Why kosher food is hot

Rachel Fletcher ex­am­ines why the mar­ket for kosher prod­ucts is ex­pand­ing so rapidly

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES -

WE H A V E h a d t h e free-range trend, the o r g a n i c boom and n o w t h e Fair Trade ob­ses­sion. So what will be the next niche food fash­ion to go main­stream? One se­nior New York rabbi has no doubts. He reck­ons that ev­ery­one th­ese days wants their food kosher.

His ev­i­dence? Well, the global mar­ket for kosher food is on the rise, ac­cord­ing to Rabbi Eliyahu Safran of New York, an author­ity on kashrut. Re­quests for kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is grow­ing in coun­tries such as China, Turkey, In­dia, and South Amer­ica.

Rabbi Safran has been in Lon­don this week ad­dress­ing a Food In­gre­di­ents con­fer­ence. A rab­bini­cal pres­ence is not stan­dard at the bian­nual event. That, he sug­gests, shows how se­ri­ously the kosher mar­ket is be­ing taken.

“We like to say that kosher is hot,” he says. “The kosher mar­ket­place in the US has been grow­ing by 10 to 15 per cent a year in the past 10 to 15 years. The Ortho­dox Union now cer­ti­fies 6,000 plants in over 80 coun­tries.”

To an ex­tent, the de­mand feeds off it­self. “More and more kosher fin­ished prod­ucts means a need for more and more kosher in­gre­di­ents from pro­duc­ers,” Rabbi Safran ex­plains.

“That means coun­tries through­out the world are seek­ing to pro­duce kosher food to ex­port to Is­rael and the US, where there is such great de­mand.”

Rabbi Safran’s author­ity cer­ti­fies sev­eral hun­dred Chi­nese com­pa­nies, for ex­am­ple. “There, a great ma­jor­ity of com­pa­nies seek­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion are pro­duc­ing raw ma­te­ri­als that are then used in fin­ished prod­ucts.

“There is also a great growth in In­dia, a sub-con­ti­nent in it­self, and de­vel­op­ing in tech­nol­ogy and man­u­fac­ture.

“And there is also growth in East­ern Europe since the fall of the Iron Cur­tain, which means com­pa­nies seek to ex­port to Is­rael, and also in Turkey and South Amer­ica.”

But why is kosher food ex­pand­ing so much faster than the Jewish birth rate? The rea­son seems to be that nonJews are buy­ing into the kosher ethos.

In the US, kosher prod­ucts have been rel­a­tively pro­tected from the food scares which have blighted the pre­pared-food mar­ket.

Con­sumers are aware, for ex­am­ple, that kosher laws are stricter than US De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture stan­dards when it comes to an­i­mal health. Kashrut pro­hibits us­ing cows with bro- ken bones or an­i­mals that are vis­i­bly sick. The laws strictly dic­tate how the an­i­mals are fed, killed and pro­cessed.

There is also a wide­spread per­cep­tion that kosher chick­ens are less likely to be in­fected with bac­te­ria such as campy­lobac­tor and sal­mo­nella. Kosher birds are washed, salted and passed through three tanks of clean wa­ter. Janet Corry, a sci­en­tist from Bris­tol Univer­sity, feels that the im­mer­sion in salt might well in­hibit bac­te­ria, al­though there is no con­clu­sive re­search to back this up.

It is not just health con­sid­er­a­tions driv­ing for­ward the Amer­i­can kosher mar­ket. Be­cause kashrut pro­hibits the mix­ing of meat and milk prod­ucts, kosher food-la­belling is rig­or­ous. NonJewish veg­e­tar­i­ans know that there is no hid­den meat in milky or parev prod­ucts, and ve­g­ans and those with lac­tose in­tol­er­ance know that parev prod­ucts con­tain no dairy. Plus, many Mus­lims are happy that kosher cer­ti­fied food also sat­is­fies ha­lal re­stric­tions. In­deed, some glatt-kosher sand­wiches now carry the words “ha­lal ap­proved”.

Then, there is the fact that a grow­ing num­ber of su­per­mar­kets in ar­eas with a Jewish pop­u­la­tion are stock­ing kosher lines. But it is not just the Jews who are buy­ing them. Matzah is mar­keted to non-Jews as a low-salt, low fat food. It has worked. Ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for Rakusen, 50 per cent of its matzah is bought by non-Jews.

Some things may never catch on, how­ever. Metic­u­lous food-la­belling or not, if you are queu­ing up at the check­out with a jar of gefilte fish, you are al­most cer­tain to be Jewish.

Su­per­mar­kets in Jewish ar­eas all have kosher coun­ters. But it is not just Jews who are buy­ing the food

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