UOJ Archives -- Sunday, December 18, 2005
Why The OU-Yisroel Belsky & Star K-Moshe Heinemann Are Blasting Each Other!
Kosher craze sweeping U.S.
Major food manufacturers, grocery chains compete for 9 billion dollar kosher market; analysts say market for kosher products growing at 15 percent per year
When U.S. supermarket giant Albertsons hired Yaakov Yarmove more than three years ago, the company found a point man to navigate what might seem like an unlikely market for a grocery chain with stores in places like Cheyenne, Wyo., and Evanston, Ill.: kosher food.
Albertsons, one of America's largest grocery chains, has since dramatically expanded kosher aisles at hundreds of its supermarkets across the country.
The company has also launched more than two dozen kosher destination stores that include everything from bakeries to delis.
"There's a kosher awakening," said Yarmove, an observant Jew who is Albertson's corporate kosher, marketing and operations manager.
"Kosher was perceived as scary and foreign. Now it's perceived as chic. I think everybody is realizing that there is an opportunity," he added.
Bringing matzah to church
The Idaho-based Albertsons is just one of many companies around the country competing to get a lucrative slice of an approximately USD9 billion kosher industry that is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year.
Experts say the boom is being fueled by several factors, including vegetarians and younger customers looking for healthier and safer food – the same demographic that has helped the organic market take off. Plenty of these customers are not Jewish.
"When I take the matzahs to the church, they love it," said Ursula Torres, of Manhattan, who was buying 100 percent wheat matzos recently at Streit's, a Jewish landmark on New York's Lower East Side.
Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior research analyst with Mintel International Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm, recently completed a nationwide study in April that produced some surprising results about the kosher craze.
She found 55 percent of the people who buy kosher products believed the food was better for them – almost double the number in a similar study Mogelonsky conducted in 2003.
"They trust the kosher symbol like they'd trust the Good Housekeeping seal," she said.
Part of the trust, Mogelonsky said, is derived from how the animals are raised. There is a popularly-held myth that Jewish law forbids the use of antibiotics, additives, hormones or feeding animal byproducts to animals raised for kosher slaughter. But Jewish law has no such regulations.
Jewish for 'good food'
Manischewitz, one of the best-known kosher food companies in the world, is developing an advertising campaign that says their name is "Jewish for good food."
Hebrew National, a division of ConAgra Foods, has always touted that famous tagline found on its packages: "We answer to a higher authority." But over the summer, the company decided to move the "Finest Kosher Quality" seal to a more prominent spot on certain product packaging.
Lou Nieto, president of packaged meats at ConAgra, said two things are driving the double-digit growth at Hebrew National, which recently opened a new state-of-the-art kosher facility in Michigan.
"First and foremost is taste but number two is that it's 100 percent kosher beef – nothing artificial," said Nieto, who oversees the Hebrew National brand.
He added that sales were being bolstered by non-Jewish customers, who devour the company's popular hot dogs at hundreds of venues across the United States.
To meet demand, the industry has undergone radical changes, recognizing that kosher food is more than matzo, gefilte fish and borscht.
The transformation was on display last month in New York at Kosherfest 2005, a convention that drew more than 6,100 retail and foodservice buyers, manufacturers and distributors from 36 countries.
"Anything that can be made kosher, is being made kosher," said Menachem Lubinsky, who founded Kosherfest. "Even the Chinese are going kosher."
Kosher dumpling wrappers – no problem. Asian sesame ginger noodle and Thai chili sauce? They got it. Italian kosher. It's in abundance. Penne rigate, lasagna, angel hair, and all enriched with soy protein. There is also a kosher energy drink called "Kabbalah."
And it seemed like almost everyone was selling humous, creating a war of the chick pea. If any one food is leading the kosher charge, it might be humous.
One of the biggest humous makers is Sabra Go Mediterranean, produced by Blue & White Food Products in New York.
