Understanding Kosher and Halal
Both kosher- and halal-certified products convey a sense of food quality and safety to consumers, proving the recent growth in both markets goes beyond religion. Speakers at two Prepared Foods’ R&DSeminars provided information and insight on what makes these two markets perfect mainstream cross-overs.
The objective of this seminar was to present the core issues—what is kosher and how can kosher certification help increase sales and attract customers?—associated with kosher certification of foods and beverages, while understanding the sometimes complicated technical aspects of kosher certification, which demands scrutiny down to the molecular level. Also addressed were the incredible marketing opportunities associated with kosher certification that go—several-fold—beyond the servicing of the small Jewish population with whom kosher is so closely associated. The seminar was presented by Rabbi Simcha Smolensky of the Orthodox Union at the 2011’s Prepared Foods’ R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago.
Rabbi Smolensky focused first on the literal meaning of the word “kosher,” translated from the Hebrew as the adjective for “fit or allowed to be eaten or used,” and, according to the dietary or ceremonial laws, e.g., kosher food or equipment. The modern verb form, to kosherize, is used in describing preparing machinery for, or the actual process of preparing something for or in food manufacturing.
Rabbi Smolensky also described that which kosher is not. It does not only involve the exclusion of additives. Also, being kosher does not preclude an item being “pure” or “all-natural.” And, while many kosher items are vegetarian and some even organic, being kosher does not preclude a food or beverage, as such. Especially, kosher does not mean a product has received a “rabbi’s ceremonial blessing.” Rabbi Smolensky also noted that the same caution applies concerning sanitation. Just because a facility is kosher does not necessarily mean it has higher sanitation attainment than a non-kosher facility.
Rabbi Smolensky gave the historical rules behind the kosher laws, as derived directly from the Bible:
• “Whatever has a hoof and cleaves it completely in two hooves and at the same time chews its cud…this may you eat.” Leviticus 11
• “This you may eat of all that lives in the water–anything that has fins and scales…” Leviticus 11
• “…You shall not eat meat that was torn off by beasts in the field…” Exodus 22
• “…You shall not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother.” Exodus 34
Kosher status is roughly divided across three main groupings: meat, dairy and pareve, which could be termed neutral. It should be reiterated that, whereas a great number of pareve items are vegetarian, fish and eggs are deemed pareve. The proscription against cooking a young animal “in the milk of its mother” is the law from which a complete separation of meat and dairy has been extrapolated.
This complete separation of dairy is imposed at a molecular level. To exemplify the importance of this, Rabbi Smolensky discussed the technology behind kosherizing food heating and cooking systems, including steam-jacketed kettles, steam injection, oil and other systems. Due to the porous nature of metal, steam used to prepare dairy may not come in contact, even via its piping system, with a system used to prepare meat and vice versa. Oil used for cooking meat, even if cleaned and filtered, may not be used for cooking non-meat items.
To produce kosher products, all ingredients must be kosher. Although there are some ingredients which are inherently kosher (e.g., sugar and salt), care must be taken that ingredients that are processed—extractions, fermentations, etc.—have the required certification to be used in kosher production (see sidebar “Keeping up with Kosher”). Additionally, there are “super-sensitive ingredients”—specifically wine (and all grape products), meat, seafood and cheese—that carry extra parameters for supervision. As described earlier, equipment must be dedicated for kosher ingredients, or the equipment must undergo a koshering process before a kosher production. Segregation of kosher status (e.g., dairy) is a must. Ongoing supervision of kosher production also is required.
About one in five persons in the U.S. purchase kosher products, because those specific products are kosher. Yet most of the people buying kosher products with deliberation are not doing so for religious reasons. More than half of kosher purchasers perceive a health or food-safety benefit; more than a third buy kosher, because they prefer the taste over conventional formulation of the product.
Kosher buyers tend to be the retailer’s most valuable customers, purchasing about 50% more than traditional shoppers, noted Rabbi Smolensky. Kosher certification adds specific value, something recognized by processors as well: The number of certified-kosher products on the market has surged 35-fold in 40 years, from about 4,000 in 1970 to more than 80,000 today. In fact, more than half of all products on supermarket shelves bear some sort of kosher certification.
