|Thousands came to the 2010 Kosherfest this week looking for the latest in kosher products. JOSH LIPOWSKY|
Thousands of restaurateurs, food vendors, and distributors, all looking for the next big thing in kosher food, gathered at The Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus earlier this week for the annual Kosherfest expo.
No longer is the kosher consumer satisfied with the traditional Ashkenazi meat and potatoes, said kosher industry insider and Lubicom CEO Menachem Lubinsky during an address shortly before the expo opened on Tuesday. Now, he said, the average kosher consumer is younger and wants whatever can be made kosher to be made kosher.
“This … is a change not only in demographics, but also in the character [of the kosher consumer],” he said. “Forty years ago it was the candles, the matzoh, and the grape juice. Today – gourmet cheese, sushi…. Chicken is not chicken anymore. Everything is variety.”
Lubicom of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Diversified Business Communications of Portland, Maine, organized the two-day expo, which attracted more than 6,000 people – up 600 from last year’s expo – visiting 340 exhibitors, 40 more than last year.
According to Lubicom, there are 125,000 kosher products in the U.S. market, with 3,400 products certified just in 2009. Of 30,000 supermarkets across the country, 18,000 have kosher sections, and there are, on average, 19,000 kosher products in U.S. supermarkets. Kosher food is an almost $14 billion industry, according to Lubicom.
It wasn’t always like this.
Through the past 100 years, kosher food has rocketed from obscurity into the mainstream, said cookbook author and food historian Rabbi Gil Marks, who gave a presentation later Tuesday on “The History of Jewish Food.”
“The Jews’ role in culinary history is not in innovation,” he said, “but in transportation and transmission.”
The H.J. Heinz Co. was the first to produce a product in America with a now almost-ubiquitous kosher symbol. Wanting to market his new baked beans to the growing Jewish population, Heinz met in 1925 with Joseph Jacobs, founder of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, and members of the Union for Orthodox Jewish Congregations. The result was the now-famous OU symbol, which first appeared on Heinz baked beans.
When Entenmann’s put its entire line under kosher supervision in the early 1980s, other companies took note – the company’s products received better placement in grocery stores. This, Marks said, spurred more companies to seek out kosher certification; today, many finance certification under their advertising budgets.
“There’s been an amazing transformation in just over a century of this obscure Jewish ritual becoming a necessity in the American market,” Marks said.
Established companies like Osem, Manischewitz, and Kedem were all at Kosherfest showing off new products, but the expo attracted smaller companies as well. This was the third Kosherfest for Joe Peikes, vice president of the Paterson-based Geshmak, which makes pickles and salads.
“We’re a young company and looking for good exposure and more relationships,” he said. “Every year I’ve been here I’ve picked up a major account.”
The show was also an opportunity for companies looking to break into the multi-billion-dollar U.S. kosher market. Michel Bitton’s kosher pre-made crepes appear in markets across Europe, distributed to grocery chains and marketed under their generic brands. He brought his Belgian Crepes from Brussels to Kosherfest for the first time, to try to find a stateside distributor. “We’re here to test the market,” he said. “We have some good response, positive feedback from people.”
Mister Chopstick Express was another company looking to pick up a distributor at the expo. The less-than-two-year-old company from Miami makes frozen Chinese-style meat dinners, which are at present available only in Miami markets.
“I don’t think there’s another opportunity like this anywhere in the country,” Zev B. Roth, the company’s marketing director, said of Kosherfest.