Answering to a Higher Authortity: Kosher, Halal Certifications Bless the Bottom Line

“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.

About Linda L. Leake, MS

Linda L. Leake, doing business as Food Safety Ink, is a food safety consultant, auditor, and award-winning freelance journalist based in Wilmington, N.C. Specializing in agriculture, food, food safety, and travel, her articles appeared in over 80 print and online publications. Along with garnering awards for her articles and photographs, she holds Master Writer status with the American Agricultural Editors’ Association. Majoring in Dairy Science, she completed a BS in Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Food Safety at Michigan State University. She is an active member of the International Association for Food Protection, Toxicologists Without Borders, Inc., and the National Dairy Shrine.

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