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Mmm, Mmm Kosher!

Mmm, Mmm Kosher!

Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Oreos. M&M’s.
These are some of America’s favorite sweets that have come under kosher certification in recent years.
It’s not just desserts.
Campbell’s Soup, one of the oldest and most noted food manufacturers in the country (remember Andy Warhol’s famous prints?) announced this week that its condensed Vegetarian Vegetable Soup is now certified kosher by the Orthodox Union.
The first cans bearing the OU kashrut symbol, Campbell’s first kosher soups, rolled on store shelves in the Northeast this month. Nationwide distribution will begin in December.
More kosher soups may be coming, say Campbell’s officials, if the first cans sell well.
"We’re really looking to make our soups available to a wider consumer base," said Campbell’s spokeswoman Julie Mandel Sloves.
Campbell Soup Co. entering the kosher food field serves as another milepost of Jewish life in the U.S., reflecting both the buying power of kosher-observant Jews and the eagerness of non-kosher companies to gain a foothold in the kosher world.
Supermarkets across the country carry the thousands of kosher items, from appetizers to entrees to desserts, under the supervision of the OU and a score of competing kashrut supervision agencies.
Other Campbell products, including Pepperidge Farm cookies and Godiva chocolates, already are under OU supervision.
"Offering a kosher soup is another important step toward meeting the rising expectations of our consumers," said Jeremy Fingerman, president of Campbell’s U.S. soup division.
"It says a great deal about what was considered to be a relatively exotic religious requirement" a few decades ago, said Steven Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life at the American Jewish Committee. "The kosher food industry has found a niche within mainstream American culture."
The sale of kosher food to observant Jews is augmented by the products’ acceptability to religious Muslims and other consumers who consider a kashrut certification a mark of purity.
While some consumers may try Campbell’s "out of curiosity," and its label carries a certain panache, it won’t necessarily harm the sales of smaller, kosher-only firms like Manischewitz or Rokeach, Bayme says.
"The effect won’t be felt immediately. Buying habits are not that easy to break," he said.
For the American-born kosher consumer, Campbell’s offering a supervised product is especially significant, ranking with the day when Oreo’s, another culinary staple of American life, went kosher.
"When we think of an American food, Campbell’s is one of them," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the OU’s kashrut division. Culturally it represents American eating habits, "as Coke does," he said.
Coca-Cola, incidentally, has long been under OU supervision.
"Wherever you eat," in parts of the country where such Jewish name brand products as Manischewitz and Rokeach are not available, "you can get kosher soup," the rabbi said. "Based on years of experience in which we have seen that receiving OU certification has often significantly increased the sale of a product, we anticipate that the same will hold true here."
Campbell’s, which was founded in 1869, is taking a cautious first step into the kashrut field, offering only the one product. The Vegetarian Vegetable soup, alphabet letters included, is the firm’s seventh-leading "eating" soup, according to Sloves.
If sales of the pareve, reconstituted soup meet expectations, "we certainly hope we’ll be able to work with the OU to certify other soups in the future," she said.
Might tomato and chicken noodle, the firm’s two most popular soups, be kosher one day?
"Everything is under consideration," Sloves said.
Campbell’s will promote its kosher soup in kosher trade shows and as part of an advertising campaign this month in Jewish newspapers.
The now-kosher soup, Sloves notes, appears in time for the High Holy Days season.
"This is the type of soup you could enjoy in your sukkah," she said.
Campbell’s decision to experiment with a kosher soup follows a decade of negotiations with the OU. Certifying a product as kosher (even one as apparently uncomplicated as a vegetable soup, with no dairy or meat ingredients) involved a weeklong visit by a three-rabbi OU team to the North Carolina plant to kasher every piece of equipment used on the production line by cleaning and purging; inspection trips by other kashrut authorities to Campbell’s facilities around the country to check on soup ingredients; and the presence of an OU mashgiach in North Carolina while the kosher soup is being produced.
"It’s a fairly expensive process," Sloves said, but declining to provide a dollar amount on how much Campbell’s spent on the kosher conversion process.
"It’s always been in the back of their minds," Rabbi Genack said of Campbell officials’ ongoing discussions with the OU. "It didn’t work out."
As an unofficial kickoff for the kosher soup, the OU scheduled a tasting party this week at its headquarters in Lower Manhattan. OU staffers and representatives of local Jewish organizations were invited.
"It’s a chance," said Rabbi Genack, "to give the entire OU a taste of Americana."

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