June 13, 2011

Government Guidelines Reveal Telling Signs for Kosher Food Industry

Washington, D.C…USDA officials have once again released revised nutrition guidelines for the general population, this time featuring a new “dinner plate” diagram. The plate replaces the traditional nutritional food pyramid that was conceived in the early 1990’s, and follows in the wake of the January release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, over six months ago (www.myplate.gov and www.dietaryguidlines.gov). The release of the dietary guidelines may foretell significant change in the food industry, including the kosher market. As explained in the guidelines and emphasized in the plate diagram, many foods, including traditional Jewish foods that are high in fat, added sugars, and sodium, are now strongly discouraged. So called “empty calorie” foods, mainly confections and baked goods, are regarded as taboo as well. Indeed, an about-face has taken hold of government nutritional guidelines, as items that were formerly sanctioned, including many dairy and occasional sweets products, are now actively precluded from recommended diets. Kosher food officials say that the industry of late is attempting to balance the demand for healthier foods (i.e.  dramatic increased of gluten-free products) and preserving some of the authentic foods that have survived the Diaspora and are still popular with younger Jews (i.e. kugel and cholent).

Perhaps most perplexing for the food industry is the nascent movement to impede sodium in food products. Long known to be an agitator of hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions, sodium has, in recent months, become public enemy number one for government welfare agencies and NGO’s like the American Heart Association. While this is a problem for the food industry in general, it may manifest itself more prominently within the world of kosher, where many popular traditional and not so traditional food items are high in sodium. While some kosher food manufacturers, notably Manischewitz and its subsidiaries, have introduced reduced sodium options for many of their shelf stable products, it remains to be seen how the kosher consumer will respond to the new plate and dietary guidelines initiatives, whether they will be willing to sacrifice salt’s satisfaction for supposed safety. Despite the government guidelines, kosher food officials say that the kosher consumer “has a mind of its own and our job is to constantly read it.”