Fish, fowl, and good red meat
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Fish, fowl, and good red meat

Our intrepid reporter visits the Kosherfest Expo in the Meadowlands

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Kosherfest’s show floor

Shalom Ber Cadaner spent the past year trying to get carp to taste like salami.

The result was a line of pareve “meats” all made out of carp, which he unveiled for the first time last week during the annual Kosherfest Expo at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, where thousands of food retailers, restaurateurs, and food journalists were looking to keep abreast of the latest trends in kosher food.

Crystal Springs, which is distributing Cadaner’s faux meats, was one of the more than 600 companies displaying its latest kosher options at the show. Kosherfest drew big names like Manischewitz and Aaron’s, as well as smaller companies looking for distributors and to introduce their products.

“I’m just amazed honestly,” Cadaner said. “Everybody’s very excited about it. I look at people’s faces and they’re just shocked” that it’s fish.

Kosher food is a $12 billion a year industry, according to expo founder Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom Marketing. The key words in the kosher industry right now, he said, are market share.

A customer might decide to go to one store instead of another because the produce is fresher, the coleslaw at the deli counter looks better, or the store’s layout is more appealing. Store owners have to keep all of these elements in mind, Lubinsky said, and make their products and stores stand out.

To gain market share, the industry needs to focus on product enhancement, and relationships must be built between the brand, the store, and the customer.

“You need to think beyond kosher, you need to think about the store,” he said. “Know that the kosher consumer is sometimes evaluating the store based on things that have nothing to do with kosher.”

While some companies have started putting recipes on their packaging, not enough manufacturers are teaching consumers how to use their products, according to Lubinsky. “Teaching consumers how to use the product can, in many cases, double the sales of a product, because if you do teach the consumer how to use it, they will use it; they experiment with it; they will try it.”

The kosher market can be a gateway to larger vendors as well, said Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising in New York, which handles big brands Manischewitz and Empire. General market companies or specialty brands that are kosher and want to break into larger markets are turning first to specialty stores as steppingstones to build their brands. And in the big chain stores these companies will play up the kosher connection as a way to break into crowded markets.

“If you’re a chip company you can’t go up against Frito-Lay,” he said. “But if you’re a specialty kosher chip company, you can say, ‘I’ll go in the kosher aisle. It’s a foot in the door.'”

Getting onto the shelf is only part of the battle. Once there, products have to set themselves apart from the competition.

“Packaging and shelf-presence is in a sense the most important thing beyond quality and taste for the product because the biggest hurdle any brand is going to have is getting the product into the supermarket,” Rosenfeld said. “You’re competing against very similar and very comparable products in the same category. There are going to be 12 cookie people, 12 rugelach people. Having a product that appeals to the buyer, to have something different, allows the retailer to look more high tech, more with it.”

Companies are looking to “green” their packaging, he said. Packaging is becoming more contemporary by becoming minimalistic as consumers increasingly look for biodegradable or recyclable packages.

With so much competition around, recyclable packaging might be what makes the difference between brand A and brand B getting on the store shelf, he said. More companies are turning to resealable packaging, and for Empire, which began using resealable tubs for its sliced turkey a few years ago, this has been a hit with customers, he said.

“People are loving those tubs,” he said, noting people reuse them for everything from food storage to arts and crafts.

Almost 20 Israeli companies attended this year’s show, trying to find North American distributors, or, in the case of established companies like Osem, unveiling new products.

As in previous years, Osem had a large display highlighting its products, including its Pearl Couscous with Rice, Roasted Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomatoes, which won the Best in Show award in the new pasta or rice category. The company also revealed new mixes for Passover rolls and pancakes, and an all-natural macaroni and cheese mix. The company is trying to answer the growing demands of health-conscious consumers, said Kobi Afek, Osem’s head of marketing.

“Today the consumer looks for short time of preparation, ease of preparation, no more than 10 to 15 minutes at most,” he said. “There is an increasing demand for all-natural and gluten-free items; and high kosher supervision. So when they get it from Osem, they get all three.”

Pointing to the yellow color scheme on the mix packages, Afek said that the company is trying to make it easier for consumers to recognize Osem brands.

“It’s a color that’s been associated with kitchens. It’s a warm color. [And] it’s part of our corporate brand colors.”

Skinny Kosher Creations, a Woodstock, N.Y. company that unveiled a line of kosher vegetarian weight-loss foods at the show, is trying something a little different with its packaging. There’s no picture of the product on the box. The company plans to use barcodes on the packaging that customers can scan with their smartphones, which will direct them to the company’s website.

“When you walk into a supermarket, we’re always inspired by the marketing,” Brenda Laredo, one of the company’s founders, said. “I’m looking at pictures of food everywhere and I’m not sure where to direct myself. We want to set ourselves apart from everybody else. The skinny speaks for itself.”

Most manufacturers realize that new products drive sales, Lubinsky said, but many still don’t factor in the consumers, and that is where variables like packaging come into play. Kosher food is no longer just a basic staple, it’s an experience and a social phenomenon, he added, noting that Jewish bookstores sell more kosher cookbooks than religious books today.

“It’s become sort of a culture” of its own, he said.

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