Expo’s menu highlights taste, kashrut, health
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Expo’s menu highlights taste, kashrut, health

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Thousands turned out at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus on Tuesday and Wednesday for Kosherfest. Photos by Josh Lipowsky

The Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus became a kosher foodie’s dream on Tuesday and Wednesday, as the 21st annual Kosherfest expo showcased new products and trends.

Organized by marketing companies Lubicom and Diversified Business Communications, Kosherfest is the world’s largest kosher expo. Organizers expected some 6,000 attendees this week to visit more than 300 exhibitors. With a number of companies unveiling low-calorie, heart-healthy products, the unofficial theme of this year’s showcase may as well have been healthful living.

“If there’s been a change in Kosherfest it’s in the number of new products,” Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom, told The Jewish Standard Tuesday, noting the increased number of health and gourmet products.

Danielle Praeger, vice president of marketing of the Elmwood Park-based Dr. Praeger’s, said the trend in kosher food is now toward healthier options. The Ungar’s brand, which Dr. Praeger’s owns, is well known for its gefilte fish but the company plans to expand the line to include blintzes, matzoh balls, and other traditional items – all of which would be all-natural and health-conscious, said Praeger.

The move toward more health-conscious products is more than just a fad, said David Yale, CEO of Manischewitz. The company has added a new symbol on its matzoh boxes citing the product’s health value. The entire kosher industry is looking at the convergence of “the pureness and cleanliness of kosher ” with the demand in the general market for healthful lines.

“You see a little bit more of that at the show, but we’re being a little more aggressive,” he said.

Bayonne-based Kedem has also added a symbol on some of its products about their health value, said spokesman Nachman Frost.

“We’re trying to market our items as all-natural, healthy and [they] just happen to be kosher,” he said.
This was the second year in a row at the Meadowlands for Kosherfest. Though it had originated in New Jersey, the show spent several years at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Elie Katz, co-owner of Chopstix in Teaneck, was one of many who were happy to see the trade show back in the Garden State.

“It’s more convenient,” he said, as he searched the aisles for new ingredients to bring to his restaurant. Several booths displayed Asian sauces, seasonings, and meats, which Katz said could go well with his menu.

Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan in Teaneck, said he would return to his store with several new ideas.

“They’re really starting to step it up,” he said of the kosher industry.

He lamented, though. that some of the new items he saw are not yet in distribution.

“It’s a big problem trying to find a distributor,” he said. “They have to give it more time.”

“We’re catching up to the real world in product availability that can leave the New York market,” said Stuart Reichman, founder of Teaneck-based Slurpin’ Good Soups. As he looked for ideas for packaging and distribution for his own products, he praised what he saw as improvements in packaging to give kosher food a longer shelf life and appeal to broader audiences.

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Cheski Baum’s Luck Chen won Best in Show at this year’s Kosherfest new products competition.

Kosher meat giant Agriprocessors was noticeably absent from last year’s Kosherfest, which took place just a few months after federal immigration agents raided the company’s Iowa facility, sparking the company’s downward spiral. The fallout could be felt throughout the kosher industry.

As the Rubashkin family continues to face legal battles, a new corporation swooped in several months ago to buy Agriprocessors. Agri Star has been marketing Aaron’s Best meats and poultry and the company has been warmly welcomed back to the market, said its president, Daniel Hirsch.

“There’s a tremendous positive response and there is demand for our quality of product,” he said, as the company served up samples of chicken wings, mini hot dogs, and deli meat on Tuesday. “We’re looking to increase production in the next several months.”

The kosher meat and poultry industry has changed quite a bit in the past year, said Elie Rosenfeld of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, which works with such big-name clients as Empire Poultry and ShopRite.

“We still see continued growth in the kosher market place,” he said. “Retail expansion is continuing as they see the kosher and Jewish consumer as a valuable part of their business models.”

Manufacturers of mainstream food products are also becoming aware of the value of kosher certification, said Rabbi H.Z. Senter, executive administrator of Teaneck-based Kof-K Kosher Supervision. He pointed to an increased number of flours, spices, and seasonings seeking out certification.

To fill the gap left by Agriprocessors, many smaller kosher companies became regional suppliers, Rosenfeld said. He also pointed to increased lines at companies such as Solomon’s and Empire, which recently began producing meat in addition to poultry.

This results in more competition and better prices for the consumer, Rosenfeld said. Agri Star’s Hirsch said the price of kosher meat has dropped since Aaron’s returned, but the Standard could not verify that claim.

Lubinsky said the industry had to wait for the new owners to “find their oats” but he predicted the company could become a major player once again.

Kosherfest also highlighted 18 new items in its annual new products competition. Judges crowned Luck Chen, a line of Asian noodles, this year’s Best in Show. Cheski Baum didn’t like what his children were eating. When they wanted a quick bite, their options were full of sodium, MSG, and calories.

After exploring culinary options in Asia, he unveiled Luck Chen heat-and-serve noodle meals earlier this year. Baum credits his business model for his success, acknowledging he’s going about things a little differently.

“Our business model puts profit second,” he said. “Our goal is to make something good for the customer.”

Baum is looking to expand the business with soups, spices, and sauces. Luck Chen, which comes in a variety of Asian flavors, will “probably revolutionize the industry of the quick meal,” he said.

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