Kosher foods aren't just for Jewish consumers anymore.
The expanding Muslim population, along with vegetarians, food-sensitive shoppers and those who simply associate kosher with safety and quality are influencing the category's growth.
More than half (58%) of kosher buyers are those who keep kosher occasionally, while 55% buy kosher because they believe those products are safer or healthier than others, according to a new study from research firm Mintel International Group, Chicago.
"Kosher foods have been historically associated with the highest level of sanitation," Ellen Campbell, kosher buyer for Wegmans Food Markets in Rochester, N.Y., said in a statement. "Some people choose kosher for that reason."
The Jewish population is shrinking, due to intermarriage, low birth rates and aging of the population. However, the percentage of Jewish shoppers who keep kosher, the Hebrew word for "proper" or "fit," also is rising.
But being Jewish is no longer the only reason to buy kosher. Kosher began to take on new life several years ago when consumers became more interested in health and nutrition, said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior research analyst for Mintel.
"People are looking for alternatives to heavily processed foods," Mogelonsky told SN. "For many of them, kosher is the answer."
A growing number of kosher shoppers are Muslims, who use kosher food labels as a quick-and-easy reference to determine if the product is consistent with halal, the Arabic term for food and drink that conform to Islamic dietary laws.
Halal is similar to kosher. Vegetarians and the lactose-intolerant also rely on kosher labels. Because kosher laws do not allow dairy and meat to be consumed together, kosher labeling requires an indication of whether the product contains dairy or meat.
"All these factors are catapulting kosher to the next level," said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Lubicom Marketing & Consulting in New York, a marketing firm and co-producer of the Kosherfest trade show.
Mintel tracks sales of kosher-certified cookies, confectionary, salty snacks and crackers in food, drug and mass (excluding Wal-Mart Stores); natural supermarkets; convenience stores; and kosher supermarkets/delis. Sales in those categories increased only 0.1% from 2002 to 2004 to $14.6 billion, but Mintel predicts sales will increase by 2008.
The growing Muslim population is big reason. Sixteen percent of respondents to the Mintel study said they buy kosher foods because they are looking for products consistent with halal.
Muslims could have an even greater impact on kosher in the future. Based on current immigration policy, 1.1 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) from the Middle East -- the majority of them Muslim -- are projected to settle in the United States by 2010, which could propel the population to 2.5 million, according to Mintel, based on Center for Immigration Studies data.
Then there's the heightened concern about the integrity of the food supply. Shoppers, exposed to news reports about foodborne illnesses like listeria, E. coli and salmonella, are becoming more selective about what they eat.
Many believe kosher-certified foods are safer than other products, in part because rabbis who guarantee kosher certification inspect plants more frequently than the FDA, according to Mintel.
"Kosher has become the code word for healthier and safer," Mogelonsky said.
Most kosher food is bought in supermarkets. According to Mintel, 78% of kosher consumers buy their food in the supermarket's kosher-food section, while 57% buy kosher foods in other sections of the supermarket.
Kosher food also is sold at specialty kosher food stores or delis (35%), all-kosher supermarket chains (20%) and the Internet (4%), according to Mintel.
Kosher's broadening consumer base has prompted retailers like Wild Oats Markets and Wegmans to expand their kosher grocery assortments. Wegmans also has added kosher meat and poultry products.
Along with ethnic kosher products, Wegmans is also carrying more mainstream items, such as Simcha Mango Chipotle Chicken Glaze and Guiltless Gourmet salsas, dips and tortilla chips.
"In addition to religious reasons people may have, there seems to be a growing appreciation of many kosher products for other reasons -- like a great new flavor or superb quality," Campbell of Wegmans said.
Alternative outlets, including Wal-Mart and Costco, also are creating kosher in-line sections and store-within-a-store concepts, Lubinsky of Lubicom said.
Distributors are responding, too.
Distribution Plus Inc., Wilmette, Ill., a specialty-food distributor, has identified kosher as one of four growth categories (along with Hispanic, Asian and natural/organic) and created a new position to strengthen these areas.
Tree of Life, St. Augustine, Fla., a marketer and distributor of natural and specialty foods, also is concentrating on the category. Company representatives will attend Kosherfest in New York in November in search of kosher frozen foods, said Rick Moller, senior vice president, category management. Tree of Life just announced that it hired a new category manager for kosher.
Mogelonsky of Mintel said that while many retailers still promote kosher only during the Jewish holidays, there's plenty of opportunity in the category.
"Retailers will just put out a large display of matzoh in the Center Store for two weeks, and then put it away," she said.
What Is Kosher?
The term "kosher" means fit, proper or correct. Any food product that is prepared under the laws of kashrut, the Jewish rules governing food products, is considered kosher. Among the rules:
- Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of forbidden animals. According to the Old Testament, kosher animals must chew their cud and have split hooves.
- Of the animals that may be eaten, birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
- All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
- Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
- Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) may not be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains may be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat.)
- Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food that was hot may not be used with kosher food.
- Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten. Kosher is often defined as two separate markets: mainstream and ethnic. Mainstream kosher products are those foods that are kosher-certified but have little relevance to traditional kosher food ways. Ethnic kosher, meanwhile, describes customary Jewish food products like gefilte fish, matzoh, schav and borscht.
Source: Mintel International Group
More than half of kosher shoppers said they buy kosher for health and safety reasons.
The Kosher Consumer
55% buy kosher because they believe it is safer or healthier than non-kosher.
58% of kosher buyers keep kosher occasionally.
16% buy kosher because they are looking for products consistent with halal.
38% buy kosher to help follow a vegetarian diet.
24% do so in search of dairy-free products.
78% get kosher food at a supermarket's kosher-food section.
57% buy kosher in other sections of the supermarket.
Sources: U.S. Kosher Food Market
report, Mintel International Group.
The Meaning of Halal
Muslims are feeding the market for kosher food. Sixteen percent of consumers who purchase kosher foods do so because they want a product consistent with halal, up from 8% two years ago, according to a Mintel consumer survey. Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. The opposite of halal is haram, or prohibited. All foods are considered halal except the following, which are haram:
Swine/pork and its byproducts.
Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering.
Animals killed in the name of anyone other than Allah (God).
Alcohol and intoxicants.
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears.
Blood and blood byproducts.
Foods contaminated with any of the above products.
While kosher and halal are similar, differences do exist. For instance, kosher permits the use of alcohol in flavors or colors (e.g., vanilla extract), while halal does not. Likewise, kosher slaughter does not meet the Islamic religious requirements.