The Kosher Certification Journey

While there can be significant returns for investing in and attaining the right kosher certification, it is akin to a journey that requires strategic navigation. The certification process can be short and seamless or lengthy and arduous. The variance typically depends on whether there is an informed perspective spearheading the project on the part of the entity seeking certification. Specifically, familiarity with the nuances of firstly, the laws relating to kosher, and secondly, an understanding of the certifier landscape goes a long way toward simplifying the process and minimizing cost. Based on our experience, when there is a lack of knowledge in these two core areas, there is a significantly higher likelihood of errors that incur both frustration and unnecessary expenditure. 

In this discussion, we perform an overview of the kosher certification process as well as provide insight on how to navigate away from frequent missteps successfully. Our goal is for readers to gain clarity and be well-positioned to maximize any investment in getting kosher certification. 

Why Get Kosher Certified

For someone unfamiliar with the kosher market, it is sensible to ask why getting certified would be a worthy investment. To start, kosher is one of the fastest-growing segments of the broader specialty food industry. Valued at approximately $13 billion and growing at a reported 10% year over year, kosher products proliferate within almost every food category. Illustrating this growth is that more than 40% of the new packaged food and beverage products in the USA are labeled as kosher. After all, any consumers purchase kosher products for entirely non-religious motivations. Some buy certified food for the perceived cleanliness or taste perceptions. Others may buy based on diet specific considerations. For example, a vegan may feel more comfortable purchasing a certified kosher product based on the added assurances and rigorous inspections that strict supervision mandates. Those with allergies may also benefit from the added peace of mind that kosher brings. A good example is those with severe allergies to shellfish, which is an unkosher food. By buying certified items, they ensure the avoidance of these potentially harmful foods. 

The Certifier Landscape Is Fractured

Certifiers come in all shapes and sizes, and for the unassuming brand-seeking certification, there are potential pitfalls that come with such a diverse ecosystem of certifiers. After all, in general, more choice increases confusion and the chance for bad decisions. At the most basic level, the fundamental differences between different certifiers revolve around the stringency and associated “brand recognition.” As things stand, the strictest certifiers are also the most well known and likewise generally the most costly. These certifications are national and even international in scope. This category of “hallmark certifiers” in order of recognition and customer base are as follows:

Beyond these four most significant players, there are countless smaller certifiers. For a sampling of how diverse the landscape is, take a look at the member list of one of the certifier associations. As can be seen, most certifiers are small regional organizations that specialize in endorsing local businesses such as restaurants. The majority of organizations stand in broad contrast to the four largest certifiers, which, although also certify local restaurants, have large CPG brands in their certification portfolio. 

Knowing Your Brand & Optimal Customer Profile

Since there are a large variety of certifiers on offer, it is essential to understand how your offering and corresponding customer segment interact with certification. A national or international product such as a consumer packaged good (CPG)will need different certification than a localized food product or brick and mortar restaurant. Further, even on the localized level, depending on the level of certification desired from customers, the suitable certifier options will differ. For example, for a business with a sizeable ultra-orthodox clientele, a meat restaurant would likely need a more stringent certification than a dairy or vegan establishment. It should be clear that the certification decision will be dictated based on scenario-specific details, including the nature of the product, location, and customer segment. 

Application Process 

Each certifier has its process in terms of application and subsequent certification. Generally, there is the submission of company and product information, including ingredient lists and facility specifics. Once the first step has been completed, scheduling a visit to observe operations is necessary. Depending on the complexity of manufacturing, the visit and associated undertakings to maintain certification vary. For the more stringent products such as meat and dairy, the process will be more arduous. 

Negotiation & The Value Of A Consultant 

Especially for those unfamiliar with the Jewish community in general and the kosher market in specific, embarking on certification can be a daunting and confusing process. The nuances of the religious laws seem bewildering and arbitrary, and there is uncertainty as to what the actual requirements are versus what the certification agency may want. Therefore, if one is not knowledgeable about kosher, it might make sense to explore the potential value of a consultant. Exploring this avenue is particularly wise for larger certification projects where there is more room for cost and complexity minimization. Fees can be negotiated more effectively in light of the ability to leverage future business as well as utilizing established relationships. Potential pitfalls are also avoided, such as disreputable practices such as tying to certification cost to product output.

A Strategy To Capitalize On Your Certification

Looking at gaining kosher certification in isolation without a strategy to capitalize accordingly is one of the most fundamental errors a business can make. While kosher consumers may randomly come across the product and purchase it based on the certification, to truly maximize the returns seen on the investment, marketing should play a role. The strategy for each product will differ depending on a variety of variables. These can include the kind of food product and geographic distribution scope, among others. For example, some products will benefit from in-store sampling, while others may call for a Jewish influencer marketing campaign. Regardless though, driving sales needs to be thought of in tandem with getting kosher certification. 

Going Forward

There are various reasons for getting a food product kosher certified, including broadening one’s potential customer base and building brand affinity. There are pitfalls to avoid when navigating the potentially confusing kosher certification journey, though. The nuanced laws of kosher, price, and selling point variations among agencies add to this dynamic. Having a consultant guide a business through the process can make gaining certification more seamless and cheaper. Further, implementing marketing to make the most of certification will help reap the rewards from embarking on the kosher journey.