« January 2007 Table of Contents
Trend Watch: Kosher market expands
Mainstream consumers view kosher certification as a quality indicator
By Lauren Kramer
January 01, 2007
For Harold Willner, executive VP of the Shindler Fish Co. in
New York, the 10- to 20-percent cost increase for certifying 50
of his products kosher is well worth the price. "Kosher
consumers are at least 50 percent of our buyers," he said. "If
we had to remove our certification we'd see a significant drop
Today, the expanding kosher market represents an opportunity
for seafood companies to distinguish their products from the
A few decades ago, Kosher was a term used exclusively by
those of the Jewish faith. Today it's become a household word
in a marketplace where kosher products are sought out by the
general public. Growing at an annual rate of 15 percent,
according to Lubicom Marketing Consulting LLC in Brooklyn,
N.Y., there are more than 92,000 kosher certified products with
3,000 added each year.
The kosher market appeals not only to Jews who observe the
dietary rules of kashruth but also to vegetarians,
lactose-intolerant consumers, Muslims, adherents of other
religions and a growing number of mainstream consumers who
believe that kosher means better quality.
To be considered kosher, fish must have fins and scales, and
the scales must be easily removable without damaging the skin.
Many seafood products are kosher, notably canned salmon and
tuna and smoked fish, says Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, rabbinic
coordinator at the Orthodox Union, the world's largest
"When it comes to breaded products however, kosher
certification is either non-existent or the certification is
unsatisfactory for many kosher-buying people," he says. Every
ingredient used to bread fish adds another level of kosher
requirement and supervision. A rabbi would need to be onsite
pretty much all the time to certify breaded fish, says
Getting kosher certification for a product can be time
consuming and expensive, particularly if non-kosher seafood
products are processed at the same plant.
"Kosher certification can be given to products made in such
a facility, but usually only during special productions under
on-site rabbinic supervision," Goldberg says. But the
advantages of obtaining kosher certification are considerable,
particularly for products sold in large metropolitan areas.
"This past week I got an e-mail from a company in Canada
sourcing frozen fish products from China," Goldberg says. "They
had several stores interested in their product but [the buyers]
would not consider it without the OU symbol. After completing
the certification process, the product was sent off to stores
and literally required restocking multiple times the first day.
Was all the demand from kosher consumers? Maybe not, but the
supermarket did carry similar products without kosher
supervision, which did not experience the same level of
One seafood product with particular demand for kosher
certification is lox with the skin on, says Rabbi Avraham
Feigelstock, who heads BC Kosher, a kosher-
based in Vancouver, Canada.
"Lox with skin off there's a lot of, but a lot of orthodox
Jewish communities today want the fish to maintain its skin to
make the process of identifying the fish easier," he says.
"There are Jewish communities in North America and beyond
looking for this kind of product, but no one has agreed to do
Whether kosher consumers accept product with skin on or
is an orthodox tradition handed down from one generation
the next, says Willner of Shindler Fish.
Certifying a seafood product as kosher can be an arduous
process, says Dr. Avrom Pollak, president of Star K, a
certifying agency in Baltimore. "The reason is that we have to
have a rabbinical supervisor present during production to
identify every single fish and ensure that it's kosher," he
says. "Each fish has to be visually examined before it is
skinned and filleted."
Of course it's an expense for the companies. When you
consider the salary and travel expenses for the supervisors who
are there, particularly if the location is remote and the plant
is running 24 hours a day, the costs can be high. But at the
end of the day, it's really a marketing decision," says
Shindler Fish has 50 products certified kosher by Star K,
including fish sticks, fish portions, beer-battered fish and a
line of raw fillets including orange roughy, among others. Due
to the high cost of obtaining kosher certification, the company
also carries a few products that aren't kosher certified, but
that still constitute kosher species, to offset the more
expensive kosher products. "There are different levels of
keeping kosher - some consumers require greater levels of
kosher supervision than others," Willner says.
BC Kosher has created higher standards in kosher-certified
seafood by introducing Bishul Yisrael, a process whereby the
supervising rabbi lights the fire that will cook the product,
"We have a reputation worldwide, and in some places they
will only accept BC Kosher-certified seafood, because it is
considered a higher standard," he says. "I remember a couple of
years ago, a large chain store in Montreal ordered kosher
canned salmon from one of the large producers in British
Columbia. What they received was two truckloads of product
without the BC Kosher certification, and the store refused to
stock it and sent it right back."
Consumers are spending more on kosher products, some
propelled by religious beliefs and others interpreting kosher
certification as a higher quality product. Moreover, consumers
are willing to pay for the assurance of kosher certification,
making this an unbridled opportunity for seafood manufacturers
that are willing to go the extra mile.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British