Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Shmiel Stern, CEO of Compass Conferences, presents an award to Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom Marketing, for his years of dedication to growing the kosher food industry. Lubinsky was the face of the now-defunct Kosherfest after 33 years of showcasing kosher foods from around the globe.

It is often said that when one door closes, another one opens. Such is the case with kosher food trade shows. When the owners of Kosherfest, Portland, Maine-based Diversified Business Communications, announced on Wednesday, May 31, it would cease operation of the venerable trade show, vendors and attendees across the globe wondered what would fill the void.

The owners of Kosherfest put out a statement insisting that ceasing operations was a business decision, but few believed that. The statement read in part:

Due to today’s changing supermarket category manager buying responsibilities and the elimination of the kosher buyer in many major supermarket chains, exhibitors feel Kosherfest has run its course and there is no longer significant ROI [Return on Investment] to justify exhibiting at the show.

Within supermarket chains, the kosher food category increasingly falls under the grocery buyer’s responsibility. As this buyer is responsible for sourcing and purchasing a wide array of products, they are more likely to attend food events displaying items not just exclusive to kashrut. A certified kosher-only food show such as Kosherfest is too niche for their attendance.”


Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of the Brooklyn-based Lubicom Marketing Consulting, began Kosherfest 33 years ago, sold the show to Diversified in 2003, and for the last 20 years has been a consultant to Diversified. He says he has no regrets about the death of his trade show baby.

“It was a business decision to move on,” the ever-optimistic Lubinsky told The Jewish Press. “The industry actually grew up. Today we have 62 supermarkets that are 10,000 square feet or more with kosher products galore. For all practical purposes, I’m calling this the golden era for the kosher consumer.

“The biggest success of Kosherfest over the 33 years was [that] it gave value to kosher so that every major company opted to have kosher certification and saw value in it. It wasn’t a matter of why but why not?

“Kosherfest found that they reached a plateau in terms of who to reach out to. The kosher food industry became self-insulated and became e-commerce in and of itself. You have a kosher food show in every supermarket today. If I could have envisioned the end game 33 years ago that there would be major kosher supermarkets and the restaurant industry would grow and the online would grow and shows would grow, it would have been a dream.”

Enter JFood and its organizer, 37-year-old Shmiel (Samuel) Stern, CEO of the Monroe, New York-based Compass Conferences. Stern presented another reason why Kosherfest closed its doors.

A passionate Ben Honig, president of Devash Mezonos, explains his wide array of food products to buyers on the first day of the JFood convention.

“They (Diversified) were trying to run it from elsewhere. They didn’t feel the community, they didn’t understand the community. When people in the community are doing shows for the community, this is when you see real results,” Stern, a follower of the Satmar movement, told The Jewish Press. “Kosherfest wasn’t doing well. The kosher food industry is booming and is just growing. Obviously, some shows need an adjustment. When you adjust it, you see the result that you see here. This place is huge and we’re not using up the entire space of this place.”

As it turns out, many vendors and buyers were hungry for a replacement food trade show. Stern said he was ready to fill the gap with little time to spare, even though he was never formally trained in running trade shows. This was the 14th business trade show he organized and the first food trade show.

“I look at this business as an education. I am yeshiva-educated and a lot of us are educating ourselves. For example, this show is amazing if you think about it,” Stern said. “G-d gave us a lot of commandments. One of them is to eat kosher. Through this commandment of eating kosher, you have an industry that is closing in on $40 billion just with people who want to eat kosher. This is what we are seeing here today. This is how we operate. We try to educate ourselves in business. We try to educate ourselves when it comes to sales. We do it ourselves. Why do we do it ourselves? Because we have our own way of communicating and our own way of doing sales. Sometimes it’s in Yiddish and sometimes it’s in English. I believe that the community is the most sufficient when we handle our shows, everything, ourselves.”

Simon Peretz, the creator of the Ice Cream Robot, Sweet Robo. The robot ice cream maker costs $25,000 and will be selling for as much as $40,000 in the near future, according to Peretz.

The impetus for Stern’s first food trade show was the urging of vendors and buyers.

“The food companies and buyers are the ones who reached out to me to urge me to create a food show. They gave [told] me all their frustrations and observations of how a show needs to be run and based on their feedback we created a show,” he said. “That’s why they’re excited to be here and that’s why the food companies who didn’t participate the last four, five or six years came back in such numbers.”

During the two-day gastric extravaganza, Stern honored Lubinsky with an award for being the one to broaden the kosher food industry. The award is shaped as two hands clasping as if to symbolically hand over the show from one to another.

“To me, Menachem is a hero because he shaped the kosher food industry in a big, big, big way even almost before I was born,” Stern said. “Menachem, in a big way, shaped the kosher community because he did the show for a long, long time. He helped to get the kosher food industry to the point where it is today. I’m glad I’m able to help and take this over, spice it up, make it even better by bringing it to the next level.”

“From this little show where we had 69 exhibitors at Giants Stadium – is going to become THIS? I’m very proud,” Lubinsky said. There were more than 130 booths at the trade show showcasing more than 200 brands.

Sometimes the back story of the owners of the companies is more interesting than the product they are hawking.

Hagit Needelman, owner of Tachbisha marinade, shows off her vendor booth.

Hagit Needelman, CEO of Tevony, said due to family trauma she was essentially forced into marketing and manufacturing her product, called Tachbisha. Just like Häagen-Dazs ice cream is a name with no meaning and created by a Jewish couple from the Bronx in 1960, Tachbisha is a word that was created by Needelman’s father and is intended to mean “To dress up the food with a new flavor.”

“Our revenues are around $100,000 in the past three years. During Covid we had a very big challenge demonstrating it and selling it. Everybody did. I could tell you one thing; I don’t give up very easily. I work with whatever I have,” Needelman, a divorced mother of six including three special needs children, told The Jewish Press. “People found us online and we were promoted online before we went into stores. Next year we’re projecting to have $225,000 in sales. We’re expanding. We’re right now in 162 stores. We just pitched the product to Stop & Shop. They’re very interested. It’s just a matter of time and when. It’s not a matter of ‘if.’ I have no doubt that Tachbisha is going to be on every table, in every house, in every restaurant around the world because it’s a great product.”

Amos Miller, owner of Miller’s Organic Farm speaks with a potential customer from the Satmar community. Naomi and Liz Lantz serve ice cream to attendees at the JFood convention.

Amish families from Bird-in-Hand, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania made an appearance at the trade show with a growing Satmar business owner from New Square, Rockland County.

“It’s important to be at the trade show because people are trying and tasting to see how delicious this healthy food is,” said Chaim Tal, president of Meant to Be. “When people drink goat’s milk, they probably feel like they’re going to feel a goat in their mouth. They don’t feel a goat. When people drink goat’s milk, they try it and they see it really tastes good. We all know that it’s extremely healthy for the bones and for the brain.”

Meant to Be produces Cholov Yisroel cheeses, milk and eggs from Amish-run farms in Pennsylvania.

“The cheeses are legally allowed to be raw if they are aged two months. We have goat cheese, sheep cheese and cow cheese,” Tal said. “One of our farmers we deal with a lot, Amos Miller, raises chickens for us and supplies us with eggs. The eggs are of mobile pasture. They eat fresh-fed grass every day. It’s different from the regular organic where there is no grass. They are chemical-free, which is good but they have no access to real grass. Meant to Be is extremely high in Omega-3s, DHA, BhA, which is the real beneficial Mega3 for the brain.”

Volvy Polatchek slicing Bakers Bread.

Besides both being tight-knit, insular communities, where everyone seems to know each other, there is a reason connecting the Amish and chassidic communities.

“The Amish got to know the Orthodox Jews because everyone seems to tell them they look very similar and act very similar,” Lubinsky said. “They also have a lot of visitors from within the Orthodox Jewish community coming to visit the Amish down in Pennsylvania. They feel it’s like a camaraderie. Mel Brooks would have said they became the landsmen.”

The Amish and Satmar are also both religious people. “We have our cows out on grass. They enjoy the sunshine. They get a bath from G-d’s rain,” Miller, the owner of Miller’s Organic Farm, told The Jewish Press. “It’s the way the animals are intended to be from day one – outside on grass. The milk is raw. The milk is supervised by a rabbi. The Jews, they like raw milk. They’re like everybody else. They are looking for wholesome food. Nutrient-intense like G-d wants it to be. Store-bought milk is preserved for convenience and not for health reasons.”

“Sheep cheese is the best. It’s delicious,” Miller said. “It’s also the most expensive,” Tal added.

There was also a passive flour war going on between Maverick Mill and Grain Brain. Both companies were featuring spelt flour in five- and six-pound resealable bags.

Moses Sandel, CEO of Monroe, New York-based Grain Brain, told The Jewish Press: “My main goal is to be visible for the market, for the stores, and to get more famous so the stores and consumers know about our other products. A lot of our consumers don’t know about all the products that we have. I brought a lot of products here that are not well-known yet. This is one of the reasons we came here for marketing the brand and the products that are not known yet with the consumers.”

Grain Brain, which began in 2006, has only generated $39,587, according to Buzzfile.

“When people are allergic to wheat flour, they go to the spelt flour,” Sandel said. “We have a unique blend of spelt and kamut. The downside of spelt flour is that it could crumble. It doesn’t hold the dough together as well as wheat flour. The kamut flour is a very fat flour. When you combine them together, the dryness from the spelt gets away with the fatness of the kamut flour.”

Grain Brain has a hechsher from the O-U and Rabbi [Binyamin] Gruber [of Monsey], an organic certifier, and the product is GMO-free and gluten-free.

Maverick Mill told The Jewish Press about a new product debuting next month.

“We have a new product coming out – gluten-free flour,” said Tzvi Tiechtel, who explains he helps out with the advertising and marketing of the company. “The gluten-free flour has a heimishe hechsher for kosher certification, which is accepted by a lot of people. It’s the first flour that is gluten-free cup-for-cup, which means one cup of regular flour is interchangeable for one cup of gluten-free flour. Foods that warm the heart and the soul – challah and chocolate chip cookies.”

While nothing is ever a coincidence, the debut of JFood was held on June 13. Numerically, it’s the same, 613, as the number of mitzvot in the Torah.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].