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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2008

Answering to a Higher Authortity

Kosher, halal certifications bless the bottom line

by Linda L. Leake, MS

“In God we trust,” printed on the currency consumers use to pay for groceries, is the mindset many are embracing when making food purchasing decisions. The growing demand for kosher and halal products is parting the waves to the supermarket with great force and fervor. Though not widely understood by non-devotees, kosher and halal are clearly among the most important and fastest growing trends in the food industry.

“The increase in new product launches is one way to chart the growth of kosher,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, PhD, a senior research analyst with Mintel International Group (Chicago), a market research firm. “Between 2002 and 2007 in the United States alone, the number of new product launches among kosher-certified processed foods multiplied more than 15 times, skyrocketing from 283 new products in 2002 to 4,477 products in 2007.”

An estimated six million Jews live in the United States, according to the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), but only 1.15 million year-round American kosher consumers are Jewish. Deliberate kosher consumers—those who specifically look for a hechsher, a kosher certification symbol—are believed to total some 11 million Americans, purchasing more than $11.5 billion worth of kosher products annually, according to Menachem Lubinsky, president and chief executive officer of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, LLC (Brooklyn, N.Y.), a firm that compiles kosher statistics.

Other, less dedicated, U.S. kosher consumers include Muslims and devotees of other religions, such as Seventh Day Adventists, who are often vegetarian, says Joe Regenstein, PhD, a professor of food science at Cornell University. Dr. Regenstein established and spearheads the Kosher and Halal Food Initiative in Cornell’s Department of Food Science. “Regardless of religious beliefs, consumers who at times find kosher products helpful in meeting their dietary needs include vegetarians, vegans, and people with various allergies and intolerances, particularly to dairy, grains, and legumes,” Dr. Regenstein says.

Kosher Drivers

“There are many motivations for purchasing kosher products that have nothing to do with religion,” Dr. Mogelonsky says. “The kosher food market is growing dramatically not so much because of religion, but because consumers of various backgrounds trust kosher foods to be safer and more clearly marked as to ingredient content.”

Kosher has been likened to the iconic “Good Housekeeping Seal” of approval for consumer products. According to Mintel research, there are 12.5 million deliberate kosher consumers, and 55% of those, 6.4 million, purchase kosher because they consider the products to be safer than products not certified as kosher. Some 35%, or 4.4 million, of these deliberate kosher consumers choose kosher because of taste or flavor preferences.

Many consumers believe that kosher food production is supervised more strictly than foods subjected only to government inspection. “For many consumers, the kosher symbol guarantees that the food is free of contaminants or disease,” Dr. Mogelonsky says. “This is especially true for beef. Consumers who fear BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] feel that kosher beef provides a better option than conventionally slaughtered beef.”

Halal market Potential

There are an estimated seven million Muslims in the United States and one million in Canada. Nonetheless, the food industry has, for the most part, ignored this consumer group, says Muhammad Chaudry, PhD, executive director of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA, Park Ridge, Ill.), considered the leading halal certification organization in North America. “There are excellent opportunities to be realized in the North American halal market, including among non-Muslims, and even more opportunities exist worldwide,” Dr. Chaudry says.

He estimates that 99% of the 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide observe halal food laws, particularly the avoidance of pork and alcohol. “Many millions of non-Muslims choose to eat halal products because of what halal observers tout as the obvious positive health benefits associated with the cleanliness and purity of food preparation within the halal framework, as well as the compassion with which animals are slaughtered when done in accordance with halal standards,” Dr. Chaudry says.

Mintel’s research estimates sales of halal-certified packaged non-meat products in the United States at about $15 million in 2007. The global market for halal-certified products is reaching biblical proportions, starting at a figure of $150 billion, suggested by some analysts, and estimated at $580 billion annually and growing, according to IFANCA.

Although they are separated by religious belief, the steps for kosher and halal certification are similar. A qualified independent third party is required to supervise production, attesting that consumables were produced in conformity with the preparation and ingredient standards of kosher or halal guidelines. After successful adoption and performance of kosher or halal productivity procedures, the supervisory third party then issues certification to the producer, attesting to conformity on a per-product basis.

Before any company can acquire kosher or halal certification, its personnel must have both a basic understanding of, and a respect for, the respective traditions.

Kosher Roots

The Hebrew word kosher means “fit” or “proper” as it relates to Jewish dietary law. Kosher foods are those that Jews are permitted to eat; they can also be used as ingredients in the production of other food items.

“The laws of kashrus—a Hebrew word referring to kosher and its application—are complex and extensive,” Dr. Regenstein says. “Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of kashrus, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the divine will, as expressed in the Torah, which is the original five books of the Holy Scriptures. Kosher laws are viewed by Jews as given to the community without a need for explanation.”

Kosher dietary laws deal predominantly with three issues, all focused on the animal kingdom: allowed animals, the prohibition against the consumption of blood, and the prohibition against mixing milk and meat.

Allowed animals include ruminants with split hooves that chew their cud. Even though the pig has split hooves, it does not chew its cud, so pork is not kosher. Traditional domestic birds are permitted, including chicken, turkey, duck, goose, and squab. The only animals from the sea that are permitted are fish with fins and removable scales.

The Torah forbids the consumption of the blood of an animal. Additionally, it does not allow cooking meat and milk together in any form, eating such cooked products, or deriving benefit from them. Therefore, eating meat and dairy products at the same meal or preparing them using the same utensils is prohibited. Rabbinic law, the extension and clarification of Torah law, also prohibits the consumption of meat and fish together.

