If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed and "Like" my fan page on Facebook. Thanks for visiting!
New York…by Netanel Cohn, Kosher Today Features Editor…With the Passover season rapidly approaching, major kashrus organizations were gearing up for “an avalanche” of customer inquiries, as one official put it. In interviews with the agencies, there was a general sense that kosher consumers are increasingly turning to major kashrus agencies for answers to questions they have about kosher certification, Passover and year-round. The consumers use the conventional switchboard, special hotlines and the Web, according to the kashrus agencies. Rabbi Chaim Fogelman of the Brooklyn-based OK Kosher Certification said that on average “we receive 40-50 kashrus inquires a day, split between e-mail and phone.” Mrs. Phyllis Koegel of the Orthodox Union said that its Kosher Consumer Hotline receives an average of 150 calls a day, sometimes reaching close to 170 calls on busy days. The OU also receives approximately some 50 -85 questions a day through its on-line Webbe Rebbe, according to the OU executive. During the final weeks before Passover, said Mrs. Koegel, the number of inquiries rises to between 300 and 500 a day. Mrs. Anne Senter, of the Teaneck NJ based Kof-K Kashrus said that its consumer hotline “receives about 850 questions a month divided approximately equally between e-mail and phone inquiries.” She added that “questions are usually answered directly by the Rabbi who deals with the specific company.” Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago-based cRc said that his agency receives “about 1,000 consumer inquires each month, but many more visit the website and use our ipod app.”
The agencies agreed that technology has played a major role in the surging number of inquiries. At the Kof-K site, one can go online, fill out a form and e-mail the question. The cRc developed a kosher app because “we’re thinking about the individual stuck in the supermarket who needs kosher advice,” said Rabbi Fishbane. At the OU, it’s the popular Webbe Rebbe that answers the on-line questions. The organizations also said that many of the inquiries are made by baffled consumers on who might be behind a generic “k” or the identity of an unknown symbol or rabbi. Other major subjects are the possible dairy content of a product, the credibility of a rabbi, or the kashrus of a product that appears to be inherently kosher.
Chicago…Just a few short weeks after it re-opened its flagship kosher store in Evanston, Jewel-Osco this week re-opened yet another store, this time in Lakeview, not your typical kosher neighborhood. For kosher consumers in the area, the redesign and reopening of the major supermarket in the area was an opportunity to influence management to open a kosher store within the store, albeit not as extensive as the Evanston store which serves the Chicago kosher market. With the help of Yakov Yarmove, in the Ethnic Marketing and Specialty Foods division of SuperValu, the community’s wishes came true. Under the supervision of the Orthodox Union (OU), the store features a dedicated kosher gourmet cheese section, packaged meats and other products, kosher dairy, bakery and fish. After meeting with members of the local Jewish community, Yarmove was surprised to learn of the 400-500 kosher families living in the store’s vicinity, who were tired of trekking to Jewel’s kosher havens in Evanston and Highland Park. “No one likes to schlep,” Yarmove said.
Chicago…by Staff Reporters…Does plain roasted kasha require kosher certification? How about Sun dried tomatos without any flavors or added oil coatings, which usually are listed in the ingredients? These are some of the questions addressed to the rabbinic team at the Chicago Rabbinical Council via Twitter. According to Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, its Kashrus Administrator, social media is increasingly being used by the agency to transmit kashrus alerts and solicit subscriptions for their kashrus newsletter. Several rabbis involved in kashrus say that they “keep in touch” with many customers and even companies they supervise via Facebook. But social media is just at the early stages for the industry as a whole, industry sources say. Sam Davidowitz, the IT specialist at the Orthodox Union (OU), says that despite the agency’s comprehensive Web presence, there is still very little activity through social media. Rabbi Zechariah Senter of the Kof-K Kosher Certification agency said that most of the communications by consumers with the agency “is still through e-mail.” Many in the kosher industry believe that “it is only a matter of time” when social media plays more of a role in the growth of kosher. They say that there already is a network of “kosher foodies” that use social media extensively, even offering up-to the-minute alerts about specials in the neighborhood. Rabbi Fishbane believes that the kosher agencies should begin to promote social media like Twitter to expand their reach to the kosher market.
New York…by Tova Ross, Feature Editor…As people around the globe continue to move towards a healthier diet, many vegetarian, vegan, and health-oriented food companies are also increasingly obtaining kosher certification. The reason is that many manufacturers believe that people buy kosher foods not only for religious reasons, but with the belief that kosher is synonymous with higher-quality. A few months ago, the New York Times reported that in today’s world, with worries over food contamination and a heightened awareness of food allergies and purity of ingredients, “kosher equals pure” for many people – Jewish or not. And Mintel, a consumer goods research company, found that only 15 percent of those who purchase kosher products regularly do so for religious reasons.
The Redwood Wholefood Company, the British ethical and vegan food company owned by Heather Mills, was just awarded kosher certification for its broad range of natural, plant-based foods, including dairy-free cheeses and similar-tasting alternatives to meat in beef, turkey and chicken flavors. The kosherization process took almost a full year to complete, and the supervisor is the Manchester Beth Din. Said Heather Mills. “Achieving kosher certification is an endorsement of the care and attention we give to the sourcing of ingredients and to the manufacturing of our products.” The company’s products are sold under the VBites label in the United States.
