Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Strange Case of Hechshers and Hashgochas

No matter what else goes on during the rest of the year, when it comes to Pesach many people become more machmir on what food items they will use. Their everyday kitchens may be a combination of "heimish" products and products under national kashrut organizations. Comes Pesach, only the heimish products will do. Hey, no problem. I'm not any less crazy then the rest of the population. However......

"Pure" foods have almost ceased to exist. Read the ingredients panel on the products you buy. Can you identify what all the ingredients are? Do you really and truly have any idea of what BHA is? Or how about di-calcium phosphorous?

Even where you can recognize most of the ingredients on the list there is also this to consider. If a heimish company is producing a product that uses potato starch, eggs, cocoa, vanillin, nuts, salt, onion powder etc., where are they getting these raw products from? In some cases they have their own mashgichim and produce or oversee the basic ingredients that are used in their prepared products. In other cases they are purchasing the raw material from companies that are producing these raw materials under the supervision of the major kashrut agencies. Yup, "Shmendrick's Heimish Best" is using ingredients that may be under the OU or the Chaf K or the Star K et al.

So where has this gotten the consumer? In a number of cases we now see double hechsherim on products. Triple and quadruple hechsherim are also not unknown. You want to know why kosher products cost so much? You're looking at one of the reasons. You think that all those mashgichim for the products work gratis? You think that the companies producing the products aren't paying for all those hechsherim? And where they have to pay, the costs are passed on to the consumer.

I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating now. Some types of products are produced by manufacturers whose names you are not familiar with. They produce a product that is then private labeled for many other companies, companies whose names you do know. It's the identical product. And yet, people swear by the kashrut/taste of product X, even though it is identical to product Y. Some major manufacturers whose names you do know also do private labeled products. In this way they grab shares of every consumer market. So when you swear by the kashrut/taste of major brand product X as opposed to store brand product Y you are just fooling yourself--it's the same product.

Kashrut and kosher products have become big business here in the US. And as someone aptly put it "The business of business is business." See any mention of the poor consumer in that?


Anonymous said...

Good points.

Another important point is that the 'heimish' companies are at times lacking in technical knowledge and expertise with regard to modern food production, which is alot more complicated than years ago, which can bring about serious questions regarding their reliability.

On the other hand, 'national hechsherim' are usually more technically sophisticated and up-to-date.

So be careful before falling into the trap of falling for the 'heimish' scam.

P.S. How do you define 'heimish' ?

Anonymous said...

Another point to ponder. What about national brand companies and even a few of the heimishe ones whose products are not all under the same kashrus supervision? One product is under the OU while another may be under someone elses supervision. Did the mashgichim disagree over whether the product was really kosher or kosher for pesach? Did the company suddenly get a cheaper deal in switching mashgichim? Makes you wonder what is going on.

ProfK said...

Heimishe litvak,

Once upon a time I would have said that Streits and Horowitz Margareten and Kedem were heimish products. Not so today--all are under the OU and therefore not acceptable to some people.

I guess I would define heimish as a company whose sole target audience of consumers is the frum to frummer community. They are not simply marketing kosher products for any jew to use--they are marketing "kosherer" products. They sometimes sell their products--usually at Pesach time--in some of the larger supermarkets, but mostly not. I'm thinking of Oberlanders and Mishpocha brand as examples.

I'm also including products that are under the supervision of a single rav rather than an organized kashrut organization. Those are really "niche" products purchased mostly by those who believe in that particular rav's hashgacha. They have limited sales. Years back R' Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rebbi, gave this type of hechsher. There are others today.

ProfK said...

Just a little correction here--apparently Mishpocha brand is also under the OU.

Interesting conversation today with the manager at Shoprite. Shoprite has its own dairy and makes all its own store label products. They contract separately to get the OU on their products. The Shoprite brand tuna, which has the OU for Pesach, is made for them by either Starkist or Bumblebee depending on who they give the contract to in any given year. Ditto their oils and oil sprays--mostly made by Wesson. Their sugar comes from Domino. And yet compare the prices of the name brand products with the store brand.

Anonymous said...

What I don't get is why there are some products that have one hechsher for the regular year and a different one for Pesach. Seems to be sending the message that the regular hechsher isn't good enough for Pesach. Of when some products that have one hechsher for the regular year suddenly have two hechshers for Pesach. Also a strange message.