A small number of the population know about this industry, and even less require strictkashrut observance. So how is it then that the food producers of our nation have largely gone out of their way to certify their products as kosher? There is not only a cost for this rabbinical sanctioned process, but proper certification may involve: sourcing all of a product’s ingredients from “kosher” sources; having regular/spot inspections or even continuous supervision; kashering equipment to meet kashrut requirements; temporarily closing down a plant; employing specialized personnel; observing special handling, packaging, delivery and more. It might appear that having an external religious entity dictating a producer’s myriad manufacturing choices would greatly affect the bottom line and taste of the end-product? These food manufacturers already have to meet government USDA inspections to certify the safe and hygienic production of their products, so how can the cost of maintaining a kosher seal be explained?
In general, the kosher certification industry justifies their prolific expansion and success by stating that “a kosher symbol boosts market share, that a kosher product can win more favorable shelf space, and that when positioned next to a competing non-kosher product will do better by 20%” (https://oukosher.org/kosher-overview/why-go-kosher/)! A closer look at how certifying agencies view the meaning and benefits of their work can be seen in the following article: Seal-K Kosher’s “What is Kosher?”. Mainstream media has also helped by inundating their articles and productions with references associating “cleanliness” with “kosher”. But OU Kosher (the largest and oldest of these agencies) states on their “Why Go Kosher” page that “Most Americans eat some kosher food every day, but chances are they’re not aware of it” and that their logo “has become an increasingly important marketing device…[giving] a product a competitive edge that makes it sell faster, thus causing supermarkets to favor brands with certification.” This admission regarding consumer unfamiliarity presents a conundrum as to how consumers “not aware of” kosher products could be demanding more kosher products, increasing its marketability? Perhaps this would require some insight into the distribution and stocking system of major grocery chains or their business relationships with the producers? Is the demand coming from the consumers, grocery chain leadership, or are there unscrupulous networks at play here? Possibly there are some clues in Sue Fishkoff’s book: Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority, (Schocken, 2010), which takes a deep look into the rise of kosher popularity (see note 1 below). The subject matter is certainly mystifying, and demands critical examination. Existing public knowledge suggests that we may never find out. However, given that most bottled waters sold in the grocery stores are certified kosher, we decided to put out a survey to check the temperature for authentic consumer demand in this one significant circumstance. Here are the results after more than 300 votes:
Note 1: On page 56 we find Ms. Fishkoff narrating a story about a Rabbi Luban from OU Kosher who notified an ice cream producing company that they will no longer certify them because of their breaking certain contractual rules, to which “the owner called back in a panic, saying he had just purchased the company for $20 million, and the distributorswere specifically interested in OU supervision so they could place ice cream in major supermarkets. If he lost those accounts, it would destroy his business.” [our emphasis added] It turned out that OU compromised with the new company owner, but in order to continue certification they were required to hire a full time mashgiach (kosher supervisor) for their plant. This one quote yields much insight into the power of America’s food distributors and supermarkets in boosting kosher popularity, even absent of direct demand from the consumer! It also hints at the extra cost a company might incur for that tiny seal. ‘Kosher Nation’ also emphasizes this “distributor connection” in describing Chinese manufacturer’s increasing pursuit of kosher certification, as apparently the international distributors practically insist on it (see Chapter 10 – ‘Made in China, Kosher Food Production Goes Global’). And on page 16 the author describes how the COO of a California-based candy manufacturer spent $650,000 just to get “rid of all the non-kosher food starch in its plant and warehouse…and
was only a portion of the total expense.” Here the Chief
Operating Officer is elated that “we can sell to national kosher
distributors”. He continues that “Our product is flying off the