"Today, all the hippies buy this stuff," said Nissim Ohana, who distributes Sabra products and has been selling kosher food for 20 years in the United States. "Humous has become a very hot item.
At Streit's, the venerable New York company is adapting to the changing environment, producing Mediterranean, Spelt and five-grain matzos, along with spreads like sundried tomato morsels.
"Chains carry it," said Alan Adler, director of operations at Streit's, which has been making matzos since 1925. "Our products are on the shelf year round. We are having trouble baking enough matzos."
In two decades, Ohana, an Israeli, has seen the number of Brooklyn stores purchasing his kosher food rise from 16 to more than 200.
"Five years ago, it wouldn't have sold," said Frank Widdi of Met Foodmarkets in Brooklyn. Widdi, a Palestinian, now has two separate refrigerators with humous, including one for Sabra which he gets from Ohana.
A Palestinian selling kosher humous?
"Business is business," Ohana says.
Rabbis Rule Romaine Lettuce Off Limits to Kosher Consumers
Kosher Today-New York
A cross-section of Orthodox rabbis ruled last week that “it is forbidden” to eat romaine lettuce and several other packaged vegetables, including Spring Mix and Baby Spinach, because of insect infestation. The 30 rabbis, however, noted that “this prohibition does not apply to iceberg lettuce, cabbage or greenhouse vegetables provided they are under a reliable, expert hashgacha.” According to several rabbis reached by Kosher Today, a key target of the edict published in many Jewish newspapers was Fresh Express, whose certifying rabbis have since withdrawn their certification. A spokesman for the Orthodox Union said that while the US grown romaine lettuce was off limits, it approved the romaine lettuce grown in hothouses by Alei Katif, which after having being evicted from the Gaza Strip was said to have resumed production in Israel’s Negev Desert. The letter by the rabbis singled out pre-washed romaine lettuce, romaine hearts, romaine mixes (European, Italian, Greener Selection) and Fresh Leafy Salads (such as Spring Mix and Baby Spinach).
The letter noted: “It is unfortunately our duty to inform you that insect infestation was found in most packages, regardless of the company or the supervising authority…Caterers, restaurants and stores that offer these products are guilty of offering food that is forbidden by Torah law.”
The OU lead by Yisroel Belsky was on the attack. The Star-K, Moshe Heinneman's organization was permitting it. As we can see from the numbers, "Kosher" is a multi-billion dollar business.
Moshe Heinneman was relying on a p'sak "he said" was told to him by Rabbi Aron Kotler z"l. UOJ called the Kotler & Schwartzman families and none of them knew of this psak by RAK, which would permit eating lettuce that normally had bug infestation in excess of ten percent of the time checked; providing that a particular batch of lettuce was checked and found bug free.
In other words, Heinnemann claims RAK told him you can go by a particular batch; if there is less than ten percent of bugs found, you may eat them. The OU and gang, say you go by the type of vegetable, if generally there are bugs, you must clean them all or throw them out.
I called Heinneman and asked him the following.
1-When did RAK tell you about this p'sak?
2-How old were you at the time of the p'sak?
3-Why would you have asked this shaila, if the shaila of bugs in Romaine lettuce was on no one's radar screen in the early sixties?(thinking he had asked him in the sixties)
Moshe Heinneman is 67 years old, RAK was niftar in 1962. Assuming Heinemann asked him the shaila that "no one knows about" in 1962, that would put Heinemann at 24 years old. The problem is Heinemann said he asked RAK this shaila the year he came to Lakewood, when he was 18 years old. Counting backwards, this would be circa 1956.
Who in the world was thinking about bugs in lettuce in 1956?????
The whole bug "epidemic" is maybe ten years old!!!
The OU is losing market share to Heinemann, they seem way to eager to do him in. Heinemann's p'sak from RAK sounds really questionable to me at best, and a lie at worst.
When money is involved everything is possible.
Tell me what you think!