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New York…The list of major vodka brands sold in the US without kosher certification is dwindling to a precious few. Crystal Head Vodka, created by entertainer Dan Aykroyd and American landscape artist and portraitist John Alexander, became the latest major vodka brand to become kosher certified when it received the endorsement by the Orthodox Union (OU). A leading wine and spirit expert told Kosher Today that sales of vodka have been steadily increasing in Orthodox Jewish areas, mostly by younger consumers. Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher’s Vice President, Communications and Marketing, was gratified to “welcome Crystal Head Vodka to the ever-growing list of the high class vodka and liquor products that have gained OU certification in recent years.” Rabbi Safran told Kosher Today that despite a perception by some that all vodka is inherently kosher “all flavored vodka requires certification.” He noted that many types of vodka are produced in distilleries that also produce other alcoholic beverages, including many grape based beverages. These can share equipment and cross contaminate grain based vodka. Additionally, some vodka is polished with glycerin. A number of rabbis have voiced concern at the “increased drinking habits” of many younger Orthodox Jews, but dismissed any notion that it has become a “problem.” One rabbi said: “Yes, there is definitely more drinking going on at the Shabbos Kiddush, but by and large you would call that “responsible consumption of alcohol.” For vodka producers, the increased demand has apparently not gone unnoticed.
In one of my visits to an upscale kosher supermarket, I picked up a product which promised to give color and taste to a number of traditional Shabbat foods, such as cholent and kugel. A low-fat product, it would seem that it would be an interesting and exciting addition; yet the display seemed undisturbed, which the manager said was due “to typical dumping of new products on the shelf without proper marketing.” What a shame. In due time, the manager will remove the product from the shelf with the item never getting a chance to prove itself. This is fairly common for many new kosher products that despite having much promise are simply not given the proper introduction to customers. In various studies that I conducted, not being aware of new products was one of the major complaints of kosher consumers.
A major kosher distributor guessed that only 1 of 10 new products ever make it, either because it is an extension of an existing product or “it is marketed to death.” Retailers will often cave-in to a sales pitch by a distributor and make room on crowded shelves, but if the product doesn’t move they ultimately “pack it in,” said the distributor. The right way to introduce a new product is to invest in a full court press that includes advertising, press releases, recipes, promotions, tastings, and coupons. I am always puzzled when I see companies invest in the development of a new product, only to let it flounder on the shelf. I know that for many it is a question of chicken and the egg. How do they get the capital to invest in marketing if they haven’t sold even one product? Unfortunately, they may find out that the money they invested to develop the product was also spent in vain.