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The Double Standards of Kosher

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Nobody cares for double standards, unless they benefit from such improprieties and have allowed their principles to degrade, turning a blind eye. When these double standards are prominent, they infringe on good faith, the law, our Constitutional freedoms, and break down the bonds of trust that hold together our society. When an organization or even an industry is the culprit that enforces double standards, correcting the wrong doing can be challenging. Furthermore, when you find a powerful religion backing the unfavorable affair, moral relativism and guilt-free self-deception may just be the ingredients that maintain the status quo.[1] Such is the case in the food and supermarket industry. For nearly one century now, a few have noticed the double standards in kosher certification and created a little noise. KosChertified has forged a path to research, articulate, and amplify the dubitable schemes that are largely hidden from our consumers, seeking redress that will restore justice for the average American citizen.

In 2019, KosChertified took a deep dive researching the anatomy of kosher seals (Hebrew: “hechshers”), and compared them against other typical food certifications, symbols and labeling usually found on food packaging.[2] The products chosen were randomly selected from the numerous aisles of a major supermarket chain, and our results were astonishing! While even the recycle seals averaged three times larger than kosher seals, other popular certifications dealing with everything from non-gmo, vegan, gluten-free and many more, were averaging nearly ten times the kosher seal size! There were many visibility aspects we examined, but just as seen in the graphical analysis shown below, there was one standard for kosher seals, and another for everything else. Clearly this separate standard places doubt on the true marketing intent of kosher certification.

So the next step for KosChertified probing would be the exclusive kosher market. And even though we didn’t have access to a brick & mortar kosher market, we still found many online stores featuring all the kosher-certified products any observer of Kashrus could want or need to survive. With easy access for us to observe the package labels of any product, we set out to compare the kosher seals and other related attributes found in a kosher market to those from the major supermarket chain of our 2019 study. Would you believe we found more double standards?

One solid framework for comparing the two sets of kosher seals and related labeling is what we named “impact”, where impact = kosher seal area ÷ total label area. Since this was, in effect, a ratio that may have a marketing factor drawing in the consumer eye, we could proceed with the imagery found on a kosher market website which displayed the products as they would appear if we bought them. The ratio measured on a computer screen would preclude our need to have the actual product in front of us for examination, and this impact was one of the carefully measured findings already in our 2019 study.

Interestingly for the exclusive kosher market analysis, we found that most of the products displayed multiple kosher seals, a phenomenon we hadn’t seen before in ordinary supermarkets. Usually there were two kosher agencies and certifications involved, but sometimes three. This discovery required that we assign these two different types of kosher seals unique names to make qualified comparisons with the 2019 study.  For these additional kosher seals were radically different, much larger, often possessing some intricate design, and always including Hebraic text of some sort. We’ll call these heimishe kosher seals, as one of the rabbis described to us. Why this? Well, after inquiring about these extra larger kosher seals in emails to major kosher agencies, we were told “multiple hechsherim (plural of hechsher) is a marketing decision targeting specific [Jewish] communities, especially Charedi (or Haredi) Jews.” One rabbi amplified: “Kosher certification is a business. Brokers/dealers look for a symbol that consumers will recognize and feel comfortable. There are large populations of folks in Brooklyn who are familiar with certain names and/or symbols that will pay for the privilege of seeing those symbols on foods that they want. Likewise, the sellers realize that some specific symbols are ‘eye candy’ to the consumers and will pay a licensing fee for use of that symbol.” Heimishe conveys that cozy feeling of home, tradition, and familiarity, and it also is found defined as “Haredi Orthodox”. And so we shall call those heimishe kosher seals below, the kind that the general consumer will rarely, if ever, see.

Examples of “heimishe kosher seals”, of which there can be hundreds

We’ll call the smaller hechshers mainstream kosher seals, as in those you typically will find on your Coca Cola can, Palmolive dish soap, butter, milk, or food wrap at the supermarket.

Examples of common “mainstream kosher seals”

Allow us, now, to return to the marketing impact of these labeling objects. Greater impact confers better visibility, and perhaps, marketing intent. One can imagine that a seal found on a package measuring one quarter, or 25% the size of the total label area would certainly catch the attention of the consumer. But this is not normal for certifications, and is typically reserved for company names, logos and marketing slogans. See the Cascade Platinum logo with white dish plate background and detergent pod shown below, as it measures roughly 23% impact. As for what is common for certification seals, we shall refer to the results in our 2019 study: Our pictures below will give you a good idea of varying impact, from the low end of 0.014% on the Cascade detergent (barely recognizable to the naked eye) to 0.18%, the average for kosher seals in the major supermarket, to higher values of 1.76% and 6.73% for the Good Housekeeping and USDA Certified Biobased Product.

