Companies Cashing in on Demand for Kosher

By: Dan Mayfield

Three years ago, Eagle Ranch Pistachios of Alamogordo, N.M., got a request from one of its best customers. “We were requested to get a kosher certification from a customer we have a real good relationship with, a diamond broker in New York,” Eagle Ranch co-owner Marianne Schweers said. “We do a lot of corporate gifts through the company. It’s home-based in Israel and decided it wasn’t going to do business with anyone that wasn’t kosher. So we said we’ll give it a shot.”

Like most people in New Mexico, Schweers had no idea what kosher really meant. The diamond broker gave her a list of five kosher-certification organizations that put the familiar kosher symbols on food products: the circle with a “U” in it, the circle with a “K” in it, the star with a “K” in it, among others.

“We had no idea how easy it would be,” Schweers said. Schweers went with “Star-K.” “They’re the easiest to work with. Their rabbi comes out of Arizona and they realize we’re a mom-and-pop,” she said. Now, on every package of Eagle Ranch pistachios is a star with a “K” in the middle. Since certification, Schweers said, her business has increased, although she’s not sure how much, if any, is directly related to that.

Eagle Ranch’s kosher certification is part of a growing trend in the specialty food business. Kosher foods are a $6 billion market in the United States and are expected to grow to a $7.5 billion market by 2005, according to Integrated Marketing Communications Inc., producers of the annual Kosherfest trade show.

In Schweers’ case, her pistachios were certified as “pareve,” which means meat and dairy free.