It may be America’s most iconic kosher brand, famous for its hot dogs that in the words of its unforgettable ad slogan, “answer to a higher authority.”
So consumers might be confused to find videos on Hebrew National’s homepage suggesting they grill up their kosher franks with some bacon or halloumi cheese.
Hebrew National’s “Simple Summer Skewers” video serves up several unusual kebab combos, including Sweet & Spicy Halloumi (halloumi cheese, Hebrew National franks, pineapple, jalapenos) and Hog Wild Stack (scallions, Hebrew National franks, shaved bacon). The video ends with the tagline: “Why Hebrew National? Because when your hot dog’s kosher, that’s a hot dog you can trust.”
The video is one of several Hebrew National is promoting on its website and in ads on other sites that feature patently non-kosher, or treif, food. In another video, New York chef David Kirschner prepares a grilled paella dish that combines Hebrew National dogs with mussels and clams.
For a brand whose reputation is built on its adherence to a “higher authority” than, presumably, USDA requirements, the Hebrew National ad campaign raises the question of whether associating its products with bacon and clams undermines its brand image or its kosher status.
The bulk of Hebrew National’s customers almost certainly do not keep kosher (a company spokesman declined to provide any consumer data or sales figures), but its brand is built on its kosher identity.
Dan Skinner, a public relations manager for Hebrew National, told JTA he doesn’t see any problem with the videos, which were produced in partnership with the culinary website Tasting Table.culinary website.
He said the hot dogs are strictly kosher, but the brand has many non-kosher customers. “For those consumers we have presented recipe options that are not necessarily kosher recipes in the strictest sense,” he said.
Kosher is a fast-growing part of the consumer food market, valued at an estimated $12.5 billion annually. Only 14 percent of people who buy kosher products keep kosher, a 2009 study by the market research firm Mintel found. The vast majority buy them because they believe they’re healthier or safer, the study found.
Hebrew National is certified kosher by Triangle K, a New York-based outfit run by Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag. He did not respond to telephone messages; office staff said he is on vacation.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union, wouldn’t comment specifically on the Hebrew National ads, but said that in general there is no inherent problem with companies advertising the use of their products in non-kosher recipes as long as it doesn’t give the impression that the recipes are kosher. “If it’s a company that’s selling kosher meat and there’s a real potential for confusion, that would be a problem,” he said.
Granting of OU certification is not dependent only on the food, Genack said. The OU, the largest kosher certifier in the country, does not certify restaurants that are open on Saturday, or whose ambiance does not comport with Orthodox values, such as a strip club, even if the food were strictly kosher. The OU also bans advertising that might damage the OU brand.
“Kosher supervision does not only relate to the kosher food; it’s also the ambiance,” Genack told JTA. “A lot of these things are judgment calls.”