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Kingsburg Introduces Kosher Stone Fruit

n an industry of commodities — and commodity like returns — the quest for differentiation is crucial and ongoing. Now, for the first time, a major national shipper of tree fruit has decided to offer a certified kosher line:

Certified Kosher Stone Fruits Now Available —
A Welcome Addition To Summer Kosher Meals

To meet the growing demand among Jewish consumers and others looking for healthier, cleaner foods, Kingsburg Orchards has introduced a new line of Certified Kosher fresh fruit including, peaches, plums, nectarines, Asian apple pears, pluots, apriums, apricots, apples, persimmons, kiwifruit and avocados. This new product line is the latest innovation from the fifth-generation farming organization that was among the first to introduce white flesh tree fruit, Asian apple pears and pluots — including the unique “Dinosaur Egg” pluot.

Kosher fruits from Kingsburg Orchards bear a new PLU label featuring the “OU” symbol of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certifying agency. The Orthodox Union is recognized for enforcing one of the strictest kosher standards on the market today. Meeting that standard required a lengthy process and significant investment from Kingsburg Orchards.

“This certification enables us to connect with the traditions of the Jewish community, which considers the observance of keeping kosher to be a key way of making a Jewish home ‘Jewish’,” said Dan Spain, Vice President of Marketing for Kingsburg Orchards.

“At the same time, millions of other consumers — regardless of faith — perceive kosher food as being healthier and cleaner, giving our Certified Kosher fruits selling power beyond the Jewish community,” Spain said.

According to recent research, kosher certification appears on over 60% of American food products and currently accounts for more than $150 billion in annual sales — a figure that is rising dramatically.

Kingsburg Orchards is launching its new stone fruit line in regions with high demand for Certified Kosher products, enabling consumers in those areas to add the fruits to their summer kosher menu.

Although today a number of produce companies have kosher certifications for both fruits and vegetables and salads, with Star-K probably the most popular certifier in the produce industry, kosher produce is a relatively new innovation. Generally speaking fruits and vegetables are inherently kosher — or sanctioned by the Jewish dietary laws.

The rules are complex though, and this is not always the case: Fruit that grows during the first three years after a tree is planted is called Orlah and is not kosher to be eaten… there is a special procedure to render the fruit permissible to eat in the fourth year.

There are also special rules that apply if the produce was grown in Israel:

Trumah and Maaser are terms for various tithes that apply to Israeli-grown produce, to be given to the Kohen and Levi. Untithed foods are called Tevel and are not kosher to be eaten. If you’re visiting Israel, or even if you’re buying Israeli oranges or tomatoes in your local supermarket, you should make sure that proper tithes have been taken from all grains, fruits and vegetables.

The Torah (Leviticus ch. 25) says that every seven years, agricultural work must cease in the Land of Israel. This is called Shmita — the seventh, sabbatical year. Produce that grows on land that was ‘farmed and worked’ during the seventh year is not kosher. Today, with the return of a Jewish agricultural industry to Israel, the laws related to Shmita are once again very relevant. So if you’re buying Israeli produce, make sure the laws of Shmita were properly observed.

However, although most produce sold commercially is inherently kosher, things can be done in post-harvest treatment of product that can make it not kosher. For example certain washes or waxes may not be allowed according to traditional Jewish law:

A small sign hanging above the produce in a local supermarket reads, “Fruits and vegetables have been coated with food-grade vegetable, petroleum, beeswax, and/or lac-resin based wax or resin to maintain freshness… No fruits or vegetables have been coated with animal-based wax”…. The sign is not required by law to declare the additives put in coatings, some of which raise kashrus concerns. That doesn’t mean that coatings on fresh produce are not acceptable….

Bugs are also not kosher to eat. There is such a great concern over bugs that many traditional Jewish observers will not purchase Romaine lettuce and broccoli for fear of eating a bug. In places such as Brooklyn, New York, a few companies, such as Bodek Kosher Produce, sell fresh-cut produce that has been certified kosher. The big concern is insect infestation:

Many assume that farmers and companies are wary of insects in vegetables, and take proper precautionary measures to ensure that their inventory is clean from bugs. This assumption may seem reasonable but, in fact, farmers have not been able to consistently grow insect free produce. The FDA tolerance levels of insect infestation in produce are far more permissive than proper halachic standards. For example, the US government allows averages of up to 60 insects per 100 grams in frozen broccoli, and up to 50 insects per 100 grams of frozen spinach (See Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act 402 (a)(3)). (There are no FDA action levels written specifically for fresh salad mixes, and typically the standard required throughout the industry for leafy vegetables is the frozen spinach FDA tolerance level).

This area is controversial because many fresh-cut processors, including Fresh Express and Dole, have many of their products certified kosher. However kosher standards vary from one certifying agent to another, and different certifiers have different degrees of credibility with different communities. In some communities, only their own certifier is acceptable.

Initially Kingsburg is emphasizing distribution to areas where kosher products sell well. This includes both Orthodox Jewish areas and Muslim areas where many Muslims use kosher products to substitute for Halal products that are unavailable. Yet in the end, Kingsburg may want to pursue broader distribution. Though certainly welcome to the Orthodox Jewish community, Kingsburg Orchards efforts will probably have their most important effect among the general population. Study after study has shown that consumers perceive a kosher certification to provide a halo effect to any product it is on.

Of course, all depends on how Kingsburg uses the certification. If they are quiet about it, then only those who really care will know about it. But if Kingsburg promotes its kosher quality, it may well change consumer perceptions. We hope Kingsburg did some consumer research on attitudes toward its name. We would predict that if they raise awareness of the fact that the product is kosher, consumer perception of food safety will rise.

Such is the impact of the halo effect in marketing.

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