FIT (Food Industry Technology) Gelatins, founded by David Holzer, is North America’s largest supplier of verifiable kosher gelatin and has been OU Kosher certified since 1993. In addition to kosher gelatin FIT Gelatins also produces OU Kosher certified collagen powder which is produced using enzymes. Their products derived from kosher fish and the hides of kosher cows are kosher pareve and are accepted by Halal observers. In addition to founding FIT Gelatins, David Holzer also founded Fiber Gourmet, which produces products using RS4, a fiber-boosting starch that has significantly fewer calories than regular flour starch and promotes gut health.
OU Kosher: David, you went to school and became a Rabbi. What brought you to this area?
A: My actual background is rabbinics. I was in education; I ran a seminary in Israel and I taught and administered here in the US. I have a limited science background. So all I know about the science is self-taught. As my family grew, I wanted to increase my income, I have 9 children and 30 grandchildren now. I knew that kosher gelatin was in limited supply and that there was a demand for it which wasn’t being filled. Gelatin is a key ingredient in many products but kosher gelatin wasn’t commonly available then.
I began working with a kosher slaughterhouse where I could get Kosher animal bones and skins but the process was very complicated, and it would have been difficult to find the kosher raw materials at scale. So, I investigated using kosher fish. At that time fish was an excellent choice for an alternative to cows because once you have the raw material source, kosher skins or kosher scales, there’s no limitation on capacity.
The Startup Using Marine Based Gelatin
But there was no technology available to process the fish and make kosher gelatin. So I patented a process. I then began looking for raw materials and found a Tilapia farm and a gelatin producer in costa Rica who agreed to produce the gelatin.
Initially it was not easy because I didn’t want to spend the time away from my family to do the experimentation in Costa Rica. So for a while Costa Rica was shipping us the fish skins by air. Then we treated the first skins in New York and I’d bring them down to Costa Rica to the plant and have them analyze the gelatin based on the treatment that we had given them.
And in 1993, after working with them for several months, we developed a methodology and had the patent. We started the first commercial production of kosher fish gelatin. That’s when I brought in OU Kosher.
Ever since then we’ve had a consistent supply of gelatin, but with different manufacturers around the world. Unfortunately, the manufacturer we started with in Costa Rica could not one keep up with the demand. They didn’t have the ability to stay within a very strict production schedule. If the process wasn’t completed within the right time, you could end up with just soup instead of just gelatin. It can be a tricky process.
Since then, we’ve worked with several processors in other countries but have maintained our role as a central player in the kosher gelatin industry.
Q: When you came up with your idea for kosher gelatin from fish didn’t you at some point have to understand the chemical processes? You had no formal education in this area?
A: I understood the basic concepts. You have to know what type of fish you’re using. Cold water fish versus warm water fish. The levels of hydroxyproline will usually determine the quality of the gelatin. Hydroxyproline is a key element in gelatin or collagen and is one of the key amino acids that the body uses to build and create collagen. Hydroxyproline is what makes it possible for the joints to absorb the collagen you ingest.
Q: Do you use enzymes in any of your processes?
A: The gelatin itself is done without enzymes but when we convert the gelatin and have break it down further to a powder enzyme are used.
The Move to Bovine Gelatin and Collagen
Q: Most of your gelatin and collagen now is from cows. You had started with fish. When and why did that change?
A: In 2006 the FDA decided to change the regulations and made fish an allergen which had to be added to product labels. Many of major companies who used it didn’t have to put fish on the label. So now I’m suddenly caught in this situation with the FDA and new regulations. But sometimes one door closes and another one opens up.
In speaking with OU Kosher about solutions I found another company that was just starting with OU Kosher and was producing beef gelatin. And since this was my area, I’d been selling kosher gelatin, we partnered. I would market this gelatin for them. The advantage of course with beef gelatin is that it’s not an allergen and my customers who were using fish gelatin could seamlessly move to bovine gelatin.
Working With OU Kosher Supervisors
Q: Can you tell me about your experience with OU kosher? How did you start that process and what needed to be done to get your certification.
A: For me OU Kosher was a natural choice because my father was the chairman of the Rabbinical Council of America which was originally given the job of doing kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union. My father, a volunteer, was responsible for oversight for 25 years. It was a non-paid position. And OU Kosher has the most accepted and trusted kosher certification in the world.
Q: What did the supervision look like?
A: In our original startup in Costa Rica OU Kosher sent down a rabbinic field representative (RFR) to make sure everything met OU Kosher’s standards. And the RFR helped streamline the process. When visiting the plant, they’d explain and educate the people there, clearly communicating everything that needed to be done. And when we wanted to improve the process by putting in an ion exchange for example the RFR made sure the system was locked and sealed and only used for our productions so it wouldn’t be contaminated by the other systems. OU Kosher knows the process well making it all very easy.
We often seek out their advice, especially, for example, in our other business Fiber Gourmet, which is also under the OU. We occasionally need different Co Packers, because we manufacture a lot of different products in different locations. So we make sure we consult with them. They usually give us very good advice.
Consistent Supply of Product
Q: Is there anything you’d like companies that are in the market for kosher gelatin know about FIT Gelatins?
A: A lot of customers are concerned with supply. If I start with kosher gelatin will there be a consistent supply? Luckily, we’ve been consistent since 2006 when we started with beef gelatin. I’ve never had a customer that I can’t fulfill.
As a rule, we keep overstock and have about 30 tons of material here in the US. We’ve always been there for our customers. We’ve never had a customer that had to stop production for want of supply.
If You Think There’s a Solution You’ll Find One
Q: Do you have a philosophy when it comes to problem solving?
A: I always tell people when they ask me, sometimes we look at a problem and the solution seems impossible. So I say the reason most people fail is because they decided they can’t do it. But if you decide that everything has a solution then you find the answers.
It took almost 20 years for the gelatin business to finally to really take off. So from 1987 to 2006 until it really got going was a long time. But we were persistent. A lot of people were in the business and left. And you know, sometimes just sticking it out is really the best thing.