COULD KOSHER BE THE NEXT BIG FOOD TREND?

nina | December 18th, 2013 - 9:00 am

How many people don’t know the statement, is this deal kosher? – but do we really know what kosher means other than the fact that it was somehow affiliated with Judaism.

And the common view that kosher is somehow better, purer, and healthier than non-kosher foods is an opportunity for the kosher food industry.

Food trends thrive on perception, not reality. Fewer than 3% of the U.S. population are allergic to gluten, but the protein has concerned so many eaters who are convinced that they suffer from this aliment that items without the offensive ingredient are now featured as such on restaurant menus, packaged foods, and even on the boxes of Rice Krispies cereal.

Now, there is money to be made from people with food issues. And the kosher food industry is at a turning point if it hopes to become the next gluten-free trend. Over the past 50 years, kosher has slowly been embraced by mainstream brands.

Total kosher sales in 1960 represented 10% of total kosher food sales in 2010, according to the Kosher Advisory Service. Kosher products are projected to generate $17 billion in sales in 2013. There are 3,400 companies that are certified with the Orthodox Union, one of the largest organizations that grants kosher certification, and there are 70,000 products in grocery stores that are kosher, up from 3,000 in 1970, according to the Kosher Advisory Service. Large corporations and other giants are not paying millions to participate in kosher programs to exclusively reach the observant, but they are doing it to meet the needs of mainstream Americans who perceive that all kosher products are better in every way, which may or may not be true in all instances.

Indeed, only 15% of those who purchase kosher products do so for religious reasons. Of the 11.2 million Americans who do purchase kosher items, most who seek out kosher products buy the items for food quality (62%), general healthfulness (51%), and food safety (34%). There are four dynamic groups – Jewish that exclusively buy kosher, Jewish that don’t exclusively buy kosher, ‘heimish’ ultra-orthodox Jewish, and the non-Jewish – that buy kosher and each is complex with different reasons drawing them to buy kosher.  Kosher means something very different to those that buy it.

Despite this shift to widespread availability, kosher remains a tough sell, both for consumers and the food industry.

There are a number of challenges which currently hinder kosher from reaching its full potential. Unlike the organic industry, there isn’t a cohesive or collaborative effort to promote the kosher industry as a whole. Each of the four major organizations that grant kosher certification, for instance, all use different symbols. These varying signs make it challenging for consumers to recognize or identify kosher products. Everyone in the kosher industry really needs to get behind it. They need to get the word out. The organic seal has meaning and is well-known.

In addition to the lack of a universal and recognizable symbol, food brands and grocers all enact different strategies to market kosher goods.  It seems companies spend millions to ensure their products are kosher, but keep this certification hidden from everyone but those who know how to look for it.

Consumers, for their part, typically have two key obstacles when it comes to purchasing kosher products. First, there’s kosher’s religious affiliation with Judaism which means to many non-Jewish individuals that kosher isn’t for them. Kosher’s biggest challenge is its identity. It’s a double-edged sword. There’s the baggage with the Jewish connection, but there is also comfort in all of that. The other challenge is a simple lack of awareness.

Still, global and cultural trends have filtered through to a new generation that is less likely to care if kosher is connected to a religion. Now, the more pressing challenge is education, or lack thereof. People may not know kosher as a product that has been blessed by a rabbi, but why?  More consumers need to know why purchasing kosher products may be beneficial to them.

Kosher should be perceived as a positive thing and not as a lecture on religious observances.

Although many with lactose intolerances and milk allergies look for the “pareve” designation on kosher products, the kosher industry could do a better job to target those with allergies and food intolerances, and vegetarians. In other words, anyone with food issues. Execution of an educational campaign which clearly explains the many benefits of kosher; the easier identification of kosher products; and appealing to those with food issues will greatly assist kosher in penetratinng the mainstream food market. It really involves the repositioning of kosher. Most vaguely know what it means for the Jewish, but they need to discover the benefit for themselves. Only when people are certain it applies to them will they pay [extra] for a kosher-certified product. Once the educated care about something, they become vocal, and then the mainstream follow.

One good thing that kosher does have going for it is that it evokes feelings of trust in Americans who don’t fully trust the global food industry. So many people don’t fully trust the government and the food industry to handle their food. Kosher is an extra stamp that certify that it is what it says it is.

Ultimately, whether kosher becomes the next big food trend may simply come down to competition. There are only so many trends that the food industry can embrace, and many grocers and food brands are still evaluating gluten-free. It’s hard to quickly act upon a new trend in the marketplace. For instance, people are currently weighing several emerging trends including kosher, gluten-free, made in the U.S.A., all-natural, and serving sized packaging. There is only so much package space to tout all of the latest trends. Whether kosher makes the front of the package remains to be decided.

Source:  forbes.com, 12-2-13

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