Dietary demands: More customers request kosher and trans-fat-free foods


Following up last month’s article on the gluten-free trend, let’s consider two other trends that are altering demand in the foodservice area: kosher food and trans-fat-free food. What they all have in common is the desire of the public to eat healthier. While gluten-free products address a very specific health issue, kosher and trans-fat-free foods are choices based on religious and general health. Both of them are becoming more available, and demanded, in foodservice and retail packaged products.

Kosher foods are those that conform to the regulations of kashrut, Jewish dietary law. A list of some kosher foods and kosher rules are in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Bible. Additional reasons for food not being kosher include the presence of ingredients from non-kosher animals or from kosher animals that were not slaughtered in the ritually proper manner, or produced without supervision. This last part is very important for our current discussion. This is what is driving the current trend towards kosher foods.

There is a perception that kosher food is manufactured and prepared under stricter supervision and therefore is cleaner and healthier. According to the Kosher Advisory Service, total kosher sales in 1960 were 10 times less than total kosher food sales in 2010. This year, kosher products are projected to generate $17 billion in sales. Mintel, a global market research group, reports that of the 11.2 million Americans who purchase kosher items, only 15 percent are doing so for religious reasons. Most are seeking out the products for food quality (62 percent), general healthfulness (51 percent), and food safety (34 percent).

Food trends are dependent on perception first, followed by strong marketing collaboration within sectors that sustain a movement, such as organic. Kosher food sales have grown significantly, and it is not for religious reasons. It is because people in general are looking for healthier food choices, and the belief that kosher foods are more closely monitored during production is fueling their growth. Does this mean that they really are healthier? Not really: Kosher does not determine that the ingredients themselves are considered “healthier” for the body. But the general distrust of food that is on the rise makes kosher foods an easy choice for people who are really concerned with the production process today.

Trust is becoming a greater issue in the food industry in general as we battle our problem with obesity and try to dissect what the real problems are. The change in diet, lack of exercise, and loss of recess at school are all things that get air time in the obesity debate. One of the biggest issues under analysis is the actual make-up of the tremendous amount of processed food that we eat and how the body processes it. Many studies have been conducted on how the body digests and absorbs the substances in processed food and one particular ingredient has been deemed unacceptable: trans fat.

In November 2013 the FDA announced that the major source of trans fat, partially hydrogenated oil, can no longer be classified as safe for consumption and will have to be phased out of the U.S. food supply. For a bit of back story, trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat which is not typically found in nature, but created artificially. Hydrogenated oil has been the most high-profile source of trans fat and it has been a major ingredient in many processed foods, adding flavor and texture.

But studies have proven it to be a leading contributor to heart disease and other health-related problems. While there are trans fats that occur naturally, it is the artificial ones which cause the most problems for the human body. Research studies have shown that these fats increase bad cholesterol, increase rates of cardiovascular problems including heart disease, and cause diabetes. In addition to all of those concerns, trans fat also been identified as a cause of obesity since the body digests it differently than other fats. Hydrogenated oil is considered the most dangerous culprit, and it is this substance that the FDA has moved to eliminate completely from the American diet.

Many companies have already taken the step to eliminate it from their food, and then proudly proclaim it on the packaging. But not all companies have complied and the FDA finally moved to force the change. "While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern," FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.

The good news is there are substitutes for this ingredient and companies have been finding them. Over the past ten years, companies have replaced hydrogenated oil with other, more natural ingredients and this includes both retail product companies as well as fast-food restaurants with their frying oils. The theatre industry has followed this trend and has switched their cooking oils for popcorn over the years to eliminate artificial trans fat. But now with the trend of adding more and more items to the menu, as well as full-service restaurants, we will have to continue to be diligent to keep trans fat low and remove hydrogenated oil completely.

Both kosher foods and trans-fat-free foods have been requested by patrons at the movie theatre. As a business that serves food as a main part of our entertainment experience, we must always stay in touch with current food trends and consider their effect and the best way to embrace them.

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