The adjective “parve” (sometimes spelled pareve or parev) means that a food item does not contain dairy or meat ingredients and was not processed with heat on dairy or meat equipment. Parve foods are neutral and may be eaten with meat or dairy foods.

Kosher Certification

The U.S. food industry boasts at least 102,000 kosher-certified products produced by nearly 10,650 companies and plants, according to Lubinsky. The average U.S. supermarket offers about 17,000 kosher products as part of its mix. “This includes not only the well-known kosher brands but also mainstream brands,” Lubinsky says.

The value of kosher goods produced in the United States—$245 billion—is enough to make a believer out of almost any food industry stakeholder, and the kosher ingredients that are sold add $325 billion to the tally. “These numbers undoubtedly seem high compared to the dedicated kosher market,” Lubinsky says. “That’s because many people don’t realize that most of the food items they purchase have a kosher symbol on them.”

As of 2008, there are 921 properly documented kosher certification bodies worldwide, although the stamps of less than ten of those appear regularly on kosher products in the Unites States.

When pursuing kosher production, a company should select a certification body that best meets its needs, Dr. Regenstein advises. “Do they have enough personnel to provide timely supervision?” he asks. “Are they responsive to your company’s needs? Are they willing to work cooperatively with your company?”

Lubinsky suggests that marketing and distribution should also be taken into consideration. “Will the product be distributed nationally or sold in mainstream supermarkets that require a national kosher symbol?” he asks. “Or will the product be sold in smaller kosher marts and distributed locally or regionally?”

Halal Traditions

Halal is an Arabic term meaning “permissible” or “lawful.” The opposite of halal is haram, which means “prohibited” or “unlawful.” “Health is a key characteristic embedded in all the teachings and instructions of Islam,” Dr. Chaudry says. “Followers are taught that anything halal will lead one to good health. Conversely, anything haram will inevitably lead to some form of disease and suffering.”

All pure and clean foods are considered halal with a few exceptions, specifically pork and all by-products of swine, animals not slaughtered according to halal requirements or dead before slaughtering, animals killed in the name of anyone other than God, carnivorous animals, birds of prey, most land animals without external ears, blood and blood by-products, alcohol and intoxicants, and foods contaminated with any of these haram products.

While many things are clearly halal or clearly haram, there are some things that are not so easy to classify. Such items are often referred to as mashbooh, which means “doubtful” or “questionable.” More information is needed to categorize these items as halal or haram.

“Muslims believe that all halal products are good for all people, while some non-halal products are good for only a few,” says Rasheed Ahmed, founder and president of the Muslim Consumer Group (MCG, Huntley, Ill.), a nonprofit educational and halal certification organization.

There are currently more than 1,600 companies in the United States producing certified halal products. “In 2008 IFANCA will certify 60% of the companies in this country that produce halal foods and ingredients for domestic sales or export,” Dr. Chaudry says. Globally, almost 1,000 more companies are producing IFANCA-certified foods, totaling almost 2,000 production locations under IFANCA supervision.

Of the dozens of halal certifying bodies, just seven are considered the most active. Two focus on certifying meat intended primarily for export, while the other five specialize in general food products.

Major Differences

While kosher and halal are similar in many ways, significant differences separate the two. Islam, for example, prohibits all intoxicants, including alcohols, liquors, and wines, whereas Judaism regards alcohol and wine as kosher if they receive proper supervision and contain no unacceptable ingredients. Hence, kosher foods may contain alcohol; those that do are considered haram in Islam. In addition, Muslims must invoke the name of God on each animal while in the act of slaughtering. Kosher slaughter does not include this requirement.

While halal refers to all matters of life, kosher is a term associated mainly with food and a few other specific biblical laws. “If a product is kosher certified, it does not mean the product is automatically halal and vice versa,” Dr. Regenstein says. “Only a handful of products have joint kosher and halal certification; however, that number is increasing.”

Dr. Regenstein says there is tremendous potential for new products in the kosher market, especially for Passover, the solemn eight-day tradition that commemorates God freeing the Jewish slaves from Egyptian bondage. During Passover, dietary restrictions are increased, and many more Jews who are not year-round kosher consumers embrace kosher practices.

The NJPS reports that 78% of all American Jews observe Passover, which, according to Lubinsky, accounts for 40% of the annual sales—total transactions, not dollar value—to American Jews by kosher food producers.

Products made from wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt are prohibited during this period, except for matzo, a special unleavened bread. By custom, other products such as corn, rice, legumes, mustard seed, and some other plants are not used. Many rabbis extend this Passover prohibition to derivatives of these materials, including corn syrup and corn starch.

Despite the significant number of halal consumers in the United States and the hundreds of certified halal products already available, the halal market is in its infancy in this country. According to Mintel’s global new product database, only 15 new halal food products were launched in 2007.

“The key halal message is that it is relatively easy and cost effective to make halal products,” Dr. Chaudry says. “Halal production opens doors to so many consumers, so payback for producers is great compared to the investment, especially for domestic direct marketed and retail sales. Many food companies don’t know there are more Muslims that practice halal than there are Jews that practice kosher.”

Leake is a food safety consultant and writer based in Wilmington, N.C. Reach her at llleake@aol.com or (910) 799-4881.

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