For as ubiquitous as this industry is and how deep it touches the lives of every person who shops for food and related kitchen products, it defies reason as to how it is known to very few in our society: the majority of your essential grocery products sold in large and small chain stores have been certified “kosher” by one of numerous rabbinical organizations. The most prominent of these is the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations (Orthodox Union,www.ou.org). They, alone, claim to certify over one million products. But there are also hundreds of regional and local kashrut organizations that play an active roll in providing similar services, each with its own certification stamp or symbol. Recognizing all of them could be mind-boggling!
For those users of KosChertified? who are already familiar with the kosher certification industry, please do not be offended as we try to eduKate the majority populace on how it affects them. Freedom of information regarding such a cultural and religiously significant twist to a daily event in life (i.e. procuring food and eating it) is paramount in allowing consumers freedom of choice in their living habits. The dissemination of this information in no way is intended to denigrate anyone’s religion, faith, race, ethnicity or culture.
The majority in the U.S. does not observe orthodox religious dietary laws, and kosher certification symbols are often difficult to identify on a label, so it doesn’t catch the average shopper’s attention. Furthermore, most major grocery chains have a special section or aisle dedicated to kosher foods, such as in this photo (see left column middle):
Given this special section for kosher foods, the unfamiliar shopper would easily assume that this is where one would find the majority of kosher-certified products. This is simply not the case. The entire store is jam packed with kosher-certified products and mixed into most all of the aisles. Products that one never thought would be certified as such are inexplicably so: For instance most bottled waters, aluminum foil and dish soap. So because of its prevalence in most cases, it is unnecessary for consumers requiring this dietary formality to proceed to a specialty store.
But it can be understood why the typical uninformed shopper knows nothing of these “certified” labels. In the photo below you’ll get a perspective on how a shopper might view a bottle of pancake syrup sitting on a grocer’s shelf. It is, in fact, kosher-certified. Can you spot the symbol that makes it so?
In this case the kosher symbol is the most common one (belonging to the Orthodox Union) and can be described by a letter “U” enclosed by a circle, very similar to the U.S. Trademark symbol – a circled “R”. Seen above, the trademark symbol with the circled “R” can be barely noticed to the lower right of the letter “N” in Log Cabin. The kosher-certification symbol (circled “U”) is located below the two trees on the right side of the snowy cabin artwork. Here is a close up:
It stands out that these symbols are not so easy
to see. For the orthodox Jew this might be quite a chore to locate and
identify, preventing their desire to purchase such certified products. To
the non-observer of religious dietary law the certification would be very
stealth-like, preventing their awareness of such certification. This begs the
shopper a perplexing question as to why the symbol is so small? If the
underlying motive in having such certification is to display to the consumers
that it meets kashrut requirements, then shouldn’t the symbol be easy to
visualize while shopping? Those looking for it will then have an easier
time finding kosher products. Here is the same symbol roughly matched up
against a NON-GMO and USDA INSPECTED certification on a label:
Both the NON-GMO and USDA certification symbols are prominent, large and easily
noticeable, while the kosher symbol is a small fraction of the others.
One answer would be that these other certification symbols are wordy and
must be larger to contain that content. It may also tend to suggest that the
food producer wants the consumer to know about the NON-GMO or
USDA blessing, but not the rabbi’s. For as simple as the kosher symbol is
in the case shown above, it still could very easily have been enlarged to the
same size for easy recognition by the shopper. Is there a marketing
tactic employed here? [note to reader: the unusually small symbols
referred to here are very common, but there certainly are some kosher products
that display larger and higher-viz symbols on their labels. We make this
point because the abundance of small symbols may be a
contributing factor to lack of awareness to the public].
Often is the case where these Kosher certification symbols are located on the back or side labels of a product, requiring a diligent shopper to go on an “Easter Egg Hunt” to find its status. Whatever the reason, it would appear that such small and obscure labeling tactics are a disservice to both factions in their every day shopping experience.
Finally, a cursory look into mainstream media advertising would find that while food manufacturers tend to actively market and promote their product’s certifications or attributes when it relates to being Organic, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, Non-Gluten, Low-Fat, Low-Sodium or Low-Calorie, there seems to be a dearth in marketing food products as “kosher-certified”. Instead, the public receives most of their kosher-awareness through news articles printed in the mainstream press on the virtues of kosher food. These one-sided opinion pieces have inevitably shaped the viewpoints of many on how tasty and special these kashrut meals are. But that same press has been largely silent on disseminating information on its unique certification industry and its implications.
Regarding awareness, we decided to put out a survey that covers a very common purchase for most people at the grocery stores. Is our polling audience better informed than the general public? Take a look and decide for yourself:
To sum this up, there has been a lack of transparency in the
history and current operations of the kosher-certification industry. As it
currently stands, the uninformed reader should know that the four largest
kosher-certifying corporations are 1) OU Kosher (Orthodox Union), 2) OK Kosher
Certification, 3) Kof-K Kosher Supervision, and 4) Star-K Kosher Certification.
The reader should also be aware that kosher certification does not end at
the shelves of the grocery stores, but further penetrates into countless
restaurants, hotel chains, coffee houses, eateries, catering operations and