Kosher Around The Globe: A Marketing Director’s Odyssey

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Eiffel Tower, Paris
21 Dec 2010

What do Paris, New York and Mexico have in common? Answer – kosher certification! Kosher certification has had steady growth over the past twenty years, by an average rate of 15 percent a year internationally. With thousands of products becoming kosher each year, the kosher consumer has choices that were not available to our parents and grandparents fifty years ago – or to us even a decade ago.

October through December were busy months for those in the food industry. With Sial, the world’s largest food show in Paris; Kosherfest, the International Kosher Food Show in New Jersey; and the Internacional Kosher Expo in Mexico, it was a busy time for food manufacturers and kosher buyers.

Paris in October is unbelievably beautiful. The weather is crisp but not yet cold enough to have to bundle up. I was lucky to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world to promote kosher food certification. I love my job — who wouldn’t, getting to go to Paris for work — where I would meet with over 6,000 food and ingredient manufacturers to explore kosher certification!

I work for the Orthodox Union, the OU, the world’s largest, most respected kosher certification agency. With over 70 percent of the kosher retail market being OU certified, it’s no wonder the OU is the most sought after kosher certification by manufacturers, as well as consumers.

Consumers trust the reliability of the OU’s kosher standards, while businesses know that having the OU on their products enhances its marketability. In existence since the late 1890’s, the Orthodox Union in its totality has grown into the world leader in kosher certification, as well as the largest Jewish resource worldwide. With over 1,000 employees worldwide serving the Jewish community, OU Kosher certifies more than 500,000 products in over 83 countries. I’ve traveled as far as China to make kosher contacts. My suitcase, I assure you, gets a lot of use.

My trip to Paris took me to Sial, one of the largest food trade shows in the world. There I met many OU kosher certified companies as well as many international companies from countries like India, Turkey, China, Vietnam, Israel, South Africa and South America. I only speak English, Hebrew and a few words of Yiddish, while my colleague, Rabbi Yisroel Hollander from Belguim, speaks French, Flemish and English. Together we managed to communicate with people from all over the world, sometimes cryptically.

The fascinating common denominator was when we mentioned the word “kosher” or “kasher,” the food manufacturers would smile and exclaim “Ahh kosher” and shake their heads in understanding. “Kosher” has become an international word representing a high quality standard of certification right up there with “Food Safety,” “Organic” and “Natural.” Companies know that in order to capture a larger portion of food sales it is important that they attract a large consumer base with products that appeal to everyone. Recent studies have shown that there is a large segment of consumers who are outside of the traditional “Jewish Kosher Consumer” who purchase kosher food for a variety of reasons, including, food safety, health and reliability.

Kosherfest, which took place at the end of October in Secaucus, NJ was an astounding sold-out success this year. With a strong international presence from Canada, Argentina, and Israel, Kosherfest was the place to be for everyone in the kosher food industry.

As I travel and meet companies that are interested in selling their products to the kosher market, I always mention Kosherfest as the premier kosher trade event for them to introduce their products to the kosher market.

My next trip took me to the first kosher trade show in Mexico. The weather report predicted snow for New York, where I live; Mexico in December, how could I say no!

The first annual Expo Kosher Internacional was held in December in Mexico City. It was well attended by the Mexican Jewish community as well as buyers looking for kosher products. I met people from South America, Israel and the United States – all gathering together to promote kosher in Mexico.

There are approximately 60,000 Jews living in Mexico comprised of Sefardim, Ashkenazim, Orthodox and Conservative. Mexico City alone has 40,000 Jews, representing the largest concentration of Jews in Mexico.

The Expo took place during the week of Chanukah and Chabad was on board to light Chanukah candles at the end of each day and to provide a warm, festive atmosphere.

I enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Mexican Jewish community, and as always when I travel, I am amazed at the similarity of Jews around the world. We may have adopted cultural aspects of our host countries, but at the end of the day we are all Jews and you can always find the comfort of that familiarity around the world.

Visiting Expo Kosher Internacional Mexico brought back memories of the first Kosherfest in 1988. At its inception 22 years ago, the kosher industry in the U.S. was in its infancy. The potential for growth for Mexican food manufacturers is strong, particularly for export. In addition, there is tremendous interest in kosher food from the Mexican Christian community, which is seeking healthier, safer foods. Despite the crisis situation in Mexico due to a crime wave, Mexico City felt no different than New York and security at the conference was excellent. I always felt safe – as I do in Israel.

As I sit on the plane on my way home from Mexico to JFK, I can’t help thinking how the very core of being a Jew and keeping kosher has become a world phenomenon. Businesses around the globe recognize the importance of kosher food as a business decision to increase their bottom line. As I enjoy my “kosher” breakfast heading home, it’s nice to be able to say the word “kosher” meal please to the flight attendant and have her nod say, “Of course, enjoy.”

Phyllis Koegel serves as the Marketing Director of OU Kosher based in New York City. She received her MBA from Pace University and resides in Cedarhurst, NY on Long Island.

“Contemporary Issues in Kashrut: Topics in the news plus questions from the audience” is just one of the many workshops being offered at the OU’s One Day Conference on Jewish Life, January 16th. The conference is open to all.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.