By the end of next year, kosher sales in the U.S. are expected to top $17 billion—two and a half times the amount 10 years ago ($7.6 billion).
An upsurge in consumers’ “kosher consciousness” has contributed to the ever-growing kosher industry. Because of this, Rabbi Smolensky highlighted the added value of kosher certification, pointing out that having kosher certification gives a company a competitive edge in the marketplace. In fact, OU companies surveyed reported a significant increase in sales following certification—some increases running as high as 45%. Cost of kosher certification is minimal when compared to ROI (return on investment). Rabbi Smolensky quoted John McMillan of the Prudential Bache Food Analyst: “The kosher seal is equivalent to what the Good Housekeeping seal meant in the 50s.”
The Orthodox Union is just one of multiple certifying agencies, with the OU being the most prevalent. It also is one of the oldest operating certifiers, founded in 1898 as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. It started as the central organization for Jewish Orthodox life in North America as the umbrella to synagogues and congregations of varying sizes. The OU certifies more than 500,000 products made in over 9,000 plants in 83 countries. It’s one of the world’s best-known trademarks; immediately and universally enhances a company’s products; affects the perception of its quality; and increases its marketability. The overall rating of OU certification is significantly higher than for any other kosher-certification symbol. In fact, notes Rabbi Smolensky, for millions of consumers, the OU kosher symbol has the recognition that symbolizes accountability, acceptability and quality.
“Kosher 101,” Rabbi Simcha Smolensky, senior rabbinic field representative, Orthodox Union, New York, 212-613-8237, www.oukosher.org
—Summary by David Feder, RD, Managing Editor
Halal: A Global Advantage
This seminar outlined the global and local opportunities associated with halal certification of foods and beverages. It also explained the technical aspects of halal certification. The seminar was presented by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America’s (IFANCA) Mujahed Khan and Asma Ahad at the 2011 Prepared Foods’ R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago.
The world Muslim population has been estimated by the Pew Research Center to be as high as 1.62 billion. According to a 2010 MarketingWeek.com study, the annual buying power of this population is $1.3 trillion globally, with an annual food-buying power of $635 billion, according to Nestlé S.A. that same year. These figures put halal products at 16% of the global food market. The U.S. Muslim population is estimated 8-9 million, with an annual buying power of $170 billion—of which nearly $20 billion is spent on food (Ogilvy & Mather, 2010). “From a prepared foods perspective,” noted Khan, “this is an untapped market.”
Muslim consumer demographics typically include large family units that skew young, with very strong social and familial bonds. There is a concerted focus on celebrations that bring multiple special-eating occasions throughout the year. Khan and Ahad profiled three success stories of mainstream, halal-certified products already on the market in North America. American Halal Company Inc.’s Saffron Road line of frozen meals was the first start-up brand to launch in all 11 regions for Whole Foods. It rapidly developed established brand value with affluent American Muslims, Islamic scholars and non-Muslim natural food lovers. The brand was partly responsible for driving 10,000 halal food consumers to Whole Foods. It has been so successful, Whole Foods authorized 300% shelf-space increase for the brand and its SKUs.
Khan and Ahad quoted Roberta MacDonald, senior vice president of marketing for Cabot Creamery Cooperative, on the sales and marketing context of halal certification. “Since first receiving our halal certification, Cabot has seen a double-digit increase in the sales of our core, branded cheeses,” she explained. “Of course, we can’t attribute all of that increase to our IFANCA certification, but we do know that consumers are noticing that all our Vermont Cheddars are halal-certified.”
Beverage brand China Mist Tea Co. included halal certification along with USDA Organic, fair trade and kosher certifications as part of its strategy to meet consumer needs. Halal products often exceed government and industry standards and specifications for food safety and quality.
Ahad and Khan referred to other large and small companies experiencing growth by complying to halal standards. These include Belgian poultry product producers Volys Star N.V.; Switzerland-based fragrance and flavor giant Firmenich & Co.; and recent DuPont and Co. acquisition Danisco Ingredients.
Ahad and Khan provided information from Abdulhamid Evans of KasehDia, a Kuala Lumpur consulting company, who said Nestlé and its affiliates have become the biggest food manufacturer in the halal sector, with more than $3 billion in annual sales in Islamic countries, and with 75 of its 481 factories worldwide producing halal food.
