Think kosher-a traditional way of preparing food according to cleanliness guidelines set forth by Jewish dietary laws. According to Integrated Marketing & Communications Inc. (IMC), the publisher of trade magazine KOSHER Today, consumers who specifically look for kosher products spent $6.65 billion in 2002, and that figure is expected to rise to $9.5 billion by 2005.
Entrepreneurs must be well-versed in kosher guidelines, but to be successful, you don't have to be Jewish-just kosher-savvy. Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of IMC, says, "The [perception] that kosher food is better and healthier" has increased its mainstream popularity. He sees kosher moving even more into the mainstream, with room for many diverse products. At IMC's recent Kosherfest trade show in New York City, companies displayed everything kosher-snacks, oils and marinades, frozen foods, sauces, organic foods, fat-free foods, gluten-free foods, baked goods, wines and spirits, Asian food, Spanish food, teas and cheeses. Even unusual items like kosher pet food and kosher mints are growing. Check out these kosher entrepreneurs we found thriving.
Erin Baker-Geschwill, 34
Baker's Breakfast Cookie Inc. in Bellingham, Washington
When starting her business in 1995, Baker wanted to provide a healthy meal-replacement cookie. She decided to get her kosher certification in June 2003 because her company was already doing healthy/all-natural preparation. Going kosher wasn't a far trek.
"The only challenges were getting through the certification process. [It] is very rigorous, and it's not just about sourcing ingredients and keeping a clean plant. You really have to surrender yourself and take an understanding of the religion. Some things aren't necessarily cost-effective in the process of being kosher-certified, and you just have to say, 'OK, I don't understand that, but we'll do it anyway.'" There are many different kosher certification organizations run by rabbinical councils. And though the process of getting kosher-certified can be a bit challenging, Baker-Geschwill has seen her company's sales grow well into the seven figures since she started the business.
William Retin, 38
Lang's Premium Kosher Bakery, Deli and Foods in San Diego
Retin jumped at the opportunity to take over Lang's Premium Kosher in 2001 when the original family owners retired. With a food-industry background, Retin desired a prospect with great growth potential. Under his ownership, Lang's now has a storefront bakery and deli and an Internet sales department; and the company manufactures and distributes kosher breads, groceries, deli foods and meats all over Southern California. With $1 million in annual sales, Retin notes that while the kosher customer can be especially demanding, discerning and price-conscious, it's a loyal group with a strong sense of community.
Marc Michels, 37, and Martine Lacombe, 33
KosherPets Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
This husband-and-wife team began preparing food made with rice, carrots and garlic for their dog, who was suffering from rashes and was gaining weight. While walking their now-healthy dog in their largely Jewish community, neighbors and fellow dog owners noticed how perky and healthy the dog looked and asked if they were doing anything different. When they said they were feeding their dog healthier food, the next logical question from neighbors was, Is the food kosher?
Michels and Lacombe set out to learn all about kosher dietary laws from local rabbis and began making canned kosher cat and dog food, frozen foods and even Chanukah treats in early 2000. Wholesaling to pet stores, they report sales in the seven figures.