The Kosher Consumer Speaks

The astronomical growth of kosher foods over the last decade has driven many marketers to study the behavior of kosher consumers. Who are they? What are their buying habits? How much do they spend? Where are they located?

We already know that the kosher consumer is not monolithic and many may not even be Jewish. The value of the kosher symbol has proven itself, particularly that of the Orthodox Union (OU). A growing number of grocers have bought into kosher, many developed kosher stores within their stores, and some have even crafted major marketing efforts to attract consumers looking for kosher.

In 2003 and again in 2005, Mintel, a major consumer marketing research firm, confirmed the multi-faceted identity of the kosher consumer. Americans in growing numbers were buying into kosher for a variety of religious, health, and quality issues. As many as 28 percent of Americans confirmed that they knowingly bought a kosher product. Major brands with kosher symbols did better than similar products without the symbol.

But despite the growing body of evidence of the strength of kosher as a major category in foods, the industry had little research on the core ethnic products that had filled bubbie’s kitchen for generations; that is…until now. At Kosherfest 2006, a new study was released by Cannondale Associates, a leading sales, marketing and market research consulting firm with offices in Evanston, IL and Wilton, CT, that for the first time studied the behavior of the “kosher consumer” in the “kosher aisle.”

The chief Cannondale researcher was Paul R. Crnkovich, who has an impressive background as a researcher. Paul’s work spans all aspects of the CPG/retail industry, including specialty foods as well as natural and organic. He also had the benefit of working in the food industry with a seven-year stint at Quaker Oats, where he served in various marketing, strategy and customer development positions.

Cannondale studied thousands of transaction cards from 14 major food and drug chains. It analyzed more than two million transactions that involve the kosher products. It also interviewed 500 Jewish and non-Jewish customers. Its main focus was to study the consumer behavior of kosher consumers and especially in the context of specialty foods. They were seeking answers as to why consumers buy kosher, what drives them to make specific purchases and what was the customer’s overall perception of kosher.

Cannondale defined kosher consumers as shoppers who bought traditional kosher foods in the past year. They included such major brands as Manischewitz, Kedem, Osem and Rokeach, all under OU certification. The benefits of their research has implications for all kosher products, since the assumption is that those who buy the traditional kosher brands are certainly buying foods with a major symbol like the OU.

The general perception was that the customer of kosher was older and getting still older. There was also a feeling among many retailers that to attract the kosher consumer it was necessary to resort to “deep discounting.” What they found, which was already confirmed by Mintel, was that the kosher consumer in fact had many faces, that they want a broader selection of food categories and not necessarily more brands of the same (like mayonnaise, horseradish etc.), and they do indeed shop for other kosher items throughout the store. Perhaps one of the most important finding for the kosher industry is that the average kosher consumer spends 47 percent more a year than the average nonkosher consumer, $2,748 vs. $1,873. The average shopper rings up an average $44.45 at the checkout counter while the kosher shopper who comes in only for the holiday (not year-round) has an average basket of $70.18 and the year-round traditional kosher customer a whopping $73.23, nearly $30 more than the non-kosher shopper. It is perhaps no wonder why the kosher shopper has become such a prized possession to supermarkets and why more retailers are vying for this clientele.

Cannondale next discovered that growth for kosher came not from adding more brands for the same category, but in fact adding more categories. As an example, a shopper was likely to spend $28.17 for four categories but $185 for 10 or more items. Thus, the kosher industry has an opportunity to expand its sales dramatically with the same base. All it needs to do is to add categories of kosher items.

In putting a face on the kosher consumer the researchers found that 70 percent of traditional kosher shoppers (the 365 days a year kosher adherents) were 18- 35 and not at all an aging Sadie and Irving. They defined “modern” kosher customers as Jews who occasionally but not consistently buy kosher; “Holiday” buyers as those Jews who buy kosher only for Jewish holidays, particularly before Passover; “Cleaner/Purer/Better,” a growing segment of ordinary shoppers, many linked to natural and organic; “Need-based” as those who may be lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or gluten free. (“I trust kosher for my dietary needs.”)

The most frequent kosher shoppers are the traditional and need-based people. While we always believed that the holiday shoppers stick to a specific number of traditional kosher items, the study found that a staggering 60 percent of the holiday shoppers look around for new products. While traditional buyers tend to plan their purchases before getting to the store, they are also looking for new products in significant numbers. Traditional shoppers appreciate the special kosher aisles and tend to become loyal to the store in general, buying most of their other purchases at the location.

Despite the fact that kosher customers appear to covet new products and we have in fact attributed a good portion of the 15 percent annual growth in kosher to the new products, most consumers find out about new products when they get to the store. Traditional buyers also use their network of friends and synagogues, but advertising plays the smallest role in new product decisions. Most consumers said that they would buy more kosher products if there was a variety of a specific item (example: more flavors) as compared with lower prices, a better organized section, better signage, and more exciting packaging.

In the study, kosher shoppers sent several strong messages that retailers and manufacturers cannot ignore. First, they urged the industry to minimize duplication. In fact, Cannondale found that a store with fewer brands of gefilte fish, for example, was likely to have more sales. Secondly, while the shopper no doubt appreciated deep discounting, it did not necessarily influence his decision to shop at a specific store. In fact, the study of traffic patterns showed that deep discounting did not spur more traffic than shallow discounting.

There already was sufficient evidence of the value of kosher symbol at every level. The added value of an OU symbol on a product has been amply documented. It can have a dramatic impact on overall sales or in boosting sales in a specific region where there is a strong concentration of kosher shoppers. What we are learning more and more is that there no longer is a stereotype of the kosher shopper. Manufacturers are learning that in looking for the stereotype, they often miss a body of consumers who could add to the bottom line. That is perhaps the greatest contribution of the Cannondale study.

OU Kosher Staff