October 6, 2008

Who are the owners in the kosher industry?

A conservative rabbi preparing his Rosh Hashanah sermon contacted me for data and information on the kosher market. After providing him with the information, he opined “there must be hundreds of kosher food manufacturers under Jewish ownership.” The rabbi was preparing to deliver a sermon on “Ethics and Kosher” and promoting the new Hekhsher Tzedek, an additional kosher certification promoted by the conservative movement verifying a company’s compliance with government laws and regulations and its proper treatment of workers and animals. I surmised that he was trying to put a number on the kosher companies that might be affected by the proposed controversial certification. In consulting several kosher food show directories, however, I barely counted two dozen ethnic kosher manufacturers that were owned by Jews. Not even two dozen! Even brands like Manischewitz, Mrs. Adler’s, Rokeach, Horowitz/Margaretten and Goodman’s are no longer owned by Jewish families but by investment companies. The vast majority of kosher companies are owned by large food companies who have all of the safeguards like HACCP that address the concerns of the rabbi. Small food companies throughout America are owned by families (mostly not Jewish) and privately held companies. They opt for kosher certification to benefit from the added value of being kosher certified. Amongst the nearly 110,000 items with kosher certification are, of course, the Coca Colas and Dannons and many products that are manufactured overseas, including a significant number from Israel.

"Do you mean to tell me that an industry that you value at nearly $11 billion has less than two dozen manufacturers that are owned by Jews?” he asked. I explained that I was referring to those companies that I label as the ethnic kosher producers and even that small number included several small-time manufacturers. To be sure, there are many kosher brands that are produced by food manufacturers who produce kosher private label items, but again they are not involved in the manufacture of the product. This exercise of responding to the rabbi reminded me just what an amazing story the growth of kosher has been and continues to be. A small core of ethnic kosher companies, private label brands, Israeli and other foreign imports and the nation’s largest food manufacturers make up the kosher industry. I suggested to the rabbi that he visit a well stocked supermarket with many kosher products in his area to see for himself. At Kosherfest, the ethnic kosher companies are a bit more visible but in the end the kosher industry is a montage of manufacturers representing the food industry in America and to some extent overseas.