September 29, 2020

Covid-19 Impact on Kosher Food Industry Significant

New York…On the surface it seems as if the kosher food industry has dodged a bullet during the Covid-19 pandemic but food experts say that when all the data is in, there will be a significant impact. Retailers are complaining that shipments are delayed due to workers testing positive and being in quarantine. They also say that they had spot shortages of items that were in short supply. Kosher certification has suffered in many places as travel is still restricted. Some agencies have resorted to virtual “hashgochos” (certifications). One agency says that it arranges “surprise zoom conferences” where ingredients and manufacturing protocols are reviewed. Cameras are used to make sure that there have been no significant changes in the plant itself, particularly where ingredients are under lock and key.

Baltimore-based Star-K Certification, which inspects more than 500 facilities in China, deployed seven mashgichim in Israel and the U.S. to conduct remote inspections. “They are online with them, going every step of the way,” says Star-K President Avrom Pollak. While Covid-19 may lead to long-term changes in the way many people work from home, most adjustments in the kosher industry will be temporary, says Rabbi Eli Lando, executive manager at OK Kosher Certification, which is also conducting virtual inspections for many of its 700 facilities in China.

China is not the only country with travel restriction headaches. In July, Star-K sent four rabbis via private jet to a fish-gelatin facility in Uganda, where they quarantined for 14 days to supervise production. Kenover Marketing Corp., affiliated with Kayco and Kedem, that also owns Manischewitz and other major kosher brands, struggled to get inspectors to facilities making instant noodles in Singapore. “For a few weeks we were really in a nail-biting session,” says Charles Herzog, Kayco’s vice president for new products and procurement. “It was a game of chess, putting it all together.” The pandemic hasn’t hurt supply for now, but people in the industry are warning about possible shortages during Passover in late March and early April. Most Passover products are certified with full-time rabbinical supervision, according to Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the New York-based Orthodox Union’s kosher division, which has about 600 clients in China. “For us, Passover is now,” he says. “We are going to have a real challenge: There’s no cutting corners, and we can’t get into the facilities.”

One manufacturer said that the company has revised its sales projections from an 8% projected growth to less than 3%, largely due to anticipated new products that did not materialize.

Although the holiday season is shaping up to have record sales in some areas, many are still reeling from the Covid months when there were far less shoppers. Restaurants and caterers have had their own set of challenges. Restaurant owners say that outdoor dining has resulted in only a third of sales returning despite increased takeout and home delivery. Most industry people feared that a prolonged deviation from normalcy would cause more companies to retrench or close altogether.