Understanding Kosher Certification

November 10, 2013

Health-conscious consumers increasingly seek kosher-certified food and supplements.

Once the domain of traditionally Jewish foods, kosher has gone mainstream in the last few decades to include just about every possible food type found in American supermarkets. Kosher, rooted in the Jewish dietary rules, has increasingly become a popular marketing tool. In fact, according to global market researcher Mintel Group, kosher has been the most common claim on American food packaging every year since 2005, used with more than twice the frequency of the second most common claim, “all natural.” To satisfy American consumers’ preference for kosher food, kosher certifiers travel throughout the world to certify ingredients in places such as Chile, China, and India.

Health-related food categories certainly offer good examples of the growing kosher market. At OU Kosher, we have seen an uptick in the number of vitamin, nutritional, and supplement companies applying for certification. From large corporations, such as DSM and McNeil Nutritionals, to smaller manufacturers of functional foods, vitamin pills, and supplements, this niche within the larger kosher market maintains a prominent position. In recent months, OU Kosher has certified some of the functional foods produced by D’Vida Health, as well as Baobab Fruit Powder from Thrive Wildcraft and Gericare’s Milk of Magnesia.

The kosher certification process is different for each of these types of companies, but it always starts with an ingredient analysis. The producer sends an ingredient list along with kosher certificates for the raw materials to the kosher agency, and the agency then records the kosher status of each raw material. There are some ingredients, such as sugar, which are inherently kosher and do not require any evidence of kosher certification. The kosher agency can advise the company which of its raw materials are inherently kosher. The kosher certifier has access to a large database of raw materials to easily advise a company on where to purchase kosher ingredients.

The kosher agency will also advise a factory as to which protocols are needed to properly ensure that products remain kosher. Sometimes, the protocols are as basic as proper record-keeping. Occasionally, kosher products produced in an otherwise non-kosher facility may require an inspector to be present during production.

Kosher programs require that kosher inspectors visit factories and see to the segregation of kosher from non-kosher productions. These visits are usually unannounced and are an opportunity for the kosher agency both to verify that kosher protocols are being followed and to advise the company regarding any kosher questions that might arise as productions or processes change.

The kosher market has grown for a variety of reasons. Researchers have investigated why consumers who may have no Jewish roots sometimes prefer a kosher-certified product to a non-kosher one. One of the interesting findings is that 55% of people who purchase kosher do so because they feel that kosher products are healthier, although the kosher agencies themselves are careful not to make such claims. Perhaps it is the fact that kosher inspectors visit factories and maintain detailed ingredient lists-or just the old world values associated with kosher-that gives kosher food a reputation for health. Regardless, it is no wonder that with health-conscious consumers looking for kosher food, the number of health-related kosher products continues to grow.

Despite-or perhaps because of-the expansion in the health-related kosher market thus far, it appears that kosher consumers would still like to see more growth. Recently, OU Kosher conducted an e-mail survey of kosher consumers. In it, respondents were asked about their consumption of vitamins and their desire to see more vitamins certified. Ninety-one percent of them reported purchasing vitamins. When asked how important having more kosher-certified vitamins than currently available would be, 52% said it would be “preferable,” 40% said it would be a “high priority,” and only 6% said it would “not be important.” Given the competitive nature of the current market, it certainly looks as if we can expect further growth in kosher market as producers look to attract these consumers.