Example of 0.014% impact with the mainstream kosher seal (displayed below left of the first “C” in Cascade)

OU Kosher Seal shows 0.18% impact, average for mainstream kosher seals at supermarkets

The Good Housekeeping Seal = 1.76%; USDA Certified Biobased Product = 6.73% because its total side area is smaller than the front face of this Honey Oat Crunch cereal box

Proceeding to our comparison with the kosher market: While mainstream kosher seals from a major supermarket chain averaged 0.18%, the same type of seals averaged 0.26% at the kosher market, making them 1.44 times greater or 44% more impact!

Chocolate bar from kosher market has 0.26% impact mainstream kosher seal

Although 0.26% impact was still on the small size, the 44% increase over those products examined from the supermarket gave these mainstream kosher seals just enough edge to begin standing out, justifying its seal as a noticeable marketing device. So here again we find different standards within the kosher industry itself, and the agencies will say it’s because “they have no control over the size of the seal”. Yes, with all the confidentiality agreements, restrictive stipulations, and contracting authority of the kosher agencies, the food and kitchen product companies are free to make their kosher seals as big or small as they want, and it turns out that the true kosher food companies make them stand out 44% more. But there’s more…

The total impact of kosher seals at the kosher market actually equals the cumulative impact of its mainstream plus its heimishe kosher seals, and 38 out of the 50 samples we studied had multiple seals. Hence, we summed the total area of all kosher seals and divided this by the total label area to give us the total kosher impact (TKI). Our results once again created new marketing standards for the kosher market, which had 14 out of 50 products yielding TKI values over 1.0%, and an average impact equal to 0.80%. If we compared this impact to product label real estate, we could say that the marketing of kosher goes up 4.44 times produced for the exclusive kosher market, alternatively representing a 344% marketing increase over product labels found at Krogers, Safeway, Vons, Shop Right, Trader Joes, Costco, or your Piggly Wiggly!

Blue = Mainstream Kosher Impact at Supermarket; Black = Mainstream Kosher Impact at Kosher Market;
Red = Total Kosher Impact at Kosher Market;
Can you visualize the double standards?

Some of our samples having multiple kosher seals, including the heimishe

More examples from our research, showing how multiple kosher seals can add up

We have arrived at quite another double standard now: one for the over 325 million mostly non-Jewish consumers, ubiquitous but inconspicuous by its systemic lack of transparency; and a statistically significant difference in standards for the orthodox kosher keeper and his exclusive store, prominent, deeply ethnic and dazzling, and always displaying in text “KOSHER”, whether in English, Yiddish, or Hebrew, a rare act of transparency for general supermarket products. For those interested, you may find the Yiddish spelling of “kosher” found embedded in the heimishe seals of many of our samples: כּשר‎. On the example below, the certification seal on the right displays both English and Yiddish “kosher” together:

Heimishe kosher seal on right reads “kosher” in English and Yiddish

More differences in label protocol were found: Most of the kosher market products contained large text blocks like “KOSHER FOR PASSOVER AND ALL YEAR ROUND” or explicit “NOT FOR PASSOVER USE”. Also, our 2019 study indicated that the mainstream kosher seals appeared on the front packaging just 70% of the time, whereas at the kosher market it was all the time, 100%. Our Critical Kosher Study further discovered that it was rare to find kosher seals included in a “seal cluster”, even when other genuine food certifications were. This was not the case at the kosher market, and we found one product with two kosher seals imbedded in a cluster of ten. Similarly, attribute clusters are often found on labels, displaying a list of textual descriptions that may help sell the product. In our earlier study we never found “KOSHER” or “KOSHER CERTIFIED” listed along with such features as “NON GMO”, “GLUTEN FREE”, “PRESERVATIVE FREE”, “DAIRY FREE”, “NO ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS”, “AND DELICIOUS” as one of our 2019 samples displayed. However, it didn’t take us long to find “KOSHER” listed along with “NO DAIRY”, “NO GLUTEN”, “NO NUTS’, “VEGAN”, “PARVE” and “NO REGRETS” on a chocolate found in our kosher market. Ah, the double standards.

Example of a “seal cluster” on sample product from kosher market

Kosher market sample with seal cluster at bottom, including two kosher seals

Example of an “attribute cluster” on sample product from kosher market

One may rationally inquire why there would be the need for higher impact with kosher seals at a kosher market since everyone shopping there already has been assured that every product on the shelves is kosher certified? Conversely, if as the kosher agencies claim, non-Jewish consumers are seeking out “kosher” for (1) the perception that it is healthier; or for (2) having a second set of authoritative eyes on production and ingredients, wouldn’t it make sense to have these certification seals standing out to better inform unwitting consumers that their cost for product will include a paid religious intermediary? It’s truly baffling, especially since in pitching the benefits of going “kosher” to the food companies, we read from OU Kosher[3]

  • The logo has become an increasingly important marketing device
  • Certification gives a product a competitive edge that makes it sell faster, thus causing supermarkets to favor brands with [kosher] certification
  • A kosher symbol boosts market share
  • A kosher product can win more favorable shelf space
  • When competing next to a non-kosher brand, a kosher product will do better by 20%

Then why don’t more food, food wrap, soap and detergent companies match the marketing impact and transparency found at the kosher market? According to the promotional allegations above, the larger kosher transparency would increase every measure of business success. Instead, double standards have become the norm to keep most general consumers in the dark about kosher, and deceitful actions of this nature might be characterized as fraud by the most awakened supermarket patrons. We believe that schemes like this should be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission under its Fair Packing and Labeling Act, especially when religious freedom and tax-exempt revenue are in play.[4]

Finally, there is the matter of how many, or few, kosher keeping patrons this food industry is bending backwards over to kosher certify their entire line of production. Time and time again we have come across an approximate number of one million strict American observers of Kashrus (the kosher dietary laws of Judaism) who need this as part of their religious faith. This would be like kosherizing most of the entire food supply of a small village for just one orthodox Jew of 350 total residents. While this might seem outrageous, now that we have investigated the differences in the abundant kosher markets available online and in ethnically Jewish communities, it seems that these most adherent kosher keepers, like the orthodox Haredi Jews, frown upon products lacking a heimishe kosher seal! And if so, they likely avoid the major supermarket chains altogether, further diminishing any honest assessment of kosher seeking numbers. While authentic Jewish demographic numbers have always been dubious (just consult Aleksandr Sohltzenitsyn’s Two Hundred Years Together for affirming this point), we read from The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that “Eleven percent of American Jews defined themselves as Orthodox in the 1970 study, or approximately 600,000 people. That figure has remained relatively consistent.”[5] (emphasis ours)  Therefore, can we reasonably presume that 600,000 out of 1,000,000, or 60% of the strict kosher keepers are not regular shoppers of the typical goyish supermarket brands of products? Now, this would be like kosherizing most of the entire food supply for just one person of 875 residents in the village. Amazing, but true! This village is your American nation today!

If the observant kosher community views heimishe hechshers as “eye candy”, then the small and obscure mainstream kosher seals of our major supermarkets must be serving a different role in our food industry, one of an insidious nature that only Suzanne Bousquet could comprehend (author of From Kosher to Halal: When greed, politics and the sneaky destruction of Western Civilization intertwine). The supporters and apologists will exclaim “It’s economy of scale” that permits the large corporations to proceed in such a pro-kosher manner for such a small and questionable market share. But maybe it’s something more worrisome that ensures corporate complicity…something not for outsiders to know.

We all see how the food industry easily accommodates “fat-free”. “sugar-free”, “low-sodium”, et al. We similarly do not expect any effort to capture the 38% of shoppers desiring no religious intervention with their food production. We will not find a NKC, or NOT Kosher Certified product side-by-side with its OU Kosher equivalent any time soon, because it’s all about double standards and the veil of secrecy that upholds them.

We hope we’ve lifted that veil up a bit further with our brief analysis presented herein. For further insight, please visit www.MyNKCProducts.com.

[1] See the article “Kosher Delusion”, https://mynkcproducts.com/2021/02/05/kosher-delusion/

[2] See “Critical Study on Kosher Seals”, https://mynkcproducts.com/data-critical-study-on-kosher-seals/

[3] https://oukosher.org/kosher-overview/why-go-kosher/

[4] Consider why religious organizations are IRS tax-exempt, and why there is no requirement for public disclosure of their financial accounting (a generous privilege). Is one factor that these organizations normally have financial transactions or perform services within their own congregation or synagogues, whose members can hold them accountable? Not so with kosher certification. Now see https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/fair-packaging-labeling-act-regulations-0

[5] https://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/demographics.htm

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