An essay on Forbes.com by Larissa Faw, speaks directly to the exploding interest non-Jews have in kosher food:
A few years after I moved to New York City, I attended a luncheon where we were
asked to select from a variety of meal options that included vegetarian, kosher, and low-sodium. Now, I grew up in a community where diversity meant different shades of blonde. I had heard of kosher – after all, who doesn’t know the statement, ‘is this deal kosher?’ – but I didn’t really know what kosher meant other than the fact that it was somehow affiliated with Judaism.
Still I selected the kosher option based on my believing that it meant the food was better than the non-kosher option. And this common view that kosher is somehow better, purer, and healthier than non-kosher foods is an opportunity for the kosher food industry.
Kosher foods, although based on the world’s oldest dietary laws, are among the fastest growing trends in food processing today. Here in the United States, home to 40 percent 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 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, an increase of 64 percent since 2003. In 2010, products as diverse as Tootsie Rolls, Gatorade and Glenmorangie Original, Scotland’s favorite single malt whiskey, attained OU Kosher certification.
You can be sure they weren’t simply looking for Jewish customers!
No, they were looking to take advantage of a burgeoning market that includes vegetarians, vegans, gluten free shoppers, and health buffs; a market that Mintel, a leading market research company, reports includes 62 percent purchasing kosher for its quality rather than for religious reasons.
In other words, three out of five kosher food buyers are not motivated by religious influences. Undoubtedly, all companies committed to going through the kosher certification process and willing to be governed by rigorous monitoring of every aspect of production – from ingredients, to preparation, to processing facilities – would love to have observant Jews purchase and enjoy their products. They are much more anxious however, to be part of the explosive growth of the kosher market to the general, all-inclusive marketplace.
The New York Times’ Karen Barrow agrees. Kosher food, she wrote on April 13, 2010, is “…an ancient diet [that] has become one of the hottest new food trends.” She notes that more and more supermarket shoppers are “going kosher.” Why? Because these shoppers are “…convinced that the foods are safer and better for health.”
“The kosher market,” Menachem Lubinsky, President and CEO of Lubicom Marketing and Consulting corroborates, “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.”
The kosher food category is booming. Reports indicate that 50 percent of food on U.S. supermarket shelves is now kosher-certified. According to jpost.com, “Kosher” is the most popular food label in the United States, having surpassed “All Natural” and “No Additives or Preservatives.”
Logging on to www.koshereye.com, a website showcasing new kosher products, one finds that the kosher option has expanded to nearly every category, including vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, wines, spirits and kosher “copycat” products such as kosher sausage, imitation crab and non-dairy alternatives to cream, butter and cheese.
Kosher food is available at many baseball stadiums and was sold at the Super Bowl. Major cruise lines provide kosher options, as do several leading hotel chains and airlines. Supermarkets continue to seek kosher-certified products while expanding their kosher offerings. Wholesale food buyers would be advised to understand that when two products are basically equal, the smart choice is to select the kosher-certified product, a magnet to the shopper who spends more on food, shops more frequently, while preferring a store that will offer the specialty gourmet, gluten-free, organic, healthful, perhaps even locally grown but most certainly kosher selections. The “kosher is better” buyers are looking for the extra step of cleanliness, purity and transparency, enabling them to raise their ‘eating consciousness.’
But, what is perhaps the most surprising interest in kosher foods, is the result of a unique confluence of events that has found the African-American community and the Orthodox community in agreement in their love for a kosher product – Bartenura Moscato kosher wine.
This Italian wine in the blue bottle has had a huge following among religious Jews starting in the 1980s and 1990s, who comprised 85 percent to 95 percent of its consumers. But the brand began to fly off the shelves – and become the most successful Moscato in America thanks to Hip-Hop! Yes, the inner city beat has driven Bartenura Moscato from being a successful brand to an incredibly successful brand, selling around four million bottles in 2015!
How did such a thing come about? In 2005, hip-hop artist Lil’ Kim rapped, “Still over in Brazil sippin Moscato / you must’ve forgot though/ so I’m a take it back to the block yo … ”
And take it back to the block she did! Her mention of Moscato triggered a run in the African American community. Sensing an opportunity, Bartenura responded by advertising aggressively to that community. Jay Buchsbaum, Bartenura’s EVP of Marketing, said, “We saw rappers were talking about Moscato and identified the opportunity. Without forgetting our kosher consumer who got us here, we identified this group, addressed it with a marketing plan and it worked.”
Lil’ Kim was soon joined by other rappers. Drake followed in 2009, “It’s a celebration / clap clap bravo / lobster and shrimp / and a glass of Moscato …,” and Jay-Z was also involved. Though striking, these entertainers are simply following the path laid out by others. In the 1960s and ‘70s, singer-actor Sammy Davis Jr., an African American who converted to Judaism, famously endorsed Manischewitz – a brand still a standard bearer among kosher and kosher-for-Passover wines.
Harlem resident Sydia Simmons, an advocate for homeless mothers and children, loves the wine. But she, like other non-Jews who gravitate to kosher products, has another reason to prefer it. “Knowing that the Moscato is kosher to me signifies that it’s purer than other wines. I know a lot of people haven’t been involved with making it, and as a pescatarian (i.e. a vegetarian who also eats fish), I like feeling like my wine is also clean.”
In Crown Heights, a teeming, sometimes seething community where African Americans and Orthodox Jews live side by side, there is a huge billboard advertising Bartenura Blue, appealing to both groups.
As David Levy of Royal Wine Corporation said in 2011, “Bartenura Moscato has been around for about 20 years now; we’re the original premium Moscato in a blue bottle. While we introduced the product as a kosher wine, at the end of the day, we’re glad people outside of the kosher market have discovered this fantastic wine.”
Menachem Lubinsky of Lubicom notes that in recent years, research from a variety of sources has concluded what is obvious from the numbers – the size of the U.S. kosher food market is significantly larger than the core group of Jews who observe kashrut. “There are many who buy kosher pareve, for example, because they are lactose intolerant. Many Americans buy specific kosher products such as deli, pickles, hummus, horseradish and occasionally even matza.”
So, while it is true that the core kosher market is growing at a dramatic rate due to natural growth, resulting in a surge of large, kosher supermarkets all over the country, the non-Jewish market growth is being driven by health and even entertainment trends.
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran has been serving as Editor-in-Chief of Behind the Union Symbol since its inception in 1997.