Beside these facts, two key reasons for going halal are globalization of supply chains and regulatory recognition. IFANCA is a regulatory force with international partners. It is recognized by governments and regulatory bodies, including acceptance amongst international bodies, and is recognized in the U.S. by the USDA and other government agencies. From a marketing standpoint, several countries—specifically, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Indonesia—have employed policies which enable them to capture growth in halal markets.
The process of the halal certification (see chart, p.121) involves a first and second review of ingredients, followed by continuous inspection for meat and poultry products, and on-site inspections for non-meat products. Meat-based products then get batch certification, and non-meat products gain a 1-year certification for on-site inspection. The easiest certification can come for products with no meat ingredients and an ethanol content below 0.1%. Having only a medium potential for certification are products with meat ingredients and an ethanol content greater than 0.1% but that have viable ingredient substitutes for prohibited ingredients.
“Halal: Your Global Competitive Advantage,” Asma Ahad, director of halal development; Mujahed Khan, food technologist, Islamic Food & Nutrition Council of America, 847-993-0034 Ext 213, firstname.lastname@example.org
—Summary by David Feder, RD, Managing Editor
Keeping up with Kosher
Since the time of this presentation, a change has been brewing in the food industry that is likely to de-emphasize such declarations as “inherently kosher,” including sugar and salt. There are practical reasons for this change. The food industry, says Rabbi Smolensky, is “truly global in this day and age. Ingredients that had been traditionally localized geographically are now open to much wider ranges of sourcing.” With the expansion of the source market, especially in developing countries, more and more basic ingredients are having their kosher status impacted by local production practices. Thus, he opines, “I suspect that we (meaning certifying agencies) are going to be forced to remove more ingredients from the list of those presently considered ‘acceptable from all sources’ and will have to require certification of such items.” pf
Reducing Sodium in Meats
With lowering sodium consumption a major topic of many health initiatives, effective sodium-reduction strategies in meat products are of great interest. One presenter at Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminars offered some tips.
Due to consumer awareness of healthier food options, The Healthy Hunger Free Kids act of 2010, and other trends and regulations, there are several sodium-reduction initiatives in the food industry. Health concerns are growing over excessive sodium consumption that may contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and obesity. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommended a daily intake of 1,500mg of sodium, while the average American currently consumes greater than 3,400mg daily. Diets high in processed foods can have intakes in excess of 10,000mg daily. Processed foods account for approximately 75% of sodium intake.
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and new USDA School Lunch Rules impose sodium limits on school meals and provide incentives through performance-based, reimbursement rate increases for new meal patterns. Schools are to submit a quarterly progress report; a reward of an additional six cents per meal will be given for compliance to the new rules. The USDA may impose fines, if the institution fails to comply.
Dustin Grossbier, director of quality and technology at Nu-Tek Salt LLC, at a recent Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar titled “Lab Trials and Tribulations of Sodium Reduction in Meats,” explained: “In meat, salt has several functions, including flavor, functionality and preservation. Saltiness adds desired flavor, and it also suppresses bitterness—both enhancing and balancing flavor. Salt also functions in meat, affecting muscle-protein solubility, water-holding capacity and the formation of emulsions.” Salt decreases water activity and increases ionic strength, impacting shelflife and safety. Salt preserves meat by inhibition of pathogens and controlling spoilage bacteria.
Sodium-reduction strategies have included removal or substitution of sodium chloride; using other types of flavorings; and phosphate substitution. With removal of sodium chloride comes a loss of salty flavor, loss of functionality and reduced shelflife. Sodium chloride substitutions can be made with potassium; calcium, magnesium and choline chlorides; potassium lactate; or potassium diacetate, with some success. Flavorings that can assist might include monosodium glutamates, glutamic acid, yeast extracts, 5’ nucleotides, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins or flavor-masking agents, such as bitter blockers. Sodium phosphate can be substituted with tri-potassium phosphate or tetr-potassium phosphate. These are all possibilities, but the question is where to start.
Grossbier suggests that, rather than looking at the functionality-loss point or the taste-loss point, consider a multi-pronged approach and work with suppliers to solve the issues.
-Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor