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Cutting-Edge Kosher

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Kosherfest, the kosher food industry’s largest annual trade show, in many ways, is similar to hundreds of other trade shows held each year by every other industry across the country. A significant difference, however, is that while other shows are pointless and boring for those not involved in the industry, Kosherfest can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates fine kosher cuisine.


This year’s Kosherfest took place last week and hosted a crowd of over 4,000 attendees in the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J. More than 200 exhibitors showcased products ranging from classic favorites to the newest, most cutting-edge kosher fare.


Kosherfest has been around in one form or another for over two decades. At one point the show was geared to the consumer market at large, but it has more recently evolved into strictly a trade show. Every segment of the kosher food service industry is well represented. Distributors roam the aisles looking for new quality products to carry, while newcomers try to prove to the crowd that they are the next big item. All of the major supermarket chains from across the U.S. send representatives to the show, while restaurant owners and caterers browse the booths looking for new products that will fit nicely on their menus.    


In every corner of the enormous room deals are being made and agreements hammered out. The unique lexicon of the food industry floats through the air as businessmen discuss pallets and shelf life.  In an attempt to attract buyers almost all of the booths offer samples of their products. Some of the bigger companies produce impressive displays, like Agri Star LLC, which offered an all-day smorgasbord of chicken nuggets and hotdogs. Perhaps the most innovative item offered for attendees to take home were the chocolate lollipops from Tasty Image, a snack containing each person’s edible image.   


The show presents an unrivaled opportunity for food professionals to do some face-to-face business with the biggest names in the industry.  Ari Klein of Klein’s Ice Cream said that his company has been coming to Kosherfest practically since the show began. “Our distributors expect to see us here,” he said. “It’s a good chance to catch up with our biggest customers and see how they’re doing and which of our products are selling well.” 


The question on everyone’s mind at Kosherfest is: “What’s the next trend in kosher food?” Menachem Lubinsky is CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting and the founder of Kosherfest. He says that this year’s show impressed him with the amount of non-traditional foods that are now becoming kosher. “There are exotic sauces, Asian noodles, products which you don’t traditionally think of as part of the kosher industry.” He also added that it was interesting to see some new pricey gourmet items joining the ranks of kosher food, despite the current economic downturn.


Nutrition has weighed heavily on the collective American conscience for a while now, and it was no surprise to see many of the companies at Kosherfest introducing or focusing on products, which have fewer unhealthy ingredients and greater nutritional value. The Manischewitz Company, which has become synonymous with holiday-related food items, presented its new all-natural broth. The company is also introducing a new icon to be placed on many of their products in the coming year. The symbol will indicate that the product has various healthful aspects and will enumerate the individual qualities of each product. 


David Rossi, vice president of marketing for Manischewitz, says that the new products being brought to market will focus on aspects of food that “transcend the traditional ideas of kosher.”


With their focus on health, the company is looking to expand past the market of strict kosher observers. “We want everyone in the world to associate kosher with food that is a little purer, a little cleaner, a little better.” Rossi adds.


  Every year, prior to the expo, Kosherfest presents a series of awards to the best new products in several different categories. This year’s winner of the prestigious “Best in Show” award was the fledgling company Luck Chen, which produces a variety of flavors of microwavable Asian noodles. The company’s CEO, Cheski Baum, says he was honored to receive the award and attributed it to his company spotting a niche that needed to be filled and providing a product to fill it. “People have become more aware of the effects of eating unhealthy foods, and many of the products on the market are full of MSG and other unhealthy preservatives. Our goal was to create healthier food without sacrificing taste; our award is a product of that goal.” 



Bamba with hazelnut cream filling,

winner of the “Best New Snack Food” award


Another one of Kosherfest’s awards, “Best New Snack Food” was given to Osem USA for their new Bamba with hazelnut cream filling. Kobi Afek, the company’s head of marketing says, “The new Bamba is a breakthrough. It’s a snack that combines sweet and salty flavors and appeals to adults and children alike.” Osem is also launching several new healthy products including a whole-wheat matzah and a line of flavoring under the “Green Choice” label. Afek says that the new products illustrate that Osem “doesn’t follow the trends, we set the trends.”


While the big companies expand their repertoire to include new healthy items, market newcomers like the company Nature’s Select have built themselves on the concept of healthy choices.  Nature’s Select is the brainchild of two Jewish Latina moms living in Florida and they hope to have their cookies, dubbed “smart cookie” for its natural ingredients and 10 percent real vegetable content, on store shelves in January.  


           Another new food, which made its appearance at this year’s show, was kosher beef jerky. Several companies, including one under the very apt name of “Holy Cow!” introduced lines of flavored meat that can last without refrigeration for a year-and-a-half. Beef jerky will undoubtedly become a staple in the diet of the kosher traveler.


All of the major kashrusorganizations also sported booths at Kosherfest. Steve Sichel, the director of development at the Star-K says that one of his organization’s main goals is to educate people about what it takes to make a product kosher. “There are people who think kosher means the factory needs to be blessed by a rabbi,” Sichel says. “They also think that if their company isn’t owned by Jews they can’t receive kosher certification, which is obviously not true.”


“Kosher is hot,” says Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the OU. “We have seen consistent considerable growth over the past two decades; right now our organization gives a hechsher to companies in over 80 countries as well as every state in the U.S.A.”


Overall this year’s Kosherfest was an enjoyable and productive event. For some it was chance to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the kosher business. For others, it was an opportunity to present new, innovative products to the market. It was an occasion for all to behold the impressive and fantastic growing world of kosher food.

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