Daiya Foods, non-dairy (pareve) products that are similar to dairy cheese in taste and texture, have recently received OU kosher certification. In addition to being dairy-free, Daiya foods are free of gluten, soy, eggs, wheat, barley, whey, peanuts, and tree nuts. Mara Friedman, editor-in-chief of The Jew and the Carrot, a blog about Jewish thought and food tradition along with contemporary issues like sustainability, organic eating, and nutrition, stated, “Vegetarians navigating a world of confusing food labels know that innocent sounding ingredients in conventional products are often animal-derived. A kosher label on food is one of the most trustworthy guarantees that certain animal products will not be present.”
New York…by KT Staff Reporters…Just when you have perfected the important practice of checking vegetables for insects comes a new guide on the kashrus of oil by the Orthodox Union (OU). The “OU Manual for the Oil Industry” is designed for mashgichim and others who supervise cooking and baking with oil. It follows on the heels of the OU’s guidebook for the baking industry. Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, stated: “This manual is an important step in the department’s goal to provide kosher industry professionals and kosher consumers alike with a thorough, extensive education in kosher laws and practices.” Printed in full color with many vivid illustrations, the recently-published manual focuses on three specific areas of concern for kosher certifiers, kosher food retailers and service facilities: technology, practicalities and methodologies of kosher supervision, and the official rulings of OU halachic authorities. Topics include refinement, fractionation, and deodorization of oil. Rabbi Moshe Zywica, the OU’s Director of Operations, helped coordinate the manual. He calls it “required reading for anyone supervising or certifying an oil agency, and the first manual of its kind to explain the issues involved with ensuring the oil used in cooking and baking is completely kosher.” In addition to Rabbi Zywica, those who worked on the manual are Rabbi Yaacov Luban, the OU’s executive rabbinic coordinator, who served as the editor; Dr. Avraham Meyer, who has a PhD in chemistry and who Rabbi Luban calls “a walking encyclopedia of technology and kashrus,” who served as an advisor for the text; Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, an OU Rabbinic Coordinator who oversees the oil industry; and Rabbi Avraham Juravel, an OU Rabbinic Coordinator who reviewed the entire manual before its publishing. To obtain copies of the manual, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Menachem Lubinsky
New York…The decision by Gatorade to secure the kosher certification of the Orthodox Union (OU) was due to the brand’s recognition of new opportunities with younger kosher consumers. Nearly six months after Kosher Today (October 13, 2009) broke the story that both Gatorade and Tootsie Roll would soon add kosher certification, Gatorade itself broke the news in full page ads and press releases in Jewish publications. In fact, in its ad, Gatorade addresses the emergence of a younger more health conscious kosher consumer. Gatorade noted that its new OU symbol on the label “means the athletes in your family can now have the same advantage the pros have had since 1965.” Gatorade’s kosher certification also puts its parent company PepsiCo on a more level playing field with Coca Cola whose PowerAde brand has had OU certification for years. Gatorade has for years dominate the energy beverage category which it hopes to retain with its new kosher certification. Carbonated soft drinks have in recent years lost ground to the energy drinks. The retail dollar value of U.S. carbonated soft drink sales was up about 2.7 percent to $72 billion due to the popularity of higher-priced energy drinks and price increases of traditional soft drinks. The kosher beverage market is estimated at $1.5 billion, about 10% of the overall kosher market.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Postville, IA…The owners of Agri Star, the successors of Agriprocessing, may have learnt a valuable lesson last week when one of its main hechsherim pulled its certification. The departure of Rabbi Menachem M. Weissmnadl caused an immediate uproar, prompting the owners to threaten legal action and recourse in a rabbinical court. Sources say that friction between the team of Rabbi Weissmandl and the ownership of Mr. Heshi Friedman had been going on for weeks. In his brief announcement, Rabbi Weissmandl noted that he was removing his kosher certification from all the various brands of AgriStar. Sources say that the loss of the hechsher to Agri could further complicate the company’s recovery efforts. One source familiar with similar changes in kosher certifications said: “The cost of changing the labels alone is enough to cause someone to think twice, let alone of the fallout from a dropped hechsher.” In addition to Rabbi Weissmandl’s hechsher, Agri Star products are also certified by the Orthodox Union (OU). Although Rabbi Weissmandl was careful not to cast aspersions on the kashrus, many of his followers and others are questioning the motives behind his departure. A source close to the controversy said: “Let us just say that the cultures were not compatible.” Agri Star continues to be a major producer of kosher poultry and to date has not yet resumed the slaughter of cattle since its predecessor Agriprocessing declared bankruptcy. A source close to the Friedmans told Kosher Today that the resumption of the schechita of cattle was imminent. Many questions loomed in the wake of the developments at Agri Star, including the fate of some of the shochtim who are part of the operation of Agri Star. A spokesman for the Orthodox Union said that the OU would continue to certify Agri just as it has for many years. They emphasized that the integrity of the kashrus was not compromised by the change.