If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
— Carl Sagan
If anyone would have suggested that Kosher foods would be among the hottest new food trends or that the Kosher food market would be amongst the fastest growing food sectors in America and Europe he would surely have been rewarded with a bemused look worthy of an inhabitant of the wistful land of Chelm, a land populated with very sweet, but very confused, citizens who can make neither heads nor tails of anything.
And yet, here we are after the conclusion of the 21st century’s first decade and products as diverse as Tootsie Rolls, Gatorade and Glenmorangie Original, Scotland’s favorite single malt whiskey, have not only received the Orthodox Union’s certification but have actively sought it!
Why? Why would products not traditionally marketed to Orthodox Jews or even products normally associated with “kosher” find the process of acquiring the OU Kosher Certification smart for their business? Why?…for the exact same reason that products as diverse as meats, dairy products, baked goods, beverages… all other food groups do. The OU Kosher Certification means something very important to consumers.
In her remarks accompanying the OU’s certification, Ellen Gordon, President of Tootsie Roll Industries, gave a hint as to what is fueling an explosive growth in 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.”
Wholesome. Fresh. Highest quality.
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.”
These successful companies are giants because they make wise business decisions that are focused both on maintaining and expanding their marketing base. As appealing as it might have been to add observant Jews to that consumer base, anyone who believes that the expansion of their marketing base to include Orthodox Jews was what drove their decision to seek the OU Kosher Certification and to invite OU’s rigorous monitoring of every aspect of their production – from ingredients, to preparation, to processing facilities – might as well be living in Chelm, and is missing the full benefit of the OU Kosher Certification.
The Orthodox Union, like these smart companies, is aware that kosher foods, based on one of the world’s oldest dietary laws, are among the fastest growing current trends in food processing. In the United States, home to 40% 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 that are fueling this explosive growth in kosher foods. 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. This growing popularity resulted in a U.S. kosher market valued at $12.5 billion in 2008, an increase of 64 percent since 2003.
While Glenmorangie Original, Tootsie Roll and Gatorade are happy to have observant Jews purchase and enjoy their products, the wisdom of their business strategy is focused on taking advantage of the explosive growth of the kosher market to the non-Jewish consumer.
Why would the non-Jewish consumer care about a food being certified kosher or not? This is a question you don’t have to ask Herman Rowland, Sr. twice. He is Chairman of the Board of the Jelly Belly Candy Company and a fourth generation “candy man”. In 2008, Jelly Belly converted its entire product line to become OU Kosher Certified. As Mr. Rowland proclaims, “It’s a sweet world!”
Indeed it is for Jelly Belly! Since signing on with the Orthodox Union, new distributors have signed on and new points of distribution have opened to Jelly Belly Candy Company’s flagship product line, Jelly Belly® jelly beans, once a favorite of President Reagan. The company, headquartered in Fairfield, CA, has enjoyed sales increases in the U.S. and international markets among large populations of vegetarians who seek out kosher products, as well as among consumers around the world who are committed to religious dietary laws.
Mr. Rowland is under no illusion as to the reason for this growth. “OU certification has opened doors for us. It is an extremely well-recognized sign and consumers seem to feel safer eating products that carry the mark.”
Mr. Rowland and the Jelly Belly Candy Company couldn’t be more correct. 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 traditional supermarket food standards. In assessing the kosher food market, only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules.
Referring to this “15%”, Menachem Lubinsky, President and CEO of LUBICOM Marketing and Consulting notes, “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. 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.” 15% is important. But it is the other 85% that is most attractive to food product manufacturers. And for this very large group of consumers, “kosher” means: Wholesome. Fresh. Highest quality. According to jpost.com, “kosher” is the most popular food label in the United States, having surpassed “All Natural” and “No Additives or Preservatives”.
The purity of kosher food can be trusted. Vegetarians know that when a product has been certified kosher dairy or parve 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.
More and more, food allergies are a concern to food consumers. As Tom Dempsey, President of Utz Quality Foods says, “Today, many consumers are turning to kosher certified products for allergen and health-related reasons. The OU symbol represents the use of pure ingredients and has become a universal seal of approval.”
For a large and ever-growing consumer base, the OU kosher certification is the equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval.
But does an OU Kosher Certification really matter if the food product isn’t a meat or dairy product? After all, an Oreo is an Oreo is an Oreo…with or without kosher certification. Isn’t it?
Yes and no. As Avery Yale Kamila, Staff Writer for the Portland (Md.) 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 involved 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. Confectionary products and snack foods often contain dyes and sugar-based products. Consumers of these products do care where they come from or how they are processed!
Companies that want to benefit from a kosher certification are wise to pursue the Orthodox Union (OU) Certification. The overall rating of OU Certification is much higher than for any other kosher certification symbol. It would not be a stretch to say that the OU symbol is far and away the most respected, most widely accepted and most reliable kosher certification. The Orthodox Union is the leader in the field of kosher certification, certifying hundreds of thousands of food products, with the list growing by more than 2,500 products each year.
By a 3 to 1 margin, OU is the symbol most often found. By a 2 to 1 margin, OU is the symbol that people think of when they think of kosher certification.
The OU Kosher symbol means trust. As Ed Turillo, Regulatory and Compliance Manager at Dreyer’s Ice Cream said, “When Dreyer’s bought the Skinny Cow product line in 2004, they’d been certified by a different Rabbinical agency, and because we wanted to keep all Dreyer’s products with one agency, we migrated the products to OU. It offers the most internationally accepted seal of approval. Kosher consumers trust it – they know the rigor and supervision that stand behind the label.”
The Orthodox Union has been setting the highest standard for kosher certification for more than 80 years. Today, the OU supervises products in more than eighty countries across the globe.
Kosher certification is a smart business move for confectionary and snack producers. “Kosher” communicates trust, purity and wholesomeness to a fast-growing consumer market. No other certification communicates the benefits of kosher certification like the OU Certification.
Like “Good Housekeeping”, it is a symbol that consumers trust.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing. A veteran educator and prolific author, his most recent book Meditations at Sixty (KTAV Publishing) includes an elaborate essay about Kosher. He may be reached at