Kosherfest 2005 Exhibits Merging Trends

Kosherfest 2005 showed that the merger of the food industry's two hottest trends is no mixed marriage.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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For the most part, major food trends tend to compete and supplant. Take healthy foods as an example: fiber and complex carbs were replaced by low carbs and no carbs, which in turn have been supplanted by whole grains -another way of saying fiber and complex carbs. Or beverages: Caffeine-free took a hit from Mountain Dew and Jolt, the trend swung back to caffeine-free, then was replaced by Red Bull and other stimulating drinks using such ingredients as guarana and ginseng.

But sometimes it happens that when trends collide, you get a megatrend. At Kosherfest 2005 conference and trade show last month in New York City, we saw what may be the makings of just such an event. Kosher food sales have been growing at a double-digit percentage rate, with an estimated 85,000 products now carrying some sort of certification. And the field has been growing at that rate for years. By some estimates, better than three-fourths of foods being manufactured either have or are under consideration for some sort of kosher designation.

Does dual certification (Kosher above and Organic below) -equal doubly blessed?
The organic/natural/healthy food segment has been growing at an annual rate of up to 20 percent for over a decade, too. And the two are finally starting to join hands.

Several things make this a match made in heaven. First, the biggest growth in kosher sales is happening in the younger population (18- to 34-year-olds). In her keynote presentation at the conference, Marcia Mogelonsky of Mintel International Group noted, "Kosher is the embodiment of the way Americans [want to] eat." In Mintel's April 2005 Kosher Food Report, it was reported that 21 percent of food purchasers knowingly buy some kosher products.

The majority of people who seek kosher do so because they perceive of these rabbinically overseen products as being "safer," "healthier" and "better for you." Vegetarians have learned to trust the "Pareve" designation on kosher products that assures no meat or dairy products -not even a trace -or equipment handling such products were used in making the item.

Non-vegetarians have given a huge boost to the kosher meat market in the wake of the mad cow and E. coli scares. They are reassured by the intense scrutiny during processing necessary for meat to receive certification.

But there's more: The younger people enjoying and getting involved in kosher are the same generation -and often the same people -who seek organic, natural and healthy foods. And this was well reflected on the trade show floor. Everything from matzah to chicken to chocolate was represented in a good-for-you version. There was even a kosher tequila from organic agave featured.

Jerry Sadoff, a Chicago maker of matzah, had the product that probably appeals most to the new kosher consumer. For the past few years, his company, Chicago's Shmura Matzah Factory (www.gourmetsedermatzah.com) has specialized in hand-made, organic whole wheat and organic spelt matzahs. (Matzah is the flat crackerlike bread once associated with Passover but now enjoyed year round. "Shmura" is Hebrew for "watched over.") The matzahs burst with a nutty, toasty flavor that is light years from the cardboard tiles previous generations had to contend with.

Wise Organic Pastures (www.wisekosher.com), New York, provides organic, naturally raised chickens and turkeys that promise that extra measure of attention via their kosher status. The badges worn by Wise products are indicative of the competition to come for food processors and marketers: Both a "USDA Certified Organic" and a kosher mark appear on the package, as well as a "Double Certified" circle in case you miss the individual marks.

Not everything kosher can conform to the more stringent aspects of "healthy" and "natural." Sometimes, in order to ensure the kosher purity of certain processing machinery, food-grade chemicals must be introduced. And often, organic ingredients come from smaller producers who may not have sought certification yet.

But if the offerings at Kosherfest are any indication, these hurdles are becoming fewer and fewer as mainstream processors scramble to get kosher approval, and kosher food processors scramble to "go green." Look for double-badged foods to become a huge growth industry in the coming years.


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