Trader Joe's has whipped up a big batch of customer frustration by changing the labeling on its popular semisweet chocolate chips to Kosher dairy.
Until recently the chocolate chips were labeled Kosher parve, which meant they were dairy-free and could be enjoyed by observant Jews after, say, a bowl of chicken soup. Because the laws of Kashrut require strict separation of milk and meat products, making chocolate desserts for every occasion can be challenging. Parve (or pareve, keeping with that other tradition of spelling words multiple ways) means that a food is "neutral," containing neither meat nor dairy ingredients, and thus can be eaten with any kind of meal. For example, all fruits and vegetables are parve.
TJ's chocolate chips also were popular with vegans and people who have milk allergies or who are lactose-intolerant. Equally important, the morsels were considered far superior in taste and texture to other nondairy chocolate on the market. And at $2.29 they were a bargain, compared with vegan brands that can hover around $4 or higher.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, when word got out that the labeling was about to change, customers went a little meshuggah and began stockpiling, buying dozens of bags until shelves were stripped bare. The new kosher dairy bags of TJ's chocolate chips now are starting to appear in L.A. stores.
"I used their chocolate chips all the time. I was disappointed because there's no good replacement for them," says Yael Friedman, 27, a graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and a member of B'nai David-Judea, a modern Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles.
Asked if she was able to secure a stash of the parve chips before they disappeared, Friedman says she wanted to "but it didn't happen, so I don't have any chocolate chips in my house right now."
Friedman emailed customer service and also "signed every petition I saw to try and get them to go back to being parve." A change.org petition, Trader Joe's: Keep the Chocolate Chips Pareve!, has collected more than 5,700 signatures.
It turns out, the recipe for the chocolate chips is the same as ever. The label change was the result of a switch in the production process, according to OK Kosher Certification, which explained in a statement why it felt the product can no longer be labeled parve.
In response to the communications from upset customers, Trader Joe's sent this statement to Squid Ink:
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"The ingredients used in our semisweet chocolate chips have not changed, there are no dairy ingredients in the item, and the chips are made on equipment dedicated to nondairy chocolate.
Our supplier of the chocolate chips has a bagging line that processes both semisweet chips (nondairy) and milk chocolate chips. They recently made some changes to the cleaning process used for the piece of equipment that puts the chips into bags. These changes (going from a 'wet' to a 'dry' cleaning regimen) triggered the need for an FDA regulated, dairy-related allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the Kosher certification for our item -- going from 'Kosher Parve' to 'Kosher Dairy.'"
Friedman, who previously worked on the pastry line at Soho House in West Hollywood and now is earning a certificate in cake decorating, says: "Luckily, it's summer, so all the good fruits are starting to come in. I'm excited for cobbler and pie and all that stuff, but I really don't know what I'm going to do when I need (parve) chocolate."