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Everythingâ€™s kosher as certified foods move into the mainstream
A reputation for careful production and inspection has driven popularity of food that meets Jewish dietary laws
BY JENNY LEE, VANCOUVER SUN NOVEMBER 26, 2013
Take a little non-profit agency run by an innovative orthodox rabbi â€” in no way a contradiction in terms â€” and you get Kosher Check, a Vancouver kosher certification agency that sends rabbinical inspectors as far away as India and China.
â€śCompanies want to get kosher certification because it makes their products easier to sell,â€ť Kosher Check business manager Richard Wood said.
â€śThe majority of people today buy kosher products not because they are Jewish but because they are vegans or vegetarians or celiacs or lactose intolerant,â€ť Wood said. â€śThey could be Muslims or Seventh Day Adventists.â€ť
The primary reason North Americans buy kosher is for its reputation for more careful production and inspection, market research firm Mintel said. In response to the market perception, Kosher Check will now require adherence to advanced food safety protocols such as Canadaâ€™s Hazard Awareness Critical Control Points (HACCP). It already requires food manufacturers to meet Canadian Food Inspection Agency minimum standards.
Kosher Check certifies food as having been prepared according to Jewish dietary laws and labels foods as dairy, a meat product or dairy free (pareve).
Certain animals, fowl and fish (such as pork, rabbit, catfish, shellfish and most insects) are not kosher, and even kosher species must be slaughtered and prepared in a prescribed manner. Dairy products must come from kosher animals. Meat and milk may not be combined, and ingredients within a kosher product must be kosher. Fruit and vegetables are kosher, but must be inspected and certified that they are not contaminated by anything non-kosher, such as insects.
Eighty per cent of global kosher sales are outside traditional Jewish markets, Wood said. â€śKosher outpaces organic, natural and gluten (free) and continues to be the market leader in North America,â€ť he said.
Only 14 per cent of U.S. consumers buying kosher foods do so because they adhere to Jewish dietary laws, according to Mintel. In addition, 10 per cent of consumers buying kosher foods do so because they follow other religions with similar dietary rules.
India and China have become prime customers for the Vancouver non-profit agency as food manufacturers increasingly seek more affordable, Asian-produced ingredients such as dehydrated onion powder, menthol oil, guar gum and glucose, Wood said.
Kosher Check certifies 14,000 products of which 2,000 are manufactured and certified in Asia.
â€śSeventy per cent of the worldâ€™s mint comes from India. The mint in your toothpaste probably comes from India,â€ť Wood said.
He also recently sent a rabbi to Tanzania and Mozambique to examine cashews.
â€śQuite often I will refer to (the rabbis) as inspectors, as in many countries they have no idea what a Jew is or what is a rabbi,â€ť Wood said.
Kosher Check, then known as B.C. Kosher, has been certifying manufacturers since 1983 and operating in Asia since 1985, when Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock, the organizationâ€™s originator and supervising rabbi, identified an opportunity. Although the service had been available in Vancouver, Rabbi Feigelstock greatly expanded the scale.
Historically, the rabbi in each community would certify the local butcher and baker, but as food manufacturing grew more sophisticated, the Jewish community began to create certification agencies to cope with the intricacies involved. Heinz was one of the first manufacturers to be certified kosher back in the 1920s. In 1935, Rabbi Tobias Gessen in Altanta, Ga., famously certified Coca-Cola as kosher. More than two-thirds of food manufactured in North America is certified kosher.
Kosher Check, an offshoot of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of B.C., is the only kosher certification agency in Canada that operates internationally, thanks to Rabbi Feigelstockâ€™s entrepreneurial mind, and it is the largest agency east of Ontario.
Vancouver has a Jewish population of just 26,000 compared to 189,000 in Toronto and 91,000 in Montreal and not all people who identify themselves as Jewish buy kosher food. Nevertheless, Kosher Check is probably among the top 10 kosher certification agencies in North America, Wood said.
Most agencies are non-profit or run as an extension of a synagogue. There are about 1,000 kosher certification bodies worldwide.
Kosher Checkâ€™s 500 customers include local heavyweights Canada Safeway, Rogers Sugar, Garden Protein, Golden Boy Foods and Sunrise Soya. It employs 20 rabbis worldwide to supervise kosher food production and operates across Canada, in 13 U.S. states, and in Chile, China, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam.
Inspectors arrive unannounced.
â€śPeople say we come more often than the Canada Food Inspection Agency,â€ť Wood said. â€śAt the moment, thereâ€™s a shortage of coconut product from the Philippines. One of our manufacturers in Coquitlam wanted someone in Sri Lanka certified.â€ť
Kosher certification can get quite complex. Meat must be ritually slaughtered to minimize pain to the animal, separate utensils must be used for meat and dairy, and manufacturing equipment may need to be purged at specified high temperatures.
Kosher Check is now looking to expand its reach in Asia. Toronto and Montrealâ€™s kosher certification agencies have the advantage of being located in major food manufacturing hubs and do much of their work locally.
â€śWe want to become more of a global agency and in order to do that we have to go further afield,â€ť Wood said. Kosher Check is ideally located to work in China and India, the first and second largest food producers in the world, Wood said. The organizationâ€™s primary goal is to increase the supply of kosher food for the kosher consumer, he said.
â€śWith the federal government making these free trade agreements with countries like Vietnam, it only encourages food manufacturers there to become kosher certified and we want to be part of that action,â€ť Wood said.
The U.S. kosher food market was worth $12.5 billion US in 2008, a 64 per cent increase from five years earlier, Mintel said. Kosher food sales in Canada are estimated at $500 million, Wood said.
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Purdy's Chocolates, a leading Chocolatier has gain Kosher Check certification. Purdy's Chocolates are available for purchase through their vast network of stores located throughout Ontario including stores located in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Hillcrest Shopping Centre in Richmond Hill and Vaughan Mills. In Edmonton at the West Edmonton Mall. In Calgary at the Southcentre Mall and Chinook Mall. In Vancouver at Oakridge Mall. For more information regarding store locations, please visit www.purdys.com
Export Trade Group a leader in commodity trading recently gained certification for their processing facilities in Tanzania and Mozambique.
Export Trading Group owns and manages the most vertically integrated agriculture supply chain on the African subcontinent with operations spanning in procurement, processing, warehousing, distribution and merchandising. In addition to ETGâ€™s presence in more than 30 African countries, it is actively present in North America, India, China and South East Asia.
For more information visit www.etgworld.com or contact Kosher Check.
Please be advised that HAPPY PLANET juices are no longer certified kosher by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of British Columbia (BC Kosher). For more information, please contact Richard Wood at (604) 731-1803 ext 103.