Kosher foods, although based on one of the world’s oldest dietary laws, are among the fastest growing current trends in food processing. 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.
More and more, we are seeing that 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. The growing popularity resulted in a U.S. kosher market valued at $12.5 billion in 2008, an increase of 64 percent since 2003. When in 2010 products as diverse and renowned as Tootsie Rolls, Gatorade and Glenmorangie Original, Scotland’s favorite single malt whiskey, attained OU Kosher certification, they were obviously seeking to broaden their appeal and expand their market.
Which market? That market, which includes vegetarians, vegans, gluten free shoppers, and health buffs. The market, that Mintel, a leading market research company, reports includes 62 percent purchasing kosher for its quality rather than because of 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 — are happy and eager 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 market place.
I recall attending my first food show in Baltimore in the spring of 1994. I had recently begun as an OU Kosher New Companies rabbinic coordinator. I was accompanying Rabbi Moshe Elefant, who then headed OU Kosher’s New Companies department. (He currently serves as OU Kosher’s Chief Operating Officer.) I remember feeling ill-prepared to attend a major show. What might I contribute to its success? Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to learn from the master, who had by then perfected the “art of selling kosher.”
I vividly recall listening to his presentation before a group of companies eager to grasp why it would be propitious for them to “become kosher.” A phrase he used has remained with me ever since, which I myself have repeated countless times, when it was my turn to present. Rabbi Elefant said, “Kosher is hot.” How right he was. The New York Times’ Karen Barrow concurs. She writes: Kosher food 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.”
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 with traditional supermarket foods. Only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules.
“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 in 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. I recall Koshereye’s home page featuring Yogachips, Healthy, Crunchy Apple-a-Day! Organic Apple Chips. And their description: “Yogachips are a tasty, healthy, convenient and eco-friendly snack food – an all natural, fat free, crispy apple in a bag! A perfect snack for the health conscious, the fruits are free of the added preservatives and are grown without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. The chips are peanut/nut free and certified USDA organic, Vegan, Gluten-Free and OU Kosher, making them perfect for anyone with dietary restrictions. We feel they are perfect for everyone!”
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.”
Were I to accompany Rabbi Elefant to a show these days, I am certain that his catch phrase would now be, “It’s cool and trendy to buy kosher.”
(Note: many of the updated statistics and information from is Seafood.com News – “Half the food on supermarket shelves is now reported to be Kosher,” February 23, 2011)
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing. His most recent book, Meditations at Sixty (KTAV Publishing), includes an extensive essay on Kashrut Called to be Different: Called to be Holy.