaught.
“We let them know they were constantly in our prayers,” says Rabbi Ghoori.
Fortunately, there are also moments of laughter.
One day, Rabino Tawil received a call from a pet food manufacturer inquiring about OU Kosher certification. He politely explained that consumers are not really interested in feeding kosher food to their dogs and cats. He also heard from several farmers requesting OU Kosher certification for their bananas and other fruits. He told them, “if you decide to sell them already peeled, we’ll talk.”
The striking beauty of the Quito’s snow-capped Andean Mountains and radiant fruit trees and flower gardens, as well as Manta’s never-ending clear blue seaport waters isn’t lost on the rabbis.
“Going there is always an adventure,” says Rabbi Ghoori, “The owners and the workers take me around the gorgeous verdant grounds. They’ve also taken me horseback riding. I still get excited every time I hear there’s a new OU Kosher company there.”
Ecuador’s Aesthetic Paradise
Thanks to Rabbi Ghoori’s and Rabino Tawil’s efforts over the past five years, 30 Ecuadorian companies have happily gone OU Kosher.
“They want to give their products an edge,” says Rabbi Ghoori. “OU Kosher gives them that edge. It’s a window into the rest of the US.”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is an award-winning freelance journalist and frequent contributor to BTUS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.