By most estimates, kosher certification is being sought after for at least some product by two-thirds of food processors, maybe more. The double-digit growth of the industry has often been reported in these pages (see The top six trends in food processing and Kosher in the mainstream) and elsewhere.
Processors are finding the boom in demand for kosher-certified foods creates a lucrative niche for kosher foodservice
An interesting facet of this is the near-equal growth trend in kosher foodservice. Although starting a kosher foodservice processing operation, or changing an existing one to qualify for kosher production, can be an expensive proposition, some processors are opting in.
"Foodservice is increasingly becoming a focus of interest for kosher food manufacturers," says Rabbi Menachem Lubinsky, director of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Lubicom Marketing, a marketing company serving kosher food and beverage professionals. Lubinsky also is editor of www.koshertoday.com, a weekly online industry newsletter. "Kosher catering alone has been growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent as more and more hotels and other venues offer kosher catering."
Experts at the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) concur. Whereas many hotels have kosher kitchens to serve the growing demand for kosher catering, the council makes note of the Westin Hotel chain's new facility in Wheeling, Ill., which includes two completely separate kosher kitchens - one meat and one dairy.
According to the CRC, the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is providing kosher instruction to prepare students for dealing with kosher issues.
"Because of high competition - especially from the big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Supertarget - large supermarket chains are looking for niches to provide extra service," says Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union (OU) Kosher Division.
|Meat processing is very different from the average processing situation because in kosher production, meat has to be completely isolated from any other ingredient. According to Rabbi Reuven Flamer, CEO of Natural Food Certifiers Inc., "From the beginning to the closing at the end of day, meat must be kept under lock and key available only to the rabbinical inspector or certifying rabbi. The rabbi must be on premises the entire time a meat product is being prepared. Any interruptions in supervision of the preparation can disqualify an entire run of product."|
The OU certifies more than 400,000 products manufactured in more than 80 countries worldwide. "Supermarkets such as Shop Rite, Albertson's and Jewel opt to provide kosher catering service. It's worth it as a draw to the store, that it brings more customers in," says Genack.
Kosher foodservice is expanding to meet other demands. "The increasing prominence of the kosher-observant dieter in all segments of society is steadily giving rise to new needs for kosher provisions in remote or limited-access locations," says Abe Halberstam, president of LaBriute Meals (www.labriutemeals.com), a Lakewood, N.J., unit of Euro-Cut Inc.
In March, the company received a contract from the U.S. Dept. of Defense to provide kosher-for-Passover MREs (meals ready to eat) for Jewish troops. LaBriute has become a major player in the shelf-stable and self-heating meals market.
On the processing side, Lubicom's Lubinsky asserts, "Manufacturers are adapting their products to serve foodservice. Many manufacturers who may have in years past passively viewed foodservice are today designating special teams to serve foodservice."
A matter of process
Processors interested in kosher certification or sourcing kosher can find more information from the following sources.
Assn. of Kashrus Organizations www.akokosher.org
"There can be unique challenges faced by food processors for kosher foodservice," notes Joe Regenstein, head of Cornell's Kosher Food Initiative. "Even in situations where the process is simply a question of quantity packaging, problems can arise." Regenstein cites continuous retort systems as one example.
With a continuous system, every point in the processing chain must comply with and be supervised according to kosher laws. This is critical not only regarding the equipment and processing line but the ingredients as well.
Regenstein acknowledges the multiple-source nature of many foodservice operations. He points out the acceptance of particular certification is more critical in the foodservice processing environment when different components from different sources converge into one production system.
Lubicom 's Lubinsky explains, "While a manufacturer may be certified by one agency or rabbi, the caterer may wish to engage his own kosher supervisor that meets the level of kosher that satisfies a particular need or constituency."