On a recent 710 WOR “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with guest Mark Trencher, Founder of Nishma Research, on the subject of marketing in the Orthodox Jewish community.
YS: What are the specific demographics of Orthodox Jews that a larger company with a wide reach might want to target?
MT: In 2017, I did a study, a profile of the American Modern Orthodox community.That study was covered in a publication called “World Religion News,” and the photo that they put on the front cover was of a chassidic couple. So, even an organization like “World Religion News” was absolutely clueless that there’s really a difference between Modern Orthodox, charedi, Chassidic, Sephardic, etc. Before I get to the numbers, I’m going to tell you that for a little group, we have a lot of really interesting subgroups with different ways of living and areas of interest. The American population is about 330 million, of which about 7.5 million in total are Jews. The Jewish community has always been about 2% of the population. Within the American Jewish community, the Orthodox are about 10%-12%. So, you’re really talking about 900,000 Orthodox Jews, which is not that much. But they are clustered geographically in the tri-state area and a few other areas, making them more marketable. It’s not like they’re spread out over all 50 states. That 900,000 is also growing very rapidly. The largest subgroup is Reform Jews with just under 3 million, then Conservative Jews with about 1.2 million, and then the Orthodox with about 900,000. If you said 20 years ago that the Orthodox would be almost as large as the Conservative Jews, people would have thought you were crazy.But the birth rate is very high.
In terms of the subgroups, there are two broad groups. There’s the Modern Orthodox and the charedi. There’s also the chassidim, who might live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Satmar, the Lubavitch in Crown Heights, etc. These groups live in very tightly clustered and reachable neighborhoods. In addition, there’s a group in the United States called Sephardic Jews. All of the groups I mentioned up to now are basically called “Ashkenazi.” Ashkenazi Jews hail from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia. The Sephardic Jews come from Western Europe, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Iraq.
YS: What type of companies can benefit by specifically targeting our community?
MT: In my view, the biggest difference between Orthodox Jews and the rest of American society is, first, that they marry very young. They marry at 19-21. Second, the community has an extreme focus on children. I’ll pay a little bit of demographic hopscotch with you. Two is the median number of children that an American family has. Among the Modern Orthodox, the median is 2-4. So, the modern Orthodox are growing faster than the American community, but not as fast as the Yeshivish community. The yeshivish community typically has 4-6 children, sometimes 8. The chassidim have about 6-8, and even numbers in the double-digits are not that unusual.
What does that mean? Not only do they have a lot of children, the philosophy of caring for the children, nurturing them, watching them, and supporting them is extreme in the Orthodox community. And having a lot of children means that they have to be fed and clothed. Orthodox standards, for much of the community, require clothing to be nice, good quality, and not super casual. There’s definitely a market for people who offer clothing for children Of course, there’s kosher food. Given the size of the families, there’s a lot there in terms of their houses. There’s always a lot of expansion of homes going on. If you go into certain Orthodox neighborhoods, every other vehicle on the streets might be a minivan. We’re not talking SUV six-seaters; we’re talking eight-seaters. So, in all of these areas, there is significant need in this community.
YS: With Shabbos every week and so many Jewish holidays, what is the median annual spend for food in a Orthodox family vs. the average American family?
MT: I’ve heard that the number for a typical American family is $6,000 ($500 a month). For an Orthodox family, it might be between $10,000-$12,000, or larger. It all depends on what people buy. Do you buy organic, etc.? We did a survey last year on the costs of living the Orthodox lifestyle, and the extra cost of kosher food was listed as one of the factors that people are aware of. On the whole, the cost of food was not seen as a super-burden, but it was seen as somewhat of a burden because we have the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner 60-65 times a year, through our Shabbos and holidays. Between me and you, the challenge is not so much the cost of the food; it’s just keeping my weight down. On that note, I know that many of my relatives who live in Orthodox neighborhoods all go to fitness classes are men-only and women-only because the Orthodox like that separation of the genders. So, there’s another area where there’s a market opportunity.
YS: Could you share some of the data you’ve gained in the studies you’ve conducted on the Orthodox Jewish community?
MT: When Orthodox Jews were asked what the biggest hit to their budget was, many of them said the cost of education. They’re talking about elementary and high school education. But there is also a real, growing demand in the community for secular secondary education. For example, a Modern Orthodox kid might seek to go to a place like Columbia and take courses in history and philosophy. But for the other two-thirds of the Orthodox community, the chassidic and yeshivish, there is a growing demand for programs that teach people skills to earn money. They might go to Yeshiva University or Touro College to study medicine, law, accounting, computer programming, etc. These are two universities that cater to the Orthodox community. And there are also programs in the community that don’t require admission to a college, training institutes that might train somebody in computer programming, or that kind of thing. I think there’s a growing realization that the cost of an Orthodox lifestyle is expensive, and we need to have better ability to earn money.
Another area to look at is simchas (joyous celebrations). When you get invited to an Orthodox Jewish wedding, you might see between 350-550 other people there and wonder, “Do the parents of the bride really know all these people?” There is actually a commandment in our community to share our simchas. So, we might invite almost everybody in our synagogue or our circle. This results in a lot of fun events, but it also results in a lot of food and catering opportunities.
We also have a lot of newspapers in our community. If you go into any Orthodox home, you’ll see newspapers with 200+ plus pages. And the thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of them offer things like tourism packages, especially around the holidays. Our community takes our religion very seriously. We’re very diligent about it. And we need breaks, so we go on vacations, especially around the holidays. There are definitely opportunities in the marketing area to provide quality locations with kosher food. And there are many consultants out there who can advise on getting speakers that are appropriate and anything else. The specifics of the community do suggest that there are some areas that should be focused on by marketers to a greater extent than in the American community as a whole.
YS: Aside from the food industry, are there any other types of companies that have really leveraged opportunities to expand their business in the Orthodox community?
MT: Sure. For one, there are clothing companies that sell modest clothing. That’s true, not only in the Orthodox Jewish community, but in other religious communities as well, such as the Amish, Mennonite, Seventh Day Adventist, and Morman communities. So, there’s definitely a market for clothing. Another example, I have a General Electric stove oven, and it has a Shabbos mode. My daughter got a Samsung refrigerator, and it had a Shabbos mode switch. There are certain requirements, in terms of the non-use of electricity on Shabbos. So, when you open the refrigerator door, you don’t want the light to come on, and the Shabbos mode prevents that. And apparently, the market is big enough for Samsung to put in that switch. We’re a small community, but we have specific needs. And smart companies like GE, Samsung, the clothing companies, and the food companies that have thousands of products with kosher symbols, all understand that there is a market, and they can meet their needs.
YS: What are some more interesting stats, facts, and figures about the Orthodox Jewish segment?
MT: One of the questions that’s often asked is, what are the incomes of these large families? The incomes are high; they tend to be dual income families. Remember, we’re talking about families in the New York area. The median household income is in the $120,000-125,000+ range. That sounds like a lot, but when you have six or seven children, that’s a lot of kids to cover. Among these families, the median amount that gets spent on an elementary and high school education is in the low $30,000s. If they have a child in college, it’s also in the low $30,000s. So, for those families that have children ranging from age 8-18, they might be spending $60,000 on education. And of course, they’re spending more money on housing because they live within walking distance of a synagogue since they don’t drive on Shabbos.
Let me just add that the Orthodox community is remarkably self-reliant. They have enormous charitable organizations and charitable participation. If you’re getting married, you can probably borrow a wedding gown from dozens of organizations. Any item you might need, like a baby carriage or an exerciser, you can get one, borrow it for six months, and just make an $18 donation. Having said that, your average American family has about 2 children and the average charedi median is in the 6-7 range. That means every expense that’s tied to children is tripled –clothing, food, diapers, formula, etc.
YS: What are some things that a general marketing agency might not know about marketing to the Jewish Orthodox community?
MT: I recently did a study with a marketing firm that was hired to do research in a strong yeshivish community for a local healthcare facility. The question was, since most yeshivish people try not to go online, how do you get them to fill out a survey? As I mentioned, every one of these communities have very vibrant newspapers. So, we placed an ad in the local Jewish newspaper. For some strange reason, while people don’t go on the unbridled internet, they do go into WhatsApp communities and chat groups. So, we sent thousands of WhatsApp messages and status reports. And finally, we did a paper survey through the mail. So, one of the things you need to know about reaching Orthodox communities is that you may need to be creative. We ended up getting 400 responses to the survey. About half were from the online communication and about half were paper surveys that got mailed in. You also need to be sensitive about how you present your material. Depending on the community you’re in, it will affect the photos that you use. For example, some communities might have modesty concerns regarding pictures of women.
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