Food & Drinks, Life

Niche eaters of the world, rejoice

Kosher gummy bears! Halal marshmallows!

If you’re like me, you got really, really excited when you first saw marshmallow treats in the kosher section of the grocery store.

It was too good to be true. The infamous Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats, in all their blue-packaged glory, had always been off limits for me as a child. How many times throughout elementary school did I have to pass one of those up?

The original Krispie Treats are made with gelatin, which is made by boiling the skin, bones and tendons from a pig or cow. Icky, I know, but that’s exactly what gives marshmallows their signature bounce.

I couldn’t eat the Krispies because they were made with pork gelatin, but I wasn’t the only one who felt this pain. Members of the Jewish faith can’t eat pork gelatin, either. So as I scanned the aisles at the grocery store, I was forever on the lookout for items with the small-but-mighty kosher label. If a food was labeled kosher, we were safe. Better yet if it was labeled halal, meaning it adheres to Islamic dietary laws.

It wasn’t just the marshmallows I was missing out on. Dozens of candies, Jell-O mixes, and Pop-Tart flavors were off-limits. I’m a niche-eater, and my dietary limits mean I can’t shove just anything in my mouth.

In a nation where the combined Jewish and Muslim population adds up to roughly 12 million, there’s always been a demand for foods to suit our needs. But it took an agonizingly long time for the food industry to tap into this hidden market.

Buying foods that are kosher or halal doesn’t just have religious appeal now. The kosher-certification industry itself is estimated to make about $200 million annually, and the halal market sits at about $20 million.

Shoppers are beginning to see an influx of kosher products on shelves. Sue Fishkoff, author of “Kosher Nation,” has estimated that anywhere between one-third to one-half of the food in a typical American supermarket is kosher. So whether they know it or not, American consumers are rapidly buying into the business.

Saffron Road, a U.S. frozen-food company offering halal meals has made its way into over 250 grocery stores. The Albertsons, Meijer, and Kroger have aisles dedicated to kosher products (usually found amidst the “international” foods). Over the month of Ramadan, my local Muslim community was abuzz with excitement when we saw our neighborhood Costco advertising halal meat.

At the core, these certifications promote ethical food-industry practices that open up products to a much wider market. Customers of this generation are more invested in the kinds of foods they put in their bodies and where they came from. Kosher and halal foods are ensured to adhere to certain ethical practices that may put troubled shoppers at ease.

Whether your diet is gluten-free, vegetarian or halal, niche-eating has gained popularity over the years. Halal Rice Krispies Treats, gummy bears, Starbursts – they’re all readily available now. I’m convinced all I need for my life to be complete is to get the all-clear to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms.

Make it happen, Whole Foods! Or Kroger. Anyone, really. I promise to clean out your stock.