Less Than 2% Of The US Population Is Jewish. So Why Is 41% Of The Country’s Packaged Food Kosher?


kosherConsidering how few people keep kosher in the US—Jews make up less than 2% of the American population, and only a portion of them follow the laws of kashrus—it’s fairly astounding that 40% of the country’s packaged food and beverage products are labeled as being kosher. That makes it the top label claim on food and beverages, according to market research firm Mintel, beating out the ever-present “gluten-free” label and even allergen claims.

The Orthodox Union (OU) says it certifies an estimated 65% to 71% of kosher foods, an endeavor that involves both paperwork, on-site supervision, and payment to the certifying bodies.

In 2009, market research firm Packaged Facts estimated the kosher industry to be worth as much as $17 billion. And the label’s relative popularity seems to be growing: While it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009, in 2014 it appeared on 41%. New business for OU certifications grows by about 10% each year, according to Phyllis Koegel, the group’s marketing director.

But if less than 2% of Americans are Jewish, and not all Jews even keep kosher (an estimated 80% to 85% don’t), then who is buying all of this kosher food?

“[T]here are other consumer groups that buy these foods,” Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel, tells Quartz.

Muslims are one such group, she says. While there are even fewer Muslims than Jews in the US, their numbers are growing. They now account for 0.9% of the US population, according to the Pew Research Center, up from 0.4% in 2007. Muslims have their own set of dietary laws, called halal. But “if they’re not able to find halal, they rely on kosher,” says Koegel.

However, there are differences between kosher and halal, and not everyone agrees with OU and Mintel’s assessment: “We have no statistics to indicate any appreciable number of Muslims seek kosher products,” says Roger Othman, CEO of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

Many consumers go for kosher foods for completely non-religious reasons. Some “gravitate toward kosher products for positive health or taste perceptions, or for vegetarian reasons,” says Topper. Others buy kosher to avoid certain allergens, like shellfish. But not all of these reasons are based on a correct understanding of what “kosher” actually means.

The word “kosher,” says Koegel, has connotations of healthfulness and cleanliness. But as she points out, plenty of kosher foods, like OU-certified candy, are decidedly unhealthy. As for cleanliness, she says, the OU does provide an extra set of eyes on a facility and wouldn’t certify a company that wasn’t meeting its standards.

Some of the kosher market’s expansion has come from already popular, non-kosher foods making the switch, like when Oreos removed lard and got certified in the late 1990s.




  1. one reason is that if one is constrained by limited shelf space in a supermarket, management will prefer a kosher product to a non kosher one, as this will give it a broader customer base, even if it is only by a few percentage.

  2. The question is really silly. What do you mean why? Because all those companies want to capitalize on that 2% of the market. Thats why duh. 2% is very signifigent for such large volume. Also what do they mean by the kosher food industry being worth 17 billion? Any thing with a OU or ok?? Its worth alot more than that. Heinz , Coke, tropicana, ect.. Dont get it

  3. There is a simple explanation of why so many foods are kosher – market share. In the Northeast and upper Midwest going kosher will get you a nice new chunk of market share and it’s in a demographic that buys lots of food. (Think of how much food a family of ten buys compared to one of four.) And take a close look at which foods are kosher. They’re almost all your basic everyday things that a family with kids will buy. The fancy stuff – unless it’s from a frum-oriented company – will usually not be kosher. Now that lard is no longer used in commercial food production, going kosher is easy, not expensive, and gets you an enhanced market share. What’s not to like?

  4. I am a vegetarian and Kosher food guarantees that there will not be meat products slip in my food without letting me know on the label and the ingredients. I have looked at vegetable frozen food and it says vegetable, but if you look at the ingredients they have chicken broth, pork broth, meat broth and the label still signifies there is only vegetables in the package. Truth in advertising is sometimes a joke. Kosher food makes it safe to eat, and I know what I am eating.