Bimbo Bakeries USA, which owns many of the nationally distributed bread and bun brands in the United States, including Arnold’s, Thomas’, Sara Lee, Stroehmann, Freihofer’s and Entenmann’s, has decided to drop the world’s largest kosher symbol, the OU (Orthodox Union) certification, for many of its products. Maintaining kosher and non-kosher manufacturing lines, some Arnold’s breads and several of the other brands in Bimbo’s portfolio have carried the OU symbol for more than three decades.
Arnold’s, in particular, is relied upon in markets where kosher-certified bread products are sparse.
Kosher-keeping consumers pay particular attention to kosher symbols on bread. Because bread is often be paired with either meat or dairy foods, kosher consumers often prefer to purchase pareve breads, which do not contain either milk or meat products. Dairy hot-dog buns, for example, are of little use in the kosher home, though they certainly exist. Arnold’s widely available pareve hot dog and hamburger buns were a much-appreciated innovation in kosher food that many remember, though today they are often taken for granted.
For some, the availability of kosher buns was a revelation on par with the sea change that began in kosher food when Nabisco’s Oreo cookies became OU-D (dairy) in 1998.
“When I came to the OU over 30 years ago, Arnold’s was one of the first products I worked on,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the OU’s chief operating officer, who noted that kosher consumers who don’t live in the tristate area have fewer, if any, pareve bread choices. In the Midwest, South and West Coasts, where fewer products are available generally with kosher certification, “people have been relying on the Arnold’s line of bread,” said Elefant.
“This has been the bread of choice for kosher consumers all over the country,” said Rabbi Zvi Nussbaum, the primary voice behind the OU kosher hotline. “It’s a staple of many Jewish homes. This has hit kosher consumers like a ton of bricks,” he said.
He warned that consumers should check the packaging of their favorite bread before purchasing it and not take for granted that the items are kosher.
“Their eyes are not playing tricks on them,” he said, noting that consumers have correctly ascertained that the Arnold’s light whole-wheat loaf, a very popular product, no longer carries the OU. “Please look at these products carefully, and don’t purchase it or return it to the store if you find a product without hashgacha,” the rabbi warned.
‘Flexibility of making products’
According to koshertoday.com, many supermarkets specifically carry Arnold’s because of their kosher certification; the Freihofer’s OU pareve buns are a staple even on the East Coast, where many certified kosher products are also available.
The decision to drop the OU from such products could engender a backlash on par with the Stella D’Oro Swiss Fudge cookie designation from OU to OU-dairy in 2003 (which was reversed), or Trader Joe’s decision to similarly move their semi-sweet chocolate chips to an OU-dairy designation in 2012.
Bimbo Bakeries USA is part of Grupo Bimbo, Mexico’s largest baking company with operations in 21 countries, which entered the U.S. market in 1994, and by the late 1990s had acquired Entenmann’s, Thomas’ and Boboli. In 2009, Grupo Bimbo purchased the remaining U.S. fresh baked-goods business of George Weston Ltd., adding brands such as Arnold, Brownberry, Freihofer’s and Stroehmann. It also owns Sara Lee’s bread business.
Elefant explained that Arnold’s, as well as Bimbo’s other brands, manufacture their products all over the country, and he thinks the dropping of the OU certification was primarily a business process decision. “I think they wanted to have the flexibility of making products wherever they want,” he said, noting that Arnold’s, in particular, has bakeries placed all over the country.
“However, our experience has been that when customers notify the manufacturer about changes in the products that adversely affect them, the manufacturers listen to their customers’ opinions,” he added.
“I think these decisions are reversible, especially if you are dealing with a bread product because they have to be fresh. An item made today can be kosher very quickly,” he said.
A call to Bimbo Bakeries USA was not immediately returned.
The Rabbinical Council of America sent out an “urgent notice” about the Bimbos Bakeries products, and has recommended that those wishing to urge the company to maintain kosher certification of favorite products should contact the company at 1-800-984-0989, or utilize their customer feedback form: https://www.bimbobakeriesusa.com/consumer-questions-feedback.