January 17, 2011

New Labeling Standards to Affect Kosher Food Industry

 New York…As reported in major news outlets this past week, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute have devised a new set of standards pertaining to food package labeling. Due in part to the anti-obesity campaign championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, and coming on the heels of Wal-Mart’s recent announcement to improve its food products health content, the new labeling calls for conspicuously displayed nutrition icons on the front of product packages. Called Nutrition Keys and focusing on the sugar, saturated fat, calorie and sodium content levels in foods, the new nutritional information display is intended to quickly and efficiently inform the consumer of the most commonly found negative qualities in each food item. How this will affect the kosher market remains to be seen. Some Israeli kosher manufactures, notably Osem, have been using an icon system to identify the presence of other nutritional factors, such as gluten, dairy and preservatives for several years. Known for their clarity, Osem uses icons to explain food preparation instructions as well. However, Osem does not use icons to denote nutritional facts, such as sodium content and saturated fat levels.

Kosher consumers are used to scrutinizing labels for kosher symbols. Indeed, while it is reported that the average person will consider a food product label for a mere 3 seconds, the kosher consumer will usually take more time in attempt to locate an acceptable kosher symbol. Thus, the new food labeling directives may not impact kosher buyers, as they already take more time to examine products then their non-Kosher peers. Conversely, the new labeling campaign may push kosher further into the spotlight, as the Nutrition Keys icons will now stand side-by-side with many kosher symbols. Indeed, kosher may be used by food purveys as an endorsement to their products wholesome nature.