Bakers Journal

Not Just a Matter of Faith

November 27, 2007
By Rob McMahon

Though he’s not Jewish, when Peter Cuddy opened Organic Works Bakery in London, Ont., last June, he decided to go Kosher. For Cuddy, Kosher certification is a seal of quality that appeals to not only the religious community, but also to health-conscious consumers, vegetarians and even senior citizens.

Though he’s not Jewish, when Peter Cuddy opened Organic Works Bakery in London, Ont., last June, he decided to go Kosher. For Cuddy, Kosher certification is a seal of quality that appeals to not only the religious community, but also to health-conscious consumers, vegetarians and even senior citizens.

“I wanted to appeal to an influential group of consumers,” he says. “To me, [Kosher food appeals] not only to a faith, but also to consumers who want to know the source of their products was given a great deal of consideration.”

Cuddy says he feels Kosher certification signals to consumers that a bakery carefully considers its ingredients and maintains a clean workplace. According to certification bodies, consumers and food producers alike are increasingly feeling the same way. Rabbi Mordechai Levin, executive director of the Kashruth Council of Canada, a Toronto-based Kosher certification agency, noted that such certifications result in added marketing power – and that over the past two decades, Kosher and Halal certifications have become quite common in Canada.

Kosher foods are products made without mixing dairy and meat. They can’t contain pork, pork byproducts or shellfish, and are prepared with utensils that have not come into contact with un-permitted foods. All meat and poultry must be slaughtered and prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. The Kashruth Council helps guide applicants through the process, which involves an examination of ingredients and equipment. The organization is sensitive to proprietary information, and isn’t interested in quantifiable information, but rather in the background and composition of ingredients.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings,” says Levin. “People ask when is a Rabbi coming down to bless a plant, but there’s a lot more involved in the process.”

While Kosher bakers must follow a number of complicated rules, Cuddy at Organic Works says he had plenty of help getting started and continues to have help. He is in regular contact with the Kashruth Council, who both guided him through the certification process and helped him source Kosher ingredients, such as chocolate chips.

“There’s no end to the resources they provide you,” he said. “I’m not Jewish, so they looked to help me even more, since I wasn’t aware of all the rules.”

For this reason, he has built relationships with a number of producers that he is assured also follow Kosher rules. He consults with rabbis from the Kashruth Council organization and is very conscious of what he buys – and who he buys it from.

“You have to be very careful to do it right,” said Cuddy. “It’s very easy to go off track sometimes…[For example] with ingredients that have been brought in that shouldn’t be there.”

Cosmo Bakery opened in Vancouver in 2002, and has specialized in Kosher products since then. Owner Irina Kuzmin explained that while the bakery started off sourcing bulk frozen baked products from Toronto, last year they became certified Kosher and have been making their own products since then. They now sell to a number of high-end hotels and coffee shops in Vancouver (the bakery even provided treats for Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Fairmont in Vancouver). Kuzmin said that though the business is located in an industrial area, it has become a destination for customers who visit her from around B.C.’s lower mainland.

“[When we started] the Kosher market was very poor – people couldn’t find a lot [of Kosher products],” she said. “It was an opportunity to introduce a new type of product.”

Despite some similarities, Halal and Kosher certifications are completely separate and have different requirements. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a Mississauga-based Halal certification body. The organization’s Halal co-ordinator, M. Ehsan-Sairally says bakers who receive Halal certification gain access to a growing group of consumers.

“Halal is one of the major food trends in the world,” he says. “In Canada, the Muslim population is one million and growing, and concentrated in the major markets in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.”

Halal means “lawful” or “permitted” in Arabic. For a baked good to be Halal, it must not contain or come into contact with any haram (restricted) or mashbooh (uncertain) food products. As well, Halal products must be made with equipment cleansed according to Islamic law.

Halal bakers need to consider two main ingredients, says Sairally: meat products and intoxicants. For a product to be certified as Halal, it can’t contain any pork (or pork byproducts), or any alcohol (or byproducts), and shouldn’t have come into contact with utensils that have touched these items. Sairally says bakers should take note that ingredients like gelatin, enzymes and emulsifiers need to be carefully considered, since they often contain animal byproducts.

“Bakers need to talk to their suppliers to ensure products are Halal,” he says. “Gelatin, for example, needs to come from a Halal source – from a plant or synthetic source.”

While ISNA doesn’t yet have a list of Halal suppliers, Sairally says they are working on collecting data for Canada. The Kashruth Council has some resources available to help match bakers with suppliers, and Rabbi Levin says certification often starts a “chain reaction,” with distributors eager to participate so they can offer more flexibility in their products.

Although finding some product replacements can be a challenge (such as cookies that include lard in their recipes), both types of certification allow for accommodations. For example, a segregated area in the production plant can be specifically designated for non-Kosher or non-Halal products.

At Cosmo Bakery, Kuzmin uses her 3,000 square feet of space to create products like Challah bread, birthday cakes and chocolate-filled croissants. She points out, however, that the initial transfer into a Kosher facility was an expensive, time-consuming process.

“The certification process was not difficult technically, but it was difficult physically,” she says. “We had to clean everything from top to bottom, and all our pans had to be cleaned by specialists.”

Cuddy echoes this point. He says that it was much easier to open as a Kosher bakery than it would be to convert to one. While he used refurbished ovens, he purchased new trays, racks, utensils, pans and other equipment, which allowed Organic Works to pass the certification process two months after initially contacting the organization. Though this made the initial capital outlay a little more expensive, Cuddy thinks the payoff has come through increased consumer interest.

The process for both Halal and Kosher certification involves a review of ingredients and suppliers followed by an on-site inspection and audit. There is a fee for this procedure that varies depending on the size of the bakery and the complexity of the process.

While she admits the certification process was tough, Cosmo Bakery’s Kuzmin is thrilled with the end result. Even though cleanliness was always key for her, she says certification bumped up the level of cleanliness – leading to greater food safety. And while it has worked for her business, Kuzmin says it may not work for everyone.

“Be sure to look at the market and see if it really needs [and can support] a Kosher bakery,” she says. “There’s not enough of a market for everyone, so you need to be sure…Otherwise you spend all the time and money, and realize there’s not enough customer support.”

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