In no surprising news to the mainstream Jewish market, Hebrew National has been sued over allegations that they aren’t officially considered kosher but rather are non-kosher. I’m not going to explain the lawsuit – you can find all the details about it here – but rather its important to focus on what Hebrew National is generally telling the world, the Jewish market, and kosher customers each time it says “We answer to a higher authority.”
Hebrew National’s claim to adhering to the highest Kosher standards available is quite puzzling and inaccurate to those who reside within the Kosher world. The Jewish market recognizes numerous Kosher certifications around the world – there are more than 1100 global and local certifiers – including the Orthodox Union, OK, Kof K, Tablet K, Scroll K, CRC, and more. The OK and Orthodox Union kashrut certifications make up the two largest agencies, represented by their OU and OK symbols. If Hebrew National was looking to adhere to an internationally recognized and respected kosher certification that was synonymous with quality and strict standards, the logical choice would be either the OU or OK symbols. By not using the brand that is recognized by all Jewish affiliations across the board, Hebrew National is not merely alienating an entire group of Jewish customers, they’re also creating a vocal protest against their claim of being kosher. Doesn’t seem like an effective marketing strategy – target a non-Jewish non-Kosher market while frustrating the Jewish & Kosher market.
Hebrew National’s use of the word “kosher” is merely a play on similar popular themes such as “going green”, “all-natural”, and “healthy”. Kosher, like Halal in some ways, has always been viewed as a preferred and healthier alternative to regular foods. The rigourous inspection and cleaning process, the supervision by Rabbi’s, and the use of only certain animals for consumption are all foundations of true Kosher processing. The controversy isn’t arising out of the kosher, but rather who the supervising agency is – in this case, Triangle K & Associates.
In many Orthodox Jewish circles, using Triangle K branded products has been frowned upon for MEAT & POULTRY items. Although many Orthodox Jews won’t eat any Triangle K branded products, meat and poultry is the main problem area that is cited for why Orthodox Jews shun the symbol. Hebrew National is not GLATT KOSHER, which is a red flag for many Orthodox Jews who swear by glatt kosher for all meats. Rabbi Jason Miller has a great blog post on the case and on Glatt Kosher . Furthermore, many Hebrew National products are sold in high traffic areas such as baseball games and theme parks and, while Triangle K may indeed be supervising the meat in-house, there is zero supervision over the cooking process, which is an entirely different set of kosher requirements. Triangle K knows this and by not taking steps to advise the final buyer (such as double bagging in a microwave) shows a lack of initiative in allaying any negative perceptions about their symbol. (Bear in mind, we’re ignoring the claim that AER employees have claimed certain procedures are rendering the meat entirely NOT Kosher; this blog isn’t qualified to rule on that at all!)
Overall, Hebrew National (well, really ConAgra) doesn’t quite understand that the best market for a truly kosher product is the Jewish kosher market; the fact that they nearly avoid marketing the brand to them, while also ignoring their shouts for change, should indeed raise a red flag about how Kosher they really are. A marketing strategy that consists of promoting a Kosher product to a prospective non-Jewish, non-Kosher marketplace while alienating and frustrating the actual Jewish, Kosher market seems to be a recipe for disaster. In an age of social networking and word of mouth, Hebrew National should start by getting the Jewish, Kosher market on their side before promoting to a non-Kosher (and potentially non-interested) market.
The saga reminds me of the parable of why a pig isn’t kosher even though it has split hooves (an animal needs to chew it’s cud as well, meaning chewed a second time). It’s like the pig is saying to laymen, “Look, I have split hooves, I’m kosher, trust me!”; it takes a full understanding of kosher to know that above the surface and below the surface are two entirely different things. Until Hebrew National starts understanding that their claims can be misleading, all they’re saying is “Look, we have the symbol, we’re kosher!” Maybe that will be the new slogan.
If Hebrew National wants to ensure a solid core market that is both Kosher and interested in Kosher/healthy products, they should reach out to a more comprehensive base of Kosher & Jewish consumers to see how to improve their marketing and product.