Understanding the Kosher Market: A Talk with Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Dovid Jenkins of OU Kosher Marketing

BTUS: The OU is a kosher certifying agency, and most of what goes on here is the work of ensuring that our certified companies are producing kosher products. How does marketing support our mission?

RJ:  The OU is also interested in growth. Because we are a community-minded organization, growth means broadening the kosher market for quality products. This “niche” market is very far-flung and very committed. We think about how the OU can play as strong a role as possible in that market.

BTUS:  What’s your role in that?

RJ:  The main thing I try to do in this picture has a lot to do with internal growth at the companies we certify. For example, I recently visited with an OU certified global ingredients company that had acquired a relatively smaller company, and the person responsible for the parent company had some questions regarding the administration of the smaller company, which was very new to her. I was able help clarify issues and coach various people through the transition.

BTUS: How is that marketing?

RJ: It’s just good customer service that, if we stay focused, builds the OU brand and reputation within our client companies. We realize, and appreciate, that our OU companies have made serious commitments to the OU certification program. The RC’s, both because of their personalities and by training, are expected to be attuned to companies’ needs. Our department is a resource for them in that respect.

BTUS:  How else does the marketing department help with what you called OU companies’ “internal growth”?

RJ: A key aspect of what we think about here at the OU, both organizationally and specifically in our department, is how to make the OU symbol as valuable as it possibly could be for our certified clients. For example, we certify a major breakfast foods company that has a product that is certified OU-D because at one point the company also processed dairy ingredients on the same equipment. However, all the ingredients are now pareve. Nothing could be better for this major cereal manufacturer than a plain OU (as opposed to an OU-D) on the box to help its sales.

It would also be great, I might add, for a large component of kosher consumers who would prefer to use the OU, as opposed to only the OU-D. There are people who like to avoid kosher dairy; there is the population that is lactose intolerant, or vegans, and they would look for that, and that would mean more sales.

In this case, the holdup is that they didn’t want to change the packaging. But I believe that’s because they don’t necessarily realize the strength of the market or understand what the OU can do for them. They don’t understand the market. So, my job is to coach our certified companies to better understand the market.

BTUS: How so?

RJ: America is not the melting pot it once was. Rather, the U.S. is a mosaic of many ethnicities – many with a particular interest in kosher. We try to assist OU companies in capitalizing on their kosher investment with their various constituencies.

We have seen time and again that people who understand that market can increase their sales by a couple of percentage points. In some cases we have seen that can translate to millions of dollars in profit.

In my experience working with kosher companies over the last 35 years, I have noticed that a lot of companies have a marketing structure that worked very well in the past, but they are not always willing to embrace a new marketing structure that reflects some of these changing realities that can help them enhance sales.

And another point I find some sales and marketing executives tend to overlook is that regional sales are national sales. What do I mean? A spike in one region could be large enough to have a significant effect on the overall national sales figures. If you have a market for kosher in the New York tri-state area, it’s likely that you’ll have a big market in California and Florida, too.

Here’s an interesting example. We certify a company that makes a popular, nutritious, and truly delicious seasoned rice product. It’s relatively easy to make, and my wife prepares it when she gets home from work.

Because the product is made from rice, many Jews are accustomed not to eat it during the Passover holiday. And you know what? This national company saw a noticeable drop in their sales during the month of April, which is when Passover fell this year. And it went back up the next month. This is an example of how the ethnic market, in our case the Jewish market for kosher, represents a sizable portion of their sales.

BTUS:  Why did you get involved in kosher certification?

RJ:  To be honest, it’s because I like eating. Since I keep kosher, I wanted to see how I could expand the choices! I started in 1984. I took over the kosher council based in St. Louis, in 1991. I have worked for a few agencies since then – even spent some time in Winnipeg, Canada.  I really enjoy the work.


BTUS: What’s different at the OU?

RJ: The infrastructure. We have very distinguished advisors on kosher law, who are widely respected in our community – which, I might add, contributes to the value of the OU symbol. Our senior management has done a really good job of choosing people with diverse talents so we can function as a broad organization that provides both technical and, in our case, strategic, services.

BTUS:  What should companies know about capitalizing on the OU symbol that they might not already know?

RJ: Companies understand that OU certification will enhance their sales. But while companies are always looking for new products, they are not always innovative in terms of how to capitalize on the OU to market to new groups. Companies should not be complacent about this, as I mentioned earlier about the breakfast cereal. Also, they should make sure their products are available on the Universal Kosher Database (UKD), because I see many food manufacturers using the UKD to search for available products. OU companies are very well represented on it. We remind a lot of companies to use it, because it helps them and other OU companies with products found there. OU companies think to themselves: “Why go out of the system to try to find out if the product is kosher if the product is already kosher and certified OU?”

There are also cases – albeit limited – in which a press release on a newly OU certified company can be really fantastic. In recent years we’ve had the privilege to certify Tootsie Roll, and this became a national story. Obviously we can’t always promise that kind of response, but this type of media coverage can be really helpful.

Our webpage also features companies.

Finally, our department is also very knowledgeable about advising how our mainstream certified companies can advertise in Jewish media outlets, which is generally something that our companies have no understanding of. Jewish newspapers, magazines, and online media can be a powerful, very targeted, advertising tool.

BTUS: I’m sure a lot of companies are curious about where the best location is to place the OU symbol on a retail product. Where should the OU go?

RJ: Most consumers look for it on the lower-right-hand side of the label. That’s the prime real estate. That’s what we always recommend.

BTUS: How can a company reach you, should they need some marketing assistance?

RJ: Feel free to call! That’s what we’re here for! My number is 212.613.8314 or jenkinsd@ou.org. Or you can call my highly respected colleagues, Phyllis Koegel (koegelp@ou.org, or 212.613.8237); and Rabbi Mordechai Merzel (merzelm@ou.org, or 212.613.8209). Visit www.oukosher.org for more information.

Rabbi Gavriel Price
Rabbi Gavriel Price is a member of the Ingredients Approval Registry as well as a rabbinic coordinator for the flavors industry. He lives in Passaic, NJ. He and his family love hiking.