The Evolution of Kosher SupplementsThe Evolution of Kosher Supplements
April 9, 2007
A growing number of Americans across the country are becoming more health conscious, and their shopping carts are showing it—packed with organic produce, soy franks and burgers, spelt bread and pretzels, as well as a variety of vitamins and herb products. Today’s national supermarket chains are responding to this wholesome trend, featuring an expanding vitamin and herb section with multiple shelves of every combination, brand and potency. Thanks to the foresight and business acumen of a number of major vitamin companies, more and more kosher customers are frequenting these supplement sections, happily perusing an assortment of OU kosher brands. Words like antioxidant, Ginkgo biloba and glucosamine have made it into the kosher community’s vernacular, kitchen cabinets and daily nutritional regimen.
Dietary supplements are regulated as and considered to be food; as such, they require kosher certification. Many of the vitamins on the market come in gelatin capsules, commonly derived from non-kosher sources, making them off limits to the kosher consumer. Aside from the issue of gelatin in the softgel, vitamins may also contain nonkosher ingredients. As more kosher consumers become cognizant of the need for kosher certification on vitamins, both brand name and generic vitamin companies are responding to the need—and profiting from the initiative.
Kosher Vitamin Pioneers
The advent of kosher vitamins on American store shelves came about through the insight and ingenuity of a family-run pharmacy in mid-town Manhattan. Abraham Freeda, a druggist who founded Freeda Vitamins in 1928, led the way for the burgeoning kosher vitamin industry as one of its first producers and sellers. “My parents (Freeda’s daughter and son-in-law), being very innovative, decided to formulate their own nutrients,” said Phillip Zimmerman, Ph.D., current chief chemist at Freeda Vitamins. “They bought a tablet machine and started manufacturing vitamins.” Over seven decades later, Freeda Vitamins are sold throughout the United States and also enjoy distribution in Israel and Holland.
Following Freeda’s example, Jack Friedman, Ph.D., opened a health food store in Brooklyn in 1974, with the goal of developing sophisticated vitamin products for the kosher community. He worked with physicians to create kosher vitamin and herb formulas that would address particular ailments. Over three decades later, Maxi-Health Research Inc. provides more than 150 products. “Maxi-Health keeps updated on the latest in nutritional research and continues to get the highest quality products out there for the Jewish community,” Friedman said.
Ninety-five percent of the Maxi-Health line is under OU Kosher certification. “We went to the OU because they were the biggest; they were the most well known,” he said. “Many of our products come from different areas of the world and the OU personnel cover the globe; it made it a lot easier for us. We were also very satisfied with their knowledge about nutrition. We have many non-kosher clientele who look for the OU certification. They feel it is a purer product and monitored more carefully.”
Another kosher vitamin pioneer, Hyman Landau, president of Lantev Distributing Corp., opened a health food store in Brooklyn in 1981. “Customers were requesting certain items that were not available in kosher form,” Landau said. He decided to develop items on his own private label. “The vitamins were very well received, especially the chewables for children.” Since then, Landau has developed specialty items such as a more advanced pareve formula of acidophilus and chewable B12s.
Advancing the Cause
Mainstream vitamin and pharmaceutical companies have since seen the benefits of offering kosher products. KV Pharmaceutical, the leading provider of non-branded prescription prenatal vitamins in the United States, also supplies four OU kosher generic products in its ETHEX line. The company began producing prenatal vitamins in the mid-1980s, and started receiving calls asking why it didn’t provide prenatals for the kosher consumer.
KV execs had Myron Yolkut of its organizational development group investigate requirements to take existing prenatal vitamins and bring them to OU certification level. Partnering with KV’s materials management group, he asked them to source and identify new kosher suppliers for all the necessary ingredients and raw materials.
Brooke Eiler, product manager at ETHEX, reports having kosher certification for its four flagship products gives the company a competitive edge. “Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid are going to stock only one generic product, and that product will be the one most of their customers will choose.” According to Eiler, of all the prenatal providers in the nation, KV provides the most multi-source or generic prenatal vitamins sold to pharmacies. “Customers are happy they don’t have to pay for the brand products anymore, and physicians are pleased they can provide their patients with koshercertified multi-source prenatal vitamins,” she said.
Sciele Pharma Inc. obtained kosher certification for its prenatal supplement, Prenate Elite, in 2004 in response to consumer demand. “We received calls to our customer service out in the field inquiring about kosher vitamins,” said John Edwards, M.D., medical director at Sciele Pharma. “We wanted to supply products to women who would not otherwise be able to benefit from them.”
According to Jennifer Sears, company labeling associate, the move also made sense from a promotional standpoint. “A lot of our competitors were switching over to kosher,” Sears said. “We wanted to make sure we were up to speed.”
Kosher consumers can also find the reassuring OU symbol on some of Vitamin Shoppe’s products. Vitamin Shoppe carries 400 different brands and 15,000 different products in close to 300 stores. In 1997, the company adopted a kosher line. “Our customers requested it,” said Marvin Baron, vitamin brand manager. “And we’ve seen positive results. There is a market for it.” He reports Vitamin Shoppe customers are delighted with having the option of purchasing kosher products. The company currently offers five kosher items and is looking into expanding the line.
From all indications, the production and sale of kosher vitamin supplements continues to reap benefits for companies, buyers and customers. “We have found that the kosher-keeping community is loyal to products,” Eiler said. “[Consumers] who take them and want them for their kosher certification typically will go back to them.” In line with the trend toward a more nutritious daily intake, a kosher product designed to enhance one’s health certainly bears repeating.
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Department of Communications and Marketing (www.OUkosher.org). Reprinted with permission from: Behind the Union Symbol Fall 2006 issue; publication of Orthodox Union Kashruth Division.
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