The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel spends over NIS 4.8 billion per year on consumer products, showing a rapid change in the spending habits of the Haredi community, research conducted by the Geocatography Research Institute revealed Monday. "Over the last few years, the Haredim have opened up more to general society, mainly because of their need to go out and work," said Rina Degani, CEO of the institute. "As a result, we've seen their income levels rise by at least 8 percent over the last few years, and the moment the amount of money they earn rose, so did their needs." Degani added that with a greater integration into the business and education systems, the community's tastes, preferences and thoughts have been influenced. The research showed that the 600,000-strong community spends approximately NIS 2.6b. on food products each year and NIS 2.2b. on other products, such as clothing and household items. In light of these statistics, the institute noted that all of the major food suppliers - Strauss Elite, Osem and Tnuva - had increased their product lines aimed at religious communities by an average 22% over the last two years. "Today, approximately 27% of these companies' products are aimed at the Haredi market," it said. The trends also showed that the ultra-orthodox community was placing greater importance on brand names in their buying habits. "More and more Haredim are prepared to pay more to get a brand named product," the institute reported. In everyday food products, the religious community proved to be more name wary than their secular counterparts, while on all other accounts their level of consumerism was expectantly lower than the secular community. "Some 22% to 24% of ultra-orthodox shoppers placed importance on the product name when buying everyday products such as milk and cheese, while when purchasing equipment, as much as 36% gave serious thought to the product name, compared to 40% of secular consumers," the research indicated. The rising spending power of the Haredi consumer also extended beyond necessity products. Approximately 40% of the community take an annual vacation, Degani said, some 5% more than a few years ago. "They are also not as much against the development of technology products, such as Internet and cellular use, as they used to be," she added. "The community has developed a greater acceptance of the need to communicate, and understanding of the economic processes in which people are involved." In an attempt to leverage the growing consumer power in the Haredi community, the Israeli Center for Management (MIL) is hosting a conference called "Marketing to Haredim - Potential Paradise" in Tel Aviv on Thursday. According to MIL's estimates, there are some 110,000 ultra-orthodox households presently in Israel, with an average 5.5 people per household. The institute, meanwhile, said that approximately 40% of the ultra-orthodox population was active in the work force, on at least a part time basis, compared to the countrywide work participation rate of 65% for men and 52% of women. It added that 30% of unemployed religious women would be prepared to work given the right wage conditions, while only 30% of unemployed ultra-orthodox men were ready to enter the work force - a total of 40,000 people between ages 18 and 65.