I went to Plant World 2023 because I believe there is a synergy between plant based products and kosher products. Plants are inherently kosher and plant-based products should be easier to produce as kosher than meat-based products. I was surprised and disappointed that there were not a lot of companies at plant world presenting kosher certified products. This is an unrealized opportunity for these companies. Kosher consumers are loyal because they have fewer choices and kosher meat is less available and expensive. Plant based dairy product made from ingredients such as oats, soy, hemp, and almonds fill a need for people with dairy allergies and are useful for eating with or after meat meals. Some of the companies at Plant World had products that were certified as kosher. These included yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese and various cheeses. Some of the companies that were not kosher said they did not seek kosher certification because their products are made in shared kitchens that produce non-kosher products or in foreign factories.
Kosher products require that both the ingredients and also the equipment used for making the product are kosher. As many as 1,000 years ago, rabbis realized that there was residue on equipment, long predating the FDA. (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004). Because of the possibility of cross-contamination due to equipment residue, both the “kosher” status of the product and the specific type of kosher certification (meat, dairy or neither meat nor dairy, i.e. “pareve”) requires that both the product ingredients as well as the equipment used must be kosher and specifically dedicated to either meat, dairy or pareve products. .
Vegan has no legal definition. I spoke with Alanna Tomlin from Vegan.org, a vegan certifying organization, who answered some of my questions. She stated “ vegan certification is to prevent the suffering of animals and is not for any purity, allergen, or religious reasons.” With respect to the equipment used to produce vegan products, they will certify a product as vegan even if it has been made on equipment that is used for non-vegan products. In order to be certified as vegan she said, "We require companies to submit a declaration regarding their use of shared machinery and any labeling statements. If companies use shared machinery in processing, we require review of the manufacturer's Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures divulging procedures for cleaning, which may or may not include clean-in-place processes." A “clean in place” is a standardized procedure to clean equipment in-place, without disassembly. Depending in the product, a "kosherization" or making equipment usable for kosher production after production of non-kosher products or to go from dairy to pareve may require more extensive cleaning, a wait time or the presence of a supervising rabbi.
The Vegan.org representative also told me that products made on a dairy line just need to provide the required dairy allergen notice. She told me "We receive assurances from the flavor manufacturers that no animal products or byproducts are used in the ingredients nor the processing and that products with flavors derived from dairy are certified as vegan." However kosher agencies check each ingredient in a flavor to ensure their kosher status. I know of vegan products that contained dairy flavors and so were certified kosher dairy. Because meat is not an allergen, companies do not need to label whether a product certified as vegan was made on equipment used to process meat. Vegan.org’s website, notes that "Even though the machines are guaranteed to be cleaned thoroughly between non-vegan and vegan batches, shared machinery may contain trace amounts of eggs or dairy for example. For this reason, a Vegan Certified Product may not be acceptable to individuals with food allergies. Vegan certification does not involve an inspection to see what is happening in a plant. For these reasons and others, products certified as vegan are not necessarily kosher.
Most of the companies that I saw at the show were a combination of companies making plant based center-of-the-plate products, plant derived "dairy" products, other plant based foods and the ingredient manufacturers providing the tools to make these products. The first booth I went to was selling pasta. The representative explained that it contained one ingredient, wheat. The center of the plate and non-dairy products being shown were mostly made from soy, pea, jackfruit, mushroom (fungi) and fermentation based ingredients. I saw many interesting and delicious-looking foods which were not certified as kosher such as plant-based sushimi and plant-based pork belly.
The lack of kosher certification is an unrealized opportunity for these companies. Kosher consumers are loyal because they have fewer choices and kosher meat is less available and more expensive. Plant based non-dairy products fill a need for people with dairy allergies and can be used with or after meat meals. Several companies at Plant World had kosher certified dairy-free products. These included yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese and various cheeses. Some of the kosher products that were shown were Mon Cuisine plant-based products, Miracle Noodle konjac based noodles, Wayfare plant based dairy, Plant Ahead Mozzarella, cheddar, Abe's Vegan Muffins, Tufurky and 7th Heaven.
With the demise of Expo East, I believe that Plant World can provide a focused forum for companies selling plant based products. My hope is that as this sector matures, companies recognize the market that they